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Opinion: Ozarks’ culture is good for business

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I love Springfield.

When I first moved here in 2000, my wife and I quickly recognized we had found a great community where we would stay and raise a family. We also found a community that is great for starting a business.

It’s been 10 years this month since I took a huge gamble and left the warm cocoon of corporate life in a great company to pursue my own dream of helping leaders to live and work within their core strengths and passions with clarity and purpose. I immediately felt the collaborative spirit of the Springfield community.

Scott Bybee, president of engineering firm ESC Inc., hired me as a part-time engineer so I could pay the bills as I grew my business. He let me work out of his office as my engineering workload declined and as my consulting workload picked up. He turned down my offers to help pay for extra office supplies I used and always listened to my business ideas. Scott even introduced me to Randy Mayes, who later became my business partner.

I love Springfield.

As I grew into consulting, I began to learn how little I really knew about it. I reached out to other business owners who almost always took my calls and shared their insights. I met with Mark Holmes, founder of the Consultant Board Inc., who shared his wisdom and encouragement working in and out of the Ozarks market. I met with Alina Lehnert, founder of the Lehnert Leadership Group, and we discussed how I could best use my own talents. I met with Brett Curry, owner of Curry Marketing and future co-founder of Online Marketing Giant, who helped me find better ways to market my new brand. These folks could have looked at me as competition, but instead they were willing to help.

I love Springfield.

One day sitting at my desk trying to figure out how to build my business, I received a call from Brent McCoy, who was with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He introduced himself and asked me how the chamber could help. We talked for a while and I joined the chamber (a significant investment for me and my small business at the time). I began attending chamber functions, and Brent went out of his way to connect me.

I love Springfield.

As I shared my insights running small events for area organizational leaders, the local press took interest in me. Eric Olson from the Springfield Business Journal reached out and had lunch with me well before my business had grown to the point of being noticeable. He was genuinely interested in my story and helped me make valuable business connections. I also had the opportunity to meet Gary Whitaker from 417 Magazine. Gary attended my events regularly and brought many of his contacts with him. Later, I had the opportunity to meet Linda Ramey-Griewe with the Springfield News-Leader who partnered with us in a Leadership Book of the Month event. Those in the media have helped me greatly and for that I am grateful.

I love Springfield.

The culture in the Ozarks is collaborative and open to new businesses. Unfortunately, we also have a culture of poverty in the area. In some ways, there are two Springfields. There is the business crowd and then there is the “other” crowd who is working day to day just to pay the bills and get by.

Our journeys are intertwined, and business is a great place to bring these two Springfields together. It’s too easy to say the business community is greedy and the “other” community is lazy. Community initiatives, such as The Fairbanks project, are looking to engage both Springfields. This doesn’t happen effectively once a year; it happens most effectively when it happens continuously. It works best for the community when both Springfields work as one.

The business community needs more talent and much of that talent already lives here. The impoverished community needs great jobs where they use their strengths and make a great living for their families, but they may need a few concessions from employers. I am seeing more businesses expanding their hiring practices to create bridges in our community.

Successful businesses who have benefited from being in Springfield are learning the benefits of giving back to Springfield – not just in the form of writing checks and attending galas, but in engaging the “other” part of the community.

This isn’t a hand out or even a hand up; it’s just good business and the right thing to do because … we love Springfield.

Don Harkey is the co-founder and chief innovation officer at People Centric Consulting Group in Springfield. He can be reached at donharkey@peopleccg.com.

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