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August 29, 2012

Every city could do this

With no end in sight to the worst recession in fifty years, politicians and policy makers are looking increasingly desperate in their attempts to defend their recovery plans.  This might explain why the otherwise unremarkable city of Springfield,  Missouri is attracting so much attention – a city that has bucked the national trend and remains one of the most economically resilient cities in the US.  The mayor list three factors. None of them are rocket science. But none of them cost much either.


Bob Stephens,  Mayor of Springfield, Missouri

How has Springfield, Missouri been able to continue to add jobs and maintain a lower-than-average unemployment rate through the worst recession in 50 years? I would like to suggest to you that our advantages may originate from three non-traditional (or at least, not-often-considered) sources.

First, Springfield is a community that, for whatever reason, collaborates. We don’t really know the source of this high degree of collaboration (might be in the water), but it’s just the way we do things. 

Many communities have an economic development corporation or some similar organization to promote economic development. In Springfield, we have a partnership that promotes economic development, including staff from our award-winning chamber of commerce, but also the city, county, and our locally-owned utility. These players work together as a team to ensure any prospective employer receives seamless, top-quality service while considering where to locate. They provide that same level of service to our existing businesses considering expansion, which has proved to be the source of our growth during the recession. Additionally, we take a regional approach to economic development, truly believing that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Second, it might be our Midwest work ethic. People in Springfield work hard and get the job done instead of just putting in their time. They expect to work hard. This is something else that just seems to be in our heritage. As newcomers arrive, they seem to quickly notice that the bar is raised and they are expected to measure up.

Third, Springfield has recently begun to focus on social capital. Thanks to researchers from Missouri State University (located in Springfield), we’re focused on civic engagement, building relationships, and building trust. These aren’t necessarily the things that most cities focus on, but we are… and we believe that these are the keys to long-term success in our community. Without relationships and trust, nothing else matters.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Springfield continues to invest in its top-notch transportation system since we are a transportation cross-roads, has more than 40,000 college students attending 14 colleges and universities that provide companies with a consistent talent pipeline, and is located in the beautiful Ozarks region that provides a great quality of life at costs far less than either coast. And it doesn’t hurt that Springfield’s bond rating actually went up during the recent recession and we are growing manufacturing jobs. But these are advantages that some other cities enjoy, as well, so I’ve tried to focus on a few things that I believe make Springfield unique. It’s working. Springfield and Greene County were near the top of various “job creation” rankings last year. If you’re doing things right, they will find you.