Michael Hurlbert joined the City of O’Fallon as its economic development director in April and brings nearly 20 years of experience in economic development, real estate, planning and project management to the city.
Hurlbert holds a Master of Arts degree in Urban Affairs from Saint Louis University and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management. He is AICP certified and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association (APA) and the APA’s Economic Development Division.
Hurlbert served as one of the project managers for the DREAM Initiative, which assists communities with identifying economic development opportunities in downtown regions and directing the process of strategic revitalization. He was lead project manager for nine Missouri DREAM Initiative communities and as the assistant project manager for seven more.
Now that he’s three months into the job, O’Fallon Patch sat down with him to talk a little about his experience, goals and what exactly his job entails.
Patch: What does an economic development director do?
Hurlbert: As director, I see oversee department’s activities. Really, what we’re focused on is all quality of life issues. What we want to do is make sure residents, businesses—everybody that utilizes the services the business community in the city—is getting what they need.
We’re able to impact their quality of life and make sure they don’t have to go outside the city to do things, buy things—shop, dine and play.
We focus on a pretty rigorous business retention and assistance program. We’re visiting a minimum of 30 businesses a month to make sure we’re staying on the pulse, seeing that they have what they need to continue to thrive and do well. If we can help them expand, that type of thing.
Secondarily to that, is a business attraction campaign, to try and bring in new businesses, both corporate for jobs, retail, restaurants and services and on the other side of things, we deal with regulations to help streamline. We work with other departments, public works, planning and zoning and finance.
Patch: Can you talk a little about your previous positions and how they prepared you for this job?
Hurlbert: I started out in real estate, so my background is in real estate, both appraisal and sale—so that prepared me first.
I worked for an engineering firm doing right of way negotiation and I got to learn to deal with difficult situations, because I would go into people’s kitchens and sit at their table and explain to them that a road project that’s taking up 10-20 feet of their front yard, the land isn’t worth what they think it is. So, I got to learn to deal with people who were upset and that kind of prepared me for dealing with the public side. Because everything we do doesn’t make people happy—but we’re trying.
When I worked there I also did building inspections, so I worked on the construction side. In fact, I inspected probably a majority of the housing that was built in Dardenne Prairie, because I was one of their clients in the late ‘90s.
They also did city planning, so I started doing some comprehensive planning for a couple municipalities like Dardenne Prairie, Cottleville, Flint Hill and that kind of propelled me into the planning side.
That’s where I went to Chesterfield and was a city planner there and a majority of the work I worked on was the Valley—all the Valley development that went on. That was rapid. Chesterfield had a very rigorous development process, so I learned all facets of that process.
In Chesterfield, I was more of a processor and I wanted to do more than that, I wanted to be actually more proactive, and Creve Coeour offered that opportunity. I went there as a city planner, but also did work in economic development. Eventually I got promoted and became city planner and economic development administrator and I really enjoyed that.
Patch: Tell us a little about your history with O’Fallon.
My family moved here in 1984, having my dad be the city engineer for a number of years, he was part of the process to set up for the rapid growth that occurred later on. So now to be here kind of full circle, is intriguing and fulfilling. I look to continue that and build upon all that growth that occurred.
Patch: What do you hope to accomplish in the City of O’Fallon?
I know people would like to see some of the vacancies filled, that’s always one of our goals.
There’s a lot of potential still left in O’Fallon. The growth that occurred was rapid, but there are a lot of holes. We can work to fill those holes both in vacancy and development opportunities.
But really, the goal of mine, is to ensure the quality of life for our residents, community and our businesses, is the best it can be. However that’s filled—to provide jobs for our residents, to provide the services—the restaurants, the retail, and any other services they need to have a fulfilling quality of life. To have them stay here and shop here, have them play here, all those elements.
Patch: You began in April and one of the major accomplishments in the past three months is Air Evac Lifeteam coming to O’Fallon. Can talk a little about what else you’ve been working on?
We’re always working on those types of attractions. We try to work hand-in- hand with the brokerage community to fill some of those gaps and holes, bringing in new users.
O’Fallon is an attractive community for a lot of those people looking, because just like with Air Evac, it’s centralized location, it’s a growing, larger community and it has an ample supply of labor as well as retail and other services.
We’re trying to utilize those strengths to continue to bring in those types of amenities.
Same thing on the retail side, the big boxes and those types of retailers, the economy has really slowed their expansion plans down and big box isn’t always the answer anyway, so we’re trying to look at a mix of uses and types to try to meet our residents needs.
Patch: What do you want residents and business owners to know about the Economic Development Department?
Hurlbert: The ED department is here to help people looking to open business, start a business, expand—we want to make sure they know we’re here to help them.
Our services we provide range from, helping them go through the process of getting licenses, understanding taxes and we continue to be there to offer them assistance long term.
Patch: What should the people of O’Fallon know about the city economy?
Indicators for O’Fallon are good and positive moving forward. Our sales tax are up—we’re at about 7 percent over last year at this same time. Housing permits are up, slightly, not anywhere close to numbers pre-recession. Construction is up, permits is up, sales tax is up, so those are all good, positive things moving forward here and I think we’re in a good spot.