Building Connections, Aiming for Growth
New executive director of economic development is shaping her job to help Idaho businesses, industries and communities
As Jana Jones has been traveling Idaho for the past two months, she often asks people the same question: “What would you like to see the University of Idaho do for economic development in the state?”
As UI’s executive director for economic development — a role that is new to the university as well as to her — Jones has been tasked with the broad mission of helping connect the university’s capabilities to Idaho’s economic needs, and she’ll tailor her job to fit.
“I’ve been given a lot of authority to figure out how to structure my role so it brings the best value and connections for communities and businesses across the state,” she says.
Jones comes to the position with the background she needs for success. She has extensive experience in economic development, project management, marketing and business, and earned a bachelor’s in marketing and public relations from UI in 1985.
Prior to stepping into her new role, she was director of economic development services for the Boise Valley Economic Partnership since 2006. She previously served as the economic development manager for the Idaho Department of Commerce, and spent 12 years in private industry as president of Quality Produce in Boise.
Jones was named among North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers by Consultant Connect in 2015, is an executive board member and founding member of the Southwest Idaho Manufacturers’ Alliance, and is a past president and board member of the Idaho Economic Development Association.
“My connections have allowed me to hit the ground running,” Jones said. “Knowing who the economic development professionals are around the state and having an understanding of what they’re already doing in the communities has allowed us to start conversations further down the road.”
So far, many of these conversations have demonstrated to Jones that people outside the university are aware of some of UI’s research strengths, but they often aren’t sure where to start when it comes to collaboration.
“I believe that the university needs to be at the table when businesses are looking to expand or move into these communities. There are many opportunities for UI to engage and be part of economic growth around Idaho, and I plan to be that connector,” Jones said.
One of Jones’ goals is to identify better ways to share information about the university’s areas of expertise with economic development professionals, business and industry leaders, entrepreneurs and others across the state. She’s been networking with other institutions’ economic development professionals at events such as the University Industry Demonstration Partnership conference, and she’s working with a Boise-based consultant to do a study of other universities’ best practices.
Jones also is working to strengthen connections within UI.
As part of UI Technology, Innovation and Economic Development, Jones collaborates with Jeremy Tamsen, director of the Office of Technology Transfer, who came to UI in November 2016.
“We have been able to complement each other in how we’re looking at opportunities,” Jones said. “The more I know and understand UI’s inventions and what research is going on, the better I can connect opportunities with business, entrepreneurs and communities. And building connections can offer new avenues for UI to fulfill its land grant mission of outreach and engagement.”
Jones also has been meeting with deans and center directors, as well as representatives of units such as Career Services, Extension, and Corporate and Foundation Relations.
Jones is based at UI Boise, but frequently visits Moscow and other locations across the state. She encourages faculty and staff members to let her know about their partnerships with Idaho companies or economic development-connected research. Outside partners who are interested in working with the university also can contact her.
“I have already had companies and entrepreneurs reach out to see how they can become more involved with UI. I want continue to help our communities grow, create new jobs and add to the economic vitality of our state,” she said. “As a land-grant university, we’re in the whole state, and I’m excited to increase awareness of the UI in all corners of the state.”