BENTON --As Scott County's first county developer, Joel Evans is working hard to make the county an even better place to live.
"Joel came on board with a great deal of knowledge and writing skills but he continues to show us he wants Scott County to improve along with the rest of us," said Commissioner Jamie Burger. "He has a great willingness to see projects though."
Burger said Evans, who has been on the job for a year now, not only sticks with projects, he often finds ways to improve on the original concept. "He's been good for Scott County," he said.
"We're happy Joel is working with us as county developer - he does a good job for us," agreed Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel.
"It's been great - I've really enjoyed it. I never know what to expect from day to day when I walk in the office," Evans said. "The variety of projects has been overwhelming at times and refreshing at times."
Evans has already written $600,000 worth of grant applications this calendar year including $170,000 for the House of Refuge in Sikeston, about $80,000 for record preservation for the county, almost $80,000 for a drug enforcement initiative by the Sheriff's Department, and over $250,000 for interoperability communications for county law enforcement.
While some of the grant applications may have been submitted without his help, "others may have fallen through the cracks," Evans said, and some agencies have found his help to be indispensable.
"The commissioners created the position of county developer to help meet those needs," he said. "It's proven to be a successful partnership with the agencies and organizations of the county."
While some grant applications are a "piece of cake," according to Evans, and can be completed within an hour, others he described as being "very intense, very complicated, very detailed - and the details have to be specific. They want it in a specific format, and if it's not in the format, they will automatically reject it, so you have to dot your 'i's' and cross your 't's.'"
During his first year in the position, several infrastructure improvement and business development projects were achieved or launched, Evans said.
"Everything from small entrepreneurs to huge corporate possibilities for the county," he said. "Sometimes it seems like those big corporate ventures are a long shot but they are well worth working on for the potential benefit they can bring the county."
Evans has also taken an active role in emergency management planning by working on the economic side.
He has recently taken the first steps toward identifying assets in the county that could be used in emergency situations and working on agreements with those who own the assets that specify how they can be used.
Among Evans accomplishments during his first year was taking the county's Web site, www.scottcountymo.com, to the next level. While the Web site was already established when he came on board, "it wasn't being used a lot yet," Evans said.
In March 2005, just before Evans was hired as county developer, the site had 12,681 hits for the month.
"March of this year we had 103,260 hits," he said. "Our highest month was January of '06 when we did the 'Best Of Scott County.' We had almost 150,000 hits that month."
The "Best of Scott County" feature asked Web site visitors to vote for things like the county's "best burger" and "best place to take a date." The results were then tabulated by Evans and posted on the Web site.
"I think it really helped grow the Web site and help increase the feeling of ownership among those who visit the site," he said. "We're going to continue 'The Best Of' - it's going to be an annual spring event. I probably will begin the next one in the beginning of May and announce winners in June."
He encouraged those with category ideas for the next edition of Scott County's Best to e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fresh, local content has also been a significant factor in the Web site's growing popularity and use.
"Major revisions are made on a quarterly basis along with timely updates made on a weekly basis," he said.
Evans' county development efforts for the coming year will include more work on the Ramsey Creek Bridge project at Scott City as well.
"We're hoping to expand that project so they can really open up some avenues in and out of Scott City," he said.
County officials in hopes that an additional interchange south of Scott City will alleviate the bottleneck at U.S. Highway 61 and Highway K.
By extending that project south of Scott City, "it will open up a lot of potential for real estate and economic development in addition to the transportation advantages," Evans said.
There are also "several economic development projects in the works now that will continue through the year from very small entrepreneur projects to very large commercial projects," Evans said.
Not all projects are related to bringing in business - some of Evans efforts are geared toward improving the quality of life for residents.
"We're currently working on a project seeking funds to provide water to some Scott County residents who aren't and can not be serviced by existing water districts," he said.
Evans said even after a year on the job, he is still learning as he continues to dedicate himself to helping the county grow.
"When I first started I felt like I fell into rushing water," he said. "I was just trying to keep my head above water, learning as I went."
When it comes to county development, there is no task too large - or too small - for Evans to tackle.
"There's always a challenge," he said. "I love working on the big projects, but I equally love working on the small projects with the smaller communities."