Downtown Springfield has a long history of reinventing itself as a place to work.
Over the past two decades of redevelopment and investment, the legendary Heer’s department store building evolved to become the home for AmerisourceBergen’s dozens of health care information technology staff; an MFA Inc. grain mill was reengineered into Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center for nanotechnology, medical research and more; and a Willow Brook Foods processing plant transformed into the region’s home for entrepreneurship. A former nightclub has been razed to become the site for a future 100,000-square-foot office building. A vacant warehouse on Kimbrough Avenue is now the bustling headquarters of the Jordan Valley Community Health Center with hundreds of health care professionals.
Former Missouri State University President Mike Nietzel created a vision for an urban innovation park north of Park Central Square with the term IDEA Commons to foster serendipitous encounters by co-locating professionals representing innovation, design, entrepreneurship and art.
The density of businesses, and energy from three college campuses and numerous restaurants, coffee shops, sidewalk cafes and breweries, make working downtown a distinctive experience. The Downtown Springfield Association has long sought to promote the area as a great place to work by hosting free lunchtime and happy hour concerts, coordinating the summertime Downtown Wiffle League and scheduling monthly mixers.
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forever altered office culture.
Employees discovered they can work from home and be productive. Employers utilized new technologies. At the same time, Zoom fatigue became a new phenomenon and many staff missed the opportunity to interact with their colleagues face to face. Business leaders will be challenged to work with their employees to find the right hybrid approach that works for their organizations.
Office spaces must be redesigned to allow for more personal space per employee, with more deliberate sanitation programs. The office will be much more intentional to foster collaboration and culture.
Gap financing from the Springfield Finance and Development Corp. and the city of Springfield spurred millions of dollars of investment in historic renovations for lofts, restaurants and retailers since 1997. These programs can play a vital role in redesigning the next generation of offices. SFDC made sure to maintain a portion of its available funds to fuel new and expanding businesses during the Road to Recovery.
Providing locally directed resources to employers could be the critical ingredient to securing new tenants in the Vecino Group’s new office building in the IDEA Commons and new infill projects near Jordan Creek.
Another piece of good news is that businesses won’t need to allocate as many parking spaces with hybrid models and staggered schedules, which is advantageous for downtown.
Springfield is in a unique position to build on the center city momentum started before the pandemic, including the Forward SGF comprehensive plan, and Renew Jordan Creek and Grant Avenue Parkway projects to incorporate the new realities of a post-pandemic workplace.
Employees, employers and developers will all have the opportunity in the coming months to offer their input on shaping the future of the IDEA Commons and major redevelopment sites. What outdoor amenities would entice them to work or locate their businesses downtown? What transportation options would they like to see over the next 10 years with the continued development of electric cars, autonomous vehicles and greenway trails? How can office spaces be designed to be flexible, embody a desired organizational culture and offer opportunities for collaboration?
There is still time to include many of these ideas from the ground up in a community that encourages its citizens to be engaged.
Public funding for Renew Jordan Creek and Grant Avenue Parkway is already in place. More federal infrastructure funds will be debated in the new few weeks. There will be a keen interest in stimulating the recovery through leveraging public and private partnerships.
Escalating vaccinations will allow more workers to return to downtown Springfield. This is the time to join with city staff, its consultants, fellow workers and center city advocates to create the next generation of workplace options for downtown Springfield.
Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, can be reached at email@example.com.
Drive-thru coffee shop Bigfoot Coffee Co. LLC opened; a pair of Springfield attorneys launched medical marijuana certification clinic The Med Card Co. LLC; and husband-and-wife owners Ryan and Lesley Day debuted their first business venture with the opening of The Farmhouse on Boone Cafe LLC.
Andrea Petersberg, owner of the Local Bevy, says the appeal of a local store holds a lot of value for people in and outside of Springfield. Petersburg says being a supporting part of the local connection for artists is important for her.
Randy Bacon, professional photographer and humanitarian, shares his story on how he left his job in the corporate world to pursue his dream. Now 60 years old and with signature character to his photography and business, he says he still is a 15-year-old boy with a camera.
Becky Thomas, co-owner of Third Street Sportswear, gives her advice for maintaining good relationships with clients. Drawing on her experience working with customers coast to coast, Thomas says equity and fairness are some of the best ways to build trust and respect.
Don Helms, co-owner of Munchie Moe’s, says it's important to know your business and to think ahead of your supply chain. Helms says COVID-19 has changed the way he has experienced business operation. He says foresight is key.
Janet Susdorf, business consultant and founder of Brain Power for Hire, LLC, discusses the importance of adapting and learning from failure. Drawing from the struggles she has faced in her own life as a sixtime cancer survivor, Susdorf talks about when to fight and when to accept change.
Jennifer Charleston, a 20-year veteran of the Springfield Police Department and the only female lieutenant in the department, talks with SBJ’s Christine Temple about her career in law enforcement and her new position in the department as a liaison to the LGBTQ+ community.
Moving from physical meetings to digital meetings can feel like a barrier, but Mackenzie Scherer, an independent technology business consultant, says it can be an opportunity. Scherer says that with good moderation, a digital meeting experience can make people feel more included in the discussion.
Abby Glenn, development director for Habitat for Humanity, says corporate partners are a huge asset to the work they do. Corporate donation matching programs help individual donors feel they are contributing more and help Habitat for Humanity cover the large costs of their projects.
Alex Neville-Verdugo, museum director at the Discovery Center in Springfield, describes the opportunities the Discovery Center has through partnerships with other educational organizations. Neville-Verdugo says the Discovery Center’s virtual learning program reaches across multiple countries, with traffic mostly coming from the U.S. and Canada.
Elizabeth Hurst, business development manager at HR Advantage, says we do see fewer women in the workforce today than before the pandemic. Hurst says many women want more flexible work environments and that is one way employers can capture the female labor force.