As Springfield enters its 20-year Forward SGF plan, looking ahead is a hot topic among city leaders and community members. Over the last few months, this series has focused on a few cities from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Visits in order to examine best practices and aspirations for Springfield. A common thread has emerged that includes bold planning, making unconventional decisions, and building strong collaborative efforts among city and business leaders and the community.
“We have to decide what the future of Springfield is going to look like,” says Richard Ollis, a Springfield City Council member and CEO of Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors. “Are we building for the future, or are we living for the past?”
Ollis points to one of the earlier chamber CLVs, to Oklahoma City in 2006, as an aspirational example of what Springfield can become. In the 1990s, Oklahoma City had faced some devastating setbacks, including a downturn in their major economic industries and losing a bid for a United Airlines’ maintenance facility.
“They were trying to attract a major business in their community and went to the ‘nth’ lengths to attract them,” Ollis says. “People were upset because they sold themselves out.”
Ollis says that United Airlines’ representatives visited Oklahoma City unannounced and left unimpressed. That experience set into motion major improvement plans to develop a quality of place for its own citizens, as well as businesses and individuals that might be attracted to live there.
Springfield developer Andrew Doolittle recently visited Oklahoma City on a weekend getaway with his wife and came back with strong feelings: “I had such a blast as a tourist,” he says, noting they stayed at the new Omni Hotel and Convention Center downtown, and he loved how it “hooks into the downtown corridor. It took a lot of people working together to accomplish this project.”
Part of Oklahoma City’s downtown revitalization was creating a 1-cent sales tax to help with capital improvements, dubbed the metropolitan area projects, or MAPS.
“Over the last 20-plus years, they have transformed their community,” Ollis says. “They’ve invested a penny on the dollar of all sales tax, and each time it’s been renewed.”
MAPS is now in its fourth extension and has focused on capital improvements, rebuilding schools, building a downtown arena and fulfilling the Better Streets, Safer City campaign.
Since MAPS has been approved, the city has spent roughly $2 billion in improvements leading to $7 billion in private sector investments, according to material at OKC.gov and a 2019 analysis by RegionTrack. The improvements have led Oklahoma City to become a “big league city,” according to former Mayor Mick Cornett.
Doolittle believes Springfield has similar potential and could develop into Missouri’s fastest-growing city. Looking at past cities on the CLVs, he notes those communities have been successful attracting and retaining young professionals and families who become the base of a broad workforce.
“They do this by empowering entrepreneurship as a community. Creative, cutting-edge projects and businesses are constantly being developed with community support that improves the quality of life for current and future residents,” Doolittle says.
He adds that Springfield has the capacity for great growth, but he encourages business leaders and community members to continue to get involved however they can.
“In order for Springfield to take its place as the fastest-growing city in Missouri, our community has to unite behind progress and move the city forward,” Doolittle says.
He says that progress can mean many things, and leaders should focus on addressing some of the city’s current hurdles, such as providing more safe and affordable housing, funding programs for those in need and efficiently supporting the schools. He notes that it’s also important for Springfield to have more cool, unique gathering places and businesses for community members to enjoy.
Ollis agrees and asks Springfield citizens to really think about what they want out of their city, and what it takes to get there. As Oklahoma City citizens were willing to invest through a city sales tax, he asks what a Springfield investment looks like.
“If we’re going to live in the past, we are not going to be the type of community, especially that our young people want to stay and come back to,” says Ollis, who grew up in Springfield. “I loved Springfield of the past. However, Springfield of the past cannot and won’t be the Springfield of the future.”
This content is brought to you by Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors.
A pair of area medical colleges that received state grant funding in the fall are now investing the funds toward technology and new programs with the intent of attracting more students to the nursing profession.