Jason Ray was tasked with turning around the struggling Southwest Missouri Council of Governments when he took the helm in 2016. It’s safe to say that the mission has been accomplished, and his work continues.
“Overall, we have almost tripled our operating budget, eliminated all debt, and we now have nine professional staff and five student workers providing support to our local governments and stakeholder organizations,” Ray says.
When he started as executive director of the SMCOG, an association of local governments and stakeholders that serves the 10-county area of southwest Missouri, the organization had $100,000 in debt, three staff members and 37 participating local governments.
The count of participating local governments is now above 70, he says.
Ray credits his success to “saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came our way – even if it was something we had never done before.”
He adds, “I also worked hard to restore SMCOG as an active federally designated Economic Development District, which has opened the door for millions of dollars in federal economic development funding.”
Funding that has flowed in through the EDD stream has helped lead to expansions at Missouri State University’s downtown business incubator Efactory and at Cox College, as well as the widening of Le Compte Road at Springfield Underground, the Lake Springfield master plan, a $1 million revolving loan fund to support startups and business expansions, and a flood wall around the Branson wastewater treatment plant.
“Each of those projects was funded through programs that were otherwise unavailable to our region previous to 2017 when our EDD designation was restored,” Ray says.
He additionally serves as director of MSU’s Center for Resource Planning and Management, and he’s held multiple leadership roles with the American Planning Association.
“As the director of Missouri State University’s Center for Resource Planning and Management, my goals have been to support faculty research, engage students in professional planning work, enhance the curriculum of MSU’s community and regional planning undergraduate program, and enhance our presence throughout the state,” Ray says.
Ray’s volunteer resume is lengthy, as well.
He’s in his fifth year as president of Springfield Black Tie Inc., a nonprofit that works to raise funds for local and statewide charitable organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community. He’s a founding board member of 417 Out And About Inc., an organization that his husband, John Fahey, helped launch to promote activities in the community for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies.
Ray has served as board treasurer of the Springfield Community Gardens, as a member and chair of the Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission and as a founding board member of the Joplin Area Fuller Center for Housing Inc.
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