Despite the coronavirus pandemic’s impact last year on local businesses, Springfield Business Development Corp. officials noted at its June 16 annual meeting that a record-setting total for new payroll is part of nearly $300 million in capital investment pledges.
Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Economic Development Ryan Mooney said SBDC was a contributor to securing nine projects in 2020. In total, the projects represent $288.9 million in new investment, producing 1,014 jobs and $40.5 million in payroll, he said.
“These are big numbers and big commitments by companies to our local economy,” Mooney told the crowd.
The SBDC, which works to attract and retain businesses to the Springfield region, is the economic development arm of the chamber. Officials said roughly 450 people attended the meeting at Oasis Hotel & Convention Center.
Some of the projects involve new facilities for companies with a longtime local presence, such as Convoy of Hope and The Kraft Heinz Co. (Nasdaq: KHC). Convoy of Hope is building a $14.1 million distribution center in Republic to replace its operations on South Patterson Avenue in Springfield. Kraft Heinz announced plans last summer to invest an undisclosed amount in new manufacturing lines and equipment upgrades at its 1951 E. Meadowmere St. plant, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Additionally, American Airlines Group Inc. (Nasdaq: AAL) subsidiary Envoy Air Inc. is expanding its aircraft maintenance operations this year with an $11 million project at the Springfield-Branson National Airport. Mooney said the new aircraft maintenance hangar was noteworthy for American Airlines’ commitment to Springfield.
“Last year, despite the pandemic and American Airlines seeing 90% of their business go away in one month, they continued to reinforce their commitment to Springfield and made their investment announcement,” he said.
Mooney also noted the arrival of Seattle-based online retailer Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), which announced facilities in Republic and Springfield. While Amazon’s “AMXL” delivery station is open in a former Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co. building in Springfield, the retailer is constructing a 1.3-million-square-foot fulfillment and distribution center in Republic. The Republic facility is expected to create more than 500 jobs when it opens later this year, according to past reporting.
Mooney said the Amazon Republic project came to fruition after years of highway and infrastructure improvements along with private investment to prepare the site for development. That included Republic investing almost $15 million in sewer and water upgrades.
“Sewer and water investments are not sexy investments, but they are what it takes to make economic growth happen,” Mooney said. “Then all of a sudden, when Amazon is looking for a site in this part of the country, this sticks out like a diamond in the rough, and we have a chance to compete.”
Springfield is holding its own in population growth, Mooney said, noting the city’s annual growth rate average is 0.9% over the last three years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That’s above the 0.5% mark for all U.S. metropolitan areas. Net migration is a big factor, he said.
“Four out of every five residents are coming to us, not being born here,” he said.
Quality of place initiatives, such as the city’s ongoing downtown Jordan Creek daylighting effort and Grant Avenue Parkway project, add to Springfield’s marketability to prospective residents and businesses, Mooney said.
Christopher Swan, managing partner and president at architecture firm BRP Architects, agreed. He was among those in attendance at the meeting.
“In terms of quality of place, we’ve made some great initial steps,” he said, noting the city’s 2020 hiring of Tim Rosenbury, a former BRP Architects partner, in a newly created role of director of quality of place initiatives.
He said there’s some distance to go for the city to achieve long-range goals for the Renew Jordan Creek and Grant Avenue Parkway projects, and others.
“For Springfield, it’s kind of like a new pair of shoes. They’re not quite broken in yet,” he said. “But what is good is that we’ve got them on, and we’ll get a few blisters, but pretty soon it’s going to feel so comfortable.”
Danny Collins, co-owner of outdoor tour guide company 37 North Expeditions LLC, said after the meeting the Springfield area has an opportunity to better brand itself with the natural resources in the Ozarks.
“We’re trying to find our motto, find our tone of voice and unified brand. The outdoors should play a massive role in the connection to the greater Ozarks,” he said. “Quality of place is a big part of this, post-pandemic especially, for a connection to nature and this passion for outdoors. We’d see the successes and return on investment if we took that as an option.”
The SBDC annual meeting is typically held in February but was moved to June amid the pandemic. The in-person gathering didn’t have its customary keynote speaker this year. Instead, Mooney held a virtual panel discussion – covering topics such as social trends and pandemic impacts – with Joel Kotkin, author and presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University; Peter Kageyama, author and community development consultant; and Rebecca Ryan, economist and author. Kotkin, Kageyama and Ryan are all former keynote speakers at the event.
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