Delta Distinguished – Gordon WallerNovember 01, 2014
Gordon Waller’s family has a long history in economic development in Missouri. His grandfather was a banker for over 50 years, and his dad was in banking for 42 years. Waller’s career has already spanned more than four decades. Within these lifetimes, there have been many enormous accomplishments and contributions to communities, businesses, and families in the Delta region. But when asked about his substantial career of economic development, he is as excited about what he is working on now and the Delta’s possibilities for the future as he is about the numerous accolades in his past.
As the president and CEO of First State Bank & Trust Company, Waller has continued his family’s tradition of investing in the communities in which the bank is located because he believes it is good business. His bank devoted a fulltime executive vice-president specifically charged with a mission to contribute to community and economic development. Waller points out that his family has never owned the bank, and credits shareholders for sharing the vision and supporting their investment in community development. “If the community doesn’t thrive and grow, the bank doesn’t thrive and grow,” Waller said. “Small business is the economic engine to facilitate and see job growth. Those businesses with 10 employees down to 2, that is the sweet spot.”
Waller’s latest community development project, the Missouri Innovation Corporation, was established to provide entrepreneurs and existing small business owners with access to a revolving loan fund program funded by a $1 million investment from USDA Rural Department. Waller sits on the organization’s board, which recently announced its first small business loan to Parengo Coffee of Sikeston, Missouri. Parengo Coffee is owned by Theda and Larry Williams, and their son, Colby, manages daily operations. Their loan will help them open a new location, creating several new jobs.
Waller believes that the Missouri Innovation Corporation will be a game-changer for small business and economic development in his region. “We are expanding the board to cover a larger territory,” he said. “We have resources here that people are starting to focus on. People are more aware of all of our Delta assets, our river, our ports, our people.” Expanding the territory has expanded Waller’s vision, and appreciation of his home in the Delta, and he includes his colleagues among his valued assets. “Our regional planning commissions are so important to our mission and our growth. It is so important that we all work together. Now we have partnerships in place – with SEMO and DRA – and we have expanded opportunities available to small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
Among the experiences Waller found to be a game-changer in his personal and professional growth, he notes his Delta experience through the Delta Leadership Institute and his time at Harvard Kennedy School. Waller describes his time at DLI as “life changing.”
Waller believes DLI also helped him to understand the importance of health and health care to economic development. He was particularly impressed with the Delta Regional Authority’s Innovative Readiness Training mission that partners with the U.S. Army to mobilize its medical professionals to deliver vision, dental and health care services to the underserved population in the Delta.
“DLI brought it all together,” he said. “I learned about the tools and resources available to us. But I really learned that it is all about the people in the Delta.”