What is your background?
I’ve been in community economic development for a little over 20 years. Started my career actually at the University of Louisville as a graduate assistant and from there started working at the city of Louisville. I developed a passion for community and economic development. (Then) I was recruited by Chicago, where I worked for Cook County. It is one of the most intriguing political places you could ever work. I wanted to get more involved in government in a different way, and I did start a consulting firm for a couple years, but I really missed out on working in government. Public service is a vocation. I love the impact you have on communities and the impact you have on businesses and people. That’s what got me back into government in the city of Dubuque, Iowa. I’m looking to do that same work here in Springfield.
It represents a great opportunity for me. I’ve been in directorships, I’ve been bureau chiefs, so it’s a natural progression. But what I really love about it is there’s a sense of partnership. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people from Springfield in the past in various capacities. It seemed to be very renowned for that innovation and creativity.
When you start Jan. 28, you’ll be the highest-ranking minority who’s served in Springfield’s government. What does that mean for you and our community?
Everyone says you want to be an open and inclusive community, but I think the administration is doing that. It gives me an opportunity to demonstrate what I’ve done in the past and show what I can do, serving the community in a way that’s creating an environment for everyone to be successful.
What are Springfield’s selling points?
You have a great opportunity from a geographical standpoint. You’re in the heart of the Midwest. You’re right on a heavily trafficked highway. You also have the most important thing, and that’s a workforce. The wave of the future is developing the workforce. You have great college students, 40,000 college students in this area. That is an untapped market. If we do things the right way, we can get them to start their businesses here.
What are the challenges?
I know I’ve heard skills-gap mentioned. We’ve got to look at our poverty rate (and) affordable housing. What are the systems in place to retain businesses? Are there policies in place that the state has, that the federal government is doing, that we could take advantage of? You will find I am very competitive. I want us to be No. 1.
The Springfield Art Museum is under your purview. Are you familiar with its 30-year, $19 million master plan? What is your related experience?
Haven’t seen that yet, but underneath me in Dubuque was arts and culture. We wrote out a 10-year plan. The idea was to begin to implement and create things that were really unusual and different, and try to create a sense of place for people with art. People started doing murals. One evening a mural popped up, and then two, then three, then four, then five. It created this whole conversation around art and culture and support of the master plan. We used it as a community engagement piece. We actually went into communities where they were underserved. We were able to take the conversation around art and culture and talk about other things that were important to underserved neighborhoods, like a streetscape plan. That’s art and culture bleeding into public works.
Maurice Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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