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A Conversation With ... Emily Denniston

Director of Community Engagement and Operations, Efactory

Posted online

How did this opportunity with the Efactory come to you, and why did you want to leave your role at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce?
I was at the chamber for almost 16 years and loved my time there. It gave me that appreciation for the business community and what that means for Springfield. When this opportunity came about, it was like, how can I use what I’ve learned here in different ways? The chamber partnered with Missouri State [University] and the Efactory over many years. I’ve seen the impact that the university and the Efactory have had on this community and it’s really inspiring. If I was ever going to leave the chamber, I still wanted that community connection and I still wanted that business community connection.

The position you’re filling is newly crafted. What will be your primary role?
The Efactory has undergone a lot of growth, and the team has actually grown quite a bit since January. Roles are changing, and I was one of the few staff that was added on. Really, they’ve been staffing up to meet what they’re doing and then to be able to go forward. I get to work with our tenants and clients in the building and our existing members and support them and their needs and the operational needs of the facility. Then also, the university has wanted to have increased focus on employer partnerships. We do a great job of connecting with the business community and connecting students with the business community, but how can we enhance that?

People may know the Efactory for its business cohort and coworking spaces, but what are some of the other programs you offer?
We have early-stage business boot camps. The Small Business Development Center is actually housed within the Efactory, so that’s business support training – everything from QuickBooks and how to better understand financials to management and leadership training. For our members, we provide coworking space, private office space, conference room space. We do one-on-one business consulting through the SBDC. If you are interested in getting business advice or helping work through a problem, we have a mentorship program that folks in the community have volunteered their time for just to meet with emerging and aspirational small-business owners and entrepreneurs. One of the other things that we can offer is that student connection piece. As of Jan. 1, student employment services is actually under the umbrella at the Efactory. They’ve done tremendous work over the years connecting students with jobs that are available on campus and positions that local employers have. How can we better enhance and create those pipelines between businesses that need talent and students that need meaningful work experience?

Over the years, the Efactory has connected businesses to funding mechanisms like venture capitalists and private investors. What does that look like for businesses to get plugged into that?
We’re about to roll out more information on the Innovate SOMO and what that looks like. The team here has worked over the last few years to secure a number of different funding sources to support that program through different grants and (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars and community revitalization grants.

Your work at the chamber was around legislative advocacy. Are you following this legislative session and the potential impacts on the Efactory and businesses?
Being with the chamber, you are a generalist because we have so many different bills and laws and legislation that impact so many different members. Coming into Missouri State and having more of that focus on education and workforce-related legislation has been interesting and a cool learning opportunity. [President] Clif [Smart] and his advocacy team and the leadership at Missouri State have done just an incredible job of working with lawmakers from around the state to advance the priorities of Missouri State and really forge those relationships in the Capitol. The things that are worked on and advanced for Missouri State in the state Capitol, they don’t just impact the university. Education funding, workforce development funding, capital investment here in Springfield on campus and beyond, that has a global impact. The line item might say Missouri State University, but it’s building the workforce of tomorrow and working to support the needs of our employers and training students on critical skills and hopefully connecting them with skills that are needed by employers here and connecting them to the community. Of course, we’re watching the budget. We’re encouraged that at this point, that 7% core appropriation increase is in there and appreciate the work that our local legislative delegation has done to support the university. I hope that one of the things that I can do, just from my time at the chamber, is bring that experience hearing the needs that the business community has around workforce and talent and bring that feedback when I can, as well as just the relationships that I was able to build over at the chamber with business leaders and our local delegation and state lawmakers.

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