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Bidness as Unusual

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by Paul Flemming

Thankfulness abounds in southwest Missouri in 1998. Amid military and political crises at home and abroad, with international markets in continuing turmoil, uncertainty breeding on Wall Street and our own closer-to-home societal concerns, people in the Ozarks still recognize all our blessings.

"Our institutions of government, as quirky and as off-the-wall as they sometimes seem, they do work and work better than any other place around," said Dr. John Moore, president of Drury College. In addition to that relative comparison, Moore began his list of things to be thankful for this year with the absolutes of family, health, colleagues and the satisfaction of challenging work.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Because I have so much to be grateful for, I delight in the annual opportunity to focus on those things that make my life a treasure. I've talked to a number of people who confirm that we in the Springfield area have a cornucopia of good fortune, both of our own making and which we benefit from for no other reason than we've chosen to live in the Ozarks.

"There have been Thanksgivings and Christmases where we've gone home and not known if we were going to have a job," said Jack Stack, CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Corp. The security he and his fellow owner-employees have achieved at SRC, and the contrast with years past that it represents, is a reason for Stack to be thankful this year. "Granted, there's a lot of things that are crazy in this world, but internally, as a community, we really can take care of each other."

With that security, and being thankful for it, comes the responsibility to preserve it. "You've got to work for it every day," Stack said. "We're trying to diversify and build that type of safety. It's fleeting."

Nikki Sells, owner and regional developer for Express Personnel Services, said she was thankful for her family and her staff, as well as the business environment around Springfield.

"I'm thankful to live in a community like Springfield, where entrepreneurship flourishes and good business values and ethics are admired and rewarded," Sells said.

Those advantages of the area, also cited by Tom Rankin, president of Rankin & Company, bode well for continued prosperity.

"When you travel, it's nice to see other places, but you know it is nice to come home," Rankin said.

The comforts and advantages of our home which Rankin identified as low-cost-of-living in combination with a high standard of living are recognized by companies considering moving here, as well as individuals. Springfield is attractive.

That's confirmed by Steve Vaught, area manager for Southwestern Bell, who came to Springfield from Oklahoma.

"I want to give thanks for getting to come to Springfield. I've been here a year and a half, and I just love it," Vaught said. "The main thing is the people. Everybody's so friendly."

In 1998 the area has been attractive not only to national companies bringing part of their operations here, but for the businesses that are the hallmark of the Ozarks economy: entrepreneurs. Dwight Rahmeyer, CEO of Trust Company of the Ozarks, is a part of that tradition with his company, which started business in 1998.

"The opportunity to start a new business that you believe in and then having people not just tell you it's a good idea but actually bring you their assets it's a very humbling process to go through," Rahmeyer said. "To be able to work with the people you know and like and respect ... it's just awfully rewarding."

He said he is thankful for the opportunity.

"We're fortunate to live in a country and a part of a state that rewards people for taking reasonable risks, which simply is not possible in other places." Rahmeyer said. "My daughter just got back from a week in Haiti. People there are as smart as we are and as good looking as we are. But they just don't have the government, the framework, to even be able to think about the opportunities we have here."

Kathy Fritts, manager of transportation for City Utilities, is thankful for a development in CU's bus operation that helps extend that opportunity throughout the community. Fare increases that went into effect in 1997 curtailed ridership. CU management and its Board of Public Utilities changed course, lowered rates and have reaped the benefits of that decision.

"We did modify our fare structure effective June 1, and every month since then our ridership has gone up 20 percent over last year," Fritts said. "People have responded by coming back to the bus. These folks are dependent on the transit system to get around. We took a gamble (and) revenue stayed exactly the same, for the most part."

Fritts said she is thankful the decisions have benefited all parties.

Kelly Polonus, director of corporate affairs for NationsBank, brought her personal thanksgiving to the table, and this year she's grateful for her husband, children, extended family and friends.

"Our kids remind us constantly that each day is an exciting new day ... there's something to be learned; a new friend to meet; something new to try; and to simply have fun," Polonus said.

Connected to her family, Polonus is thankful for Asbury United Methodist Church and her employer, "which understands that family comes first."

Whether expressed as the blessings of our work, or our lives away from the office, we all have much to count in our favor. I'm no Pollyanna. I realize there are those of us facing illness, people who are having a hard time with work, and families that are not perfect.

Thanksgiving is a time to search out the blessings we do have and be grateful for them. And for those of us who have an abundance, we have the duty to seek out our family, friends and neighbors with less obvious fortune and be a blessing to them.

All thanks for the past year, its challenges and achievements, both for myself and for this community.

I recently hiked through Hercules Glades Wilderness Area (quite the blessing: it's less than an hour from Springfield) and marveled at the splendor of our surroundings and thought of the simple blessings so easily taken for granted.

I can walk, for one.

Autumn was thick in the air, a smell not of the end, but of the continuing cycle.

Seasons, years and lives change, but as I pass through those cycles, Thanksgiving reminds me to not focus on the rocky path directly beneath my feet, but appreciate the vistas and savor the journey.

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