Charlie Rosenbury: It’s better to make something here than contribute elsewhere.
Does Springfield have the qualities of a tech hub?
Brandon Schatz works in KC after eclipsing internet speeds offered in Springfield.
At this stage of the information age, there’s enough talk about technology going around to fuel Elon Musk’s commercial flight to Mars. The tech hubs of Silicon Valley; Boulder, Colorado; and Austin, Texas, get most of the glory, though.
That’s not to say other cities don’t have what it takes. And what it takes, from those looking, are reasonable costs of housing, quality infrastructure, low taxes, venture capital, and a young and educated population.
In Springfield, tech leaders say the city scores well in housing and business costs, as well as the number of young professionals. But gaps appear in tech infrastructure and access to startup capital.
The techie credo in the Queen City is it’s better to make something here than to contribute to some other creation elsewhere.
“That’s right on the head,” said web developer Charlie Rosenbury, a Springfield native who runs his own company, Self Interactive, and leads the budding networking group Springfield Creatives.
Comedian Jeff Houghton put words to the notion in his 2014 crowdfunding video, “By Springfield, With Springfield, For Springfield.” Houghton has chosen to create Springfield’s own late-night TV talk show, “The Mystery Hour.”
“Springfield is not where I want it to be yet,” he says in the video. “It has its flaws – it’s too white, sometimes behind the times, it’d be nice if there was sometimes more to do. But I would rather build something here in Springfield than go be a part of somebody else’s machine built somewhere else.”
Web of factors
Brandon Schatz couldn’t live that dream. He started a company in Springfield, but a year in, his SportsPhotos.com internet demands exceeded the supply offered locally.
“I just wanted fast internet,” Schatz said from his home office, now in Kansas City’s Startup Village. “It’s kind of a geeky reason to move.”
Internet infrastructure It came down to tech infrastructure. The lack of reasonably priced internet led him to pull up stakes in 2013.
“I was paying $400 a month to Mediacom for 10 megabits upload speeds and 100 megabits download. That was the fastest they offered at the time,” Schatz said.
That wasn’t cutting it for his business platform, which stores and distributes tens of thousands of sports images for photographers. At that pace, 1 gigabit of data took 1 hour to upload, and some events, like auto races, can demand up to 120 gigabits. “That would have taken 120 hours – and that’s if everything works perfectly,” Schatz said.
He traded the Mediacom bills for $70 a month for 1,000 megabits up and down on Google Fiber, shortly after it rolled out in Kansas City.
While internet infrastructure has made some headway with expansions by Mediacom, SpringNet and Suddenlink in the region, the costs of living and working are more bankable.
Cost of living Missouri recorded the eighth-lowest cost of living in the nation for the third quarter last year and Springfield’s index matched it. Both scored an index rating of 90, below the U.S. average index of 100, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.
Springfield scored best in the housing category with an index rating of 70.5.
“The cost of living is dirt cheap,” Rosenbury said. “I feel the cost of living to the quality of life ratio is really good.”
Rosenbury chooses to remain in Springfield because of his family roots, the city’s family friendliness and increasing cultural experiences in center city.
Life satisfaction If Springfield is going to attract more tech workers, Missouri might have to up its game.
According to WalletHub.com, the Show-Me State ranked as the 42nd “happiest state” in 2016. The WalletHub comparison gave points for “emotional and physical well-being,” “work environment” and “community.” Missouri scored highest, 14th, in work environment, factoring income-growth rate, job security, number of work hours and unemployment rates.
Venture capital When it comes to venture capital investments, Springfield is hardly on the map. Those spots belong to St. Louis, Kansas City and northwest Arkansas.
According to CityLab and Martin Prosperity Institute data, in VC investment per capita, the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas, area is on par with the Washington, D.C., and Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, areas. With a $195 VC per capita investment, northwest Arkansas beats New York City and Santa Cruz, California.
“It’s getting better, but I’m not aware of any big local investors that have invested in a startup and had it sold, a full cycle like that,” Rosenbury said. “I would love to see more private investors or investor groups coming together.”
Springfield techies say something is brewing; it’s just the early stages. A helpful hand is the collaboration in innovation, spawned by groups like Mid-America Technology Alliance, Springfield Creatives and the Association of Information Technology Professionals.
A growing community is found on Meetup.com, the community-building web application.
“We have a lot of Meetup groups that have started talking with one another instead of just being in their silos,” said Scott Bratcher, Marlin’s technology director, in an sbjLive interview at the recent AITP techITout conference.
Springfield is home to the Python Developers with over 200 “pythoneers,” nearly 300 code junkies in SGF Web Devs and another 250 in a .NET Users Group on Meetup.
“That starts to bond a community in a way that usually ends up being the spark that over the course of the next five to 10 years we’ll see the true rewards of,” Bratcher said.
For Marlin, Bratcher hires tech employees, so a more appealing Springfield means a greater pool of candidates for the agency.
“This is the type of community as a whole that technical or young professionals in technology want to live in – the bike trails, the Ozark Greenways – these types of nonprofit and sponsored components of a community are absolutely critical to attracting that type of talent here,” he said. “I don’t feel like there’s a big thing that we need to change, like there’s a big boulder in our way. I think we just need to keep those open dialogues and continue that momentum. We’re headed in the right way.”