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Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon talks about new state-level workforce programs influenced by Springfield during a visit to the local chamber.
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Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon talks about new state-level workforce programs influenced by Springfield during a visit to the local chamber.

DED director using Springfield as model for eco devo efforts

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Standing at the podium of a meeting room in the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Rob Dixon smiled and said it was good to be back in the Queen City.

Dixon, who formerly served in multiple executive capacities at the chamber, returned Oct. 26 to discuss economic development in his new role directing the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Gov. Eric Greitens appointed him as director starting July 1.

But, it all goes back to Springfield, Dixon said.

“This is where I learned to do development, these four walls,” he said to about 70 people who gathered for the Springfield Business Development Corp. meeting.

Now, Dixon is using Springfield’s workforce development assets as a model for other cities statewide with a new business retention program proposed in Jefferson City. One such example is Missouri State University's eFactory, which offers programs like the Business Accelerator to help startups in addition to multiple workshops for workforce development and growth. The chamber and local school districts also offer the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies, which connects high school students with local businesses for shadowing opportunities.

“We can find better ways to serve the state business community,” he said. “Not every community in Missouri is as blessed as Springfield is. I wish that was the case, because we wouldn’t necessarily need as big of a role from the state.”

The question behind the program, he said, is asking how development resources can be balanced throughout the state. To do this, Dixon said state officials will identify businesses needing support and share information with them to help mirror cities with successful economic development formats – like what Dixon says he sees in Springfield.

“We’re going to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks,” he said.

Dixon called Springfield a microcosm of industry that can set an example of development progress for other communities.

At the meeting, Dixon also touched on other programs currently in the works in Jefferson City – including collaboration with the departments of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education to create a pipeline that keeps workers in Missouri after graduation, and prepares them for future workforce needs.

“Maybe a ‘Hyperloop’ conductor?” Dixon said of retention efforts.

This brought up Amazon’s bid search for its second headquarters. St. Louis and Kansas City have thrown their hats into the ring, and Missouri included them in its own bid with a proposal to connect the cities through a 240-mile Hyperloop system. Hyperloop is a developing travel method that would transport people at roughly 700 mph using vacuum-tube technology.

Although happening far north of the Queen City, Dixon encouraged Springfieldians to consider how the bid affects the entire state. Even if Missouri is not selected, he said, it’s a reminder to actively share what the state has to offer.

“We need to talk about the assets statewide,” he said. “There are some amazing things happening in our state, and we need to tell our story and be bold.”

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