How do small towns react when outsiders move in and start development? It’s not always pretty. Here is one example, Kirksville, Missouri, profiled in the Kansas City Star. The outsider in this case is Big Louie Keen, owner of a “sprawling strip club complex along Interstate 44,” about 200 miles to the south of Kirksville. Keen is buying up downtown properties in Kirksville, employing locals, and engaging local opinion leaders.
The city council recently changed zoning to prohibit all adult-oriented businesses downtown, probably worried about what Keen could do. Keen says that’s not his intent. But he doesn’t plan to get out of his existing businesses.
Instead, Keen wants to settle down there with his wife, a Ukraine native, and their 3-year-old son. Raised on a southwest Missouri farm by parents who operated a Cassville livestock market, Keen said he hopes to recreate that experience for his own family.
“He’s investing millions in our county, creating jobs and revitalizing downtown. What’s wrong with that?” said Michelle Steele, the former director of external affairs at Truman State University and the wife of Adair County Judge Russell Steele.
In Kirksville, he had hoped to buy several more buildings to open an Irish pub, a steakhouse and other ventures. But a local bank backed out of the financing after learning of Keen’s troubles down south, said Roberts.
Keen said he may resurrect those plans, but for now is concentrating on renovating the hotel, increasing business at the R-rated Pungo Jungo novelty store and opening a downtown bicycle shop.
A fascinating story in development by outsiders.
small biz rural entrepreneurship economic development
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