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At right, Max Summers, chairman of a Regional Vitality Committee for Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri, leads a panel discussion on business development in this October 2015 file photo.

Officials with the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri think they’ve found a project that will benefit the entire region.

This week, the foundation is announcing its intention to participate in a pilot project encompassing its 18-county region. The organization has a mission of encouraging and promoting charitable giving in Northwest Missouri toward improving the quality of life and connecting donors with causes.

The goal of Communities of Excellence 2026 will be to keep communities and the area at large focused on their stakeholders, zeroing in on elements geared to improve quality of life and economic well-being for the region. The effort also seeks to encourage leadership development and an area-wide collaboration that would foster economic advantages.

Northwest Missouri joins San Diego County, California, and Rochester, Minnesota, as the only three participants in the nation.

In 2015, a collection of volunteers from the 18 counties deliberated over ways to upgrade the region’s economic development abilities. The Regional Vitality Network, as it was dubbed, was designed to weigh strengths and opportunities for better business, youth retention and an enhanced workforce.

Leaders said they have determined there is a sufficient interest from funding sources to support Regional Vitality as being a Communities of Excellence pilot. That task force’s purpose is to foster face-to-face planning and relationship building throughout the region.

“The rural areas have to find a way to band together that’s more efficient,” said Max Summers, Regional Vitality’s chairman.

A budget will have to be developed to fund such costs as training and gathering data, he said. The financial estimates are being kept private, but grants are one potential.

“What we’re trying to create through this pilot is an environment where the leaders and others interested can collaborate, can build trust, and build a base for engagement of a large number of people,” Summers said. “In order to engage a large number of people, you have to have systems that are understood, how they work.”

That emphasis has a basis in a model found in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, a method of working together toward reaching a single objective. It was named for former Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, who served President Ronald Reagan and developed a method of managerial excellence related to improvement in government.

Summers said the project would build a platform of facts that the region’s residents would consult to make decisions. No funds are available from Baldrige.

“We’re trying to create a research unit,” he said. “Build data about the region, and then build systems that enable the region to work together ... It’s organized with the idea that we, as a people, take ownership of our future. And it’s organized in a way that empowers people to take control of that future for self-determination.”

Social problems that are complex and multi-dimensional require attention by groups and systems for solutions instead of individuals, according to Summers.

“We want to test that to see if it would work, if it’s repeatable in other rural areas,” he said of the concept. “We’re trying to bring up the project where it’s ready to deploy.”

Mary Hinde, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, labeled the Excellence initiative as exciting for the region due to its proven success.

“Our selection as a pilot area allows us exposure to new and different economic development ideas,” she said.

The program will offer access to training, community coaches, and system leadership methods, Hinde added.

“We have the opportunity to learn new ways of bringing the region together to create a competitive edge for business in Northwest Missouri,” she said. “It will be a very long-term project and well worth the effort.”

Open meetings will be held in April to update the status of Regional Vitality and the pilot.

Ray Scherer can be reached at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.

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