Eighty Springfield leaders waved “au revoir” Sept. 28 and hopped on a plane destined for Boise, Idaho. Their departure marked the beginning of another Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce weekend Community Leadership Visit: an annual opportunity for Springfield businesspeople to learn the successes and developments of other cities, to bring ideas home, and to implement some for Springfield’s own prosperity.
“We’re always trying to benchmark against those peer communities who might be doing some really special things and learn from it,” Chamber of Commerce President Matt Morrow said.
Morrow was accompanied by other chamber employees, as well as leaders such as BKD LLP Managing Partner John Wanamaker, Drury University Executive Director of University Relations Mike Brothers and Springfield Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith. Mayor Ken McClure, Mayor Pro Tem Jan Fisk and Councilmen Richard Ollis and Craig Fishel also made the trip.
“The point is to make sure those elected representatives of the people of Springfield and those people who are signing the fronts of paychecks are hearing the same thing and getting a chance with one another to describe and figure out what the best versions of (Springfield) may be,” Morrow said.
The CLV, as it’s called, dates back to 1994. The experiences have prodded such ideas as the Facing Racism Program, learned from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Springfield-Branson National Airport expansions, after seeing Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to the Chamber’s website. Additionally, a 1997 trip to Boise spurred the creation of the Springfield Regional Economic Partnership, an organization of regional business leaders.
Twenty-four trips and many innovative ideas later, this year’s visit was unique in that it marked the first return to a city.
Morrow’s been on a handful of trips since taking the lead at the chamber in 2014. He keeps on file his notes from each trip and this year identified five major themes of conversation in Boise: community infrastructure, economic catalysts, creating a safe and welcoming community, the workforce pipeline and last, but definitely not least, embracing the outdoors.
“They build on their strengths there,” Morrow said of Boise. “They embrace their natural edge.”
Nestled in the foothills of a mountain range, Boise River runs through the city, providing a visual statement to prioritize the outdoors. Popular activities are skiing, canoeing and white river rafting.
“They sort of build around those things. They’ve really embraced a culture of outdoor recreation,” Morrow said. “They just said, ‘This is who we are and we’re going to embrace that and see elements of it in our urban core, even. We’re the largest city in the middle of this beautiful area, and we’re going to act like it and look like it.’”
Springfield also has options for embracing its nature, Morrow added, like opening up Jordan Creek.
“There are parts of our community that are beautiful and there are some entry points to the community that, frankly, we need to work on. We need to make it feel more like you are where you actually are,” he said. “It’s not just for the aesthetics of it. There’s an economic impact to it. One of the ways people and companies choose where to invest is to look at those areas where there is a real sense of place.”
According to attendees, Boise officials estimate $1.3 billion in public and private investments in the city between 2015 and 2020.
Brad Erwin, principal architect at Paragon Architecture LLC, said he observed Boise had an extremely heightened sense of place.
“You were walking around and you knew you were in Boise and not just any other town,” Erwin said. “Everything from the streetscape, to the amount and quality of the landscaping, to the way the sidewalks looked.”
Erwin said, however, the Queen City’s identity isn’t in the outdoors and it probably hasn’t been discovered.
“I don’t think we have one,” Erwin said. “That’s definitely something we have to work on. The communities that have a strong sense of who they are, and have been able to broadcast that, are the communities that are thriving.”
Having returned from his ninth CLV, Erwin said a trend he’s repeatedly noticed is the correlation between a city’s inclusiveness and productive outcomes.
“We have heard a lot about it in Boise and on other trips,” Erwin said. “They’re open to diversity and being that community that welcomes people of a different background.”
Working on Springfield’s inclusiveness could help fill the talent pipeline, Erwin said.
“That’s going to have to be that next jump or that next hurdle that we’ll have to deal with,” he said. “As a father of two kids, as somebody who owns a business and employs a couple of dozen people with families on their end, too, I want to make Springfield a place that my kids and grandkids will come back to.”
Erwin said Boise recognizes the positive economic impact of having a diverse population.
“Boise has a willingness to tackle the issue and talk about it,” he said.
In February, for example, Boise City Council unanimously passed a resolution highlighting the city’s longstanding role as a welcoming community and one of refuge for immigrants fleeing violence and persecution around the globe, according to the city’s website.
Morrow isn’t ready to say which city he and community leaders would visit next year, but organizers have an idea. Typically, chamber officials narrow it down to three or four in January and make a decision shortly after.
While the chamber takes care of the logistics, Morrow said each individual pays their own way. The cost for each person was roughly $2,500.
Outdoors and property development are among topics chamber delegation is now studying.
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