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Springfield, MO

Louis Griesemer speaks before a crowd of roughly 100 at Hilton Garden Inn.
Louis Griesemer speaks before a crowd of roughly 100 at Hilton Garden Inn.

Springfield Underground CEO shifts focus

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With the conclusion of Springfield Underground Inc.’s mining operations last year, its president and CEO is shifting focus to the real estate side of the business.

Louis Griesemer, the third-generation leader of the family business, now is heading a charge to market undeveloped space 40 feet under the surface to tenants.

“We call it a shell building,” said Griesemer, who was interviewed live this morning for Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know editorial series. “We mined it with the idea that we’d eventually develop the space.

“As far as the way you develop it, it’s pretty much like you would lay out a small town. You’ve got to figure out where your streets go, your utility corridors first. You lay out city blocks, and then you want to fill in city blocks with compatible uses. We’ve done that.”

In September, the northeast Springfield operation ceased mining after nearly 70 years had passed and 31 million tons of limestone had been cleared.

“There’s some sadness that goes along with that, the legacy of the family business and everything,” said Griesemer, who’s worked for the company since the late 1970s. “But at the same time, there’s an opportunity. Now that you don’t have to be compatible with that heavy industrial side of the business, it opens up a lot more potential for the real estate side.”

Springfield Underground has 2.4 million square feet of developed space, with another 3 million square feet that’s been blasted and is ready for infill. Griesemer said the company currently is constructing 92,000 square feet to market and is looking at designing two other areas.

“A lot of our buildings have to be build-to-suit,” he said. “When we know who the tenant is, we’ll alter the design to accommodate them.”

Griesemer is quick to note the underground space isn’t for all tenants. Light manufacturing is possible, but heavy manufacturing is a no-go. There’s also no visibility, so retail is a long shot.

Then there’s the work involved to develop the space for tenants. Remodeling is a particularly labor-intensive process.

“When we remodel, it involves explosives. It’s a little bit rough on the neighbors,” he said.

The benefits, he said, are added security, which appeals to Bluebird Network LLC’s data center, and a constant 58-degree temperature year-round, a favorite for clients such as Kraft.

“Our largest customers are in the food business,” Griesemer said.

Other tenants include Dairy Farmers of America, Associated Wholesale Grocers and Hiland Dairy, according to SpringfieldUnderground.com. Last year, Cargill shuttered its meat slicing and packaging facility at Springfield Underground.

Up next for Griesemer is the eventual movement out of the Springfield Underground business. The 61-year-old plans to reduce his role by the time he’s 65.

His nephew, John Griesemer, leads the day-to-day business as chief operations officer, and he’s Louis Griesemer’s appointed exit plan.

Beyond Springfield Underground, Griesemer has plenty to keep him busy.

A staunch supporter of free-market economics, he’s a financial supporter and board member for the Show-Me Institute, a publicly funded 501(c)3 co-founded by billionaire Rex Sinquefield.

Griesemer also is involved in a number of nonprofits, including Boy Scouts of America, which he said implements a “tried and true” method to develop leaders.

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