Sep. 5—A Northwest Missouri program has been honored on the federal level as one of just 26 pilot initiatives across the nation to successfully incorporate competitive standards in local communities.
Maximize NWMO is an initiative created by the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri. The program helps communities work together to evaluate what they can improve on or create locally to help the whole region thrive in health, education and economy.
"We say you think regionally but act locally," said coordinator for Maximize NWMO Joe Lear. "Because it is building on the strengths of the community and then leveraging the other strengths of other communities within the region (that) is really going to make the economy of the region better."
President Joe Biden recently signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which includes the establishment of "Community" as a category of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards. The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program provides standards for U.S. businesses and organizations to follow that improve performance. An organization by the name of Communities of Excellence 2026 shaped these standards to also include a framework for communities to follow, which paved the way for them to be included in the Baldrige program. Twenty-six pilot programs across the country have been using the Communities of Excellence 2026 framework, one being Maximize NWMO.
Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri President and CEO Mary Hinde said the passing of this act proves the work being done in these pilots, including Maximize NWMO, is successful.
"Something that Northwest Missouri citizens are doing has been recognized at the federal level in the legislature and Congress as being a positive, wonderful, makes-sense step for the entire nation," Hinde said. "Because Congress passed that CHIPS bill, they agree that this is a pretty incredible thing for our nation."
Maximize NWMO is the only regional pilot using the Communities of Excellence 2026 framework, and it's also the only rural one. The group currently is working with the Clinton County Initiative and Maximize Albany to help better local communities.
Stephanie Williams is the treasurer of the Clinton County Initiative, and she said the group's goal is for all the towns in Clinton County to work together to create the best rural living experience.
"We forget that it's OK to compete with other communities for things like athletic events and whatnot, but then let's come back together and help each other," Williams said. "Sometimes that little mindset is hard to overcome, but I really think if more communities would take a look at this framework and invest in it ... it does help."
Maximize NWMO has helped the Clinton County Initiative conduct community surveys and forums to determine the priorities of local citizens. For example, Williams said they learned children don't feel valued in the community, so Plattsburg, Missouri, created a storefront that will be managed by youth and sell student-made products. Residents are concerned there's no county library, so that's a new goal of the initiative, as well.
Lear said they know communities are doing great work in Northwest Missouri, and Maximize NWMO just focuses on helping them improve and continue to thrive.
"By helping them as individual communities, hopefully, they begin to see that working together as a region makes us more competitive, not only in Missouri but throughout the nation," Lear said.
Communities of Excellence 2026 and the Baldrige framework for communities were created in part by the former CEO of Heartland Health, Lowell Kruse. Hinde and Lear said the fact the organization was started by a Missourian and one of the pilots is local, Northwest Missouri should be recognized as a great place to live.
"The work we've been doing with Albany and Clinton County and some of the other communities and seeing what they're doing, I think is a big thing for us to know that the framework does work for communities," Lear said. "It makes a difference."
The Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri works with 18 counties to help with regional collaboration and increase the quality of life. Each community has different needs and priorities, but Williams said if communities buy-in, it will make a difference.
"You have to have patience because things don't change overnight, but I think that it's wonderful and I would love for more opportunities to open up for other communities or other counties in our area to work on this," Williams said. "I believe that this is something that can help us in a rural area."
For more information about Maximize NWMO, visit maximizenwmo.org.
Morgan Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org