Springfield, MO

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Chamber group promoting regionalism nears quarter-century mark

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After nearly 25 years, an organization focused on the economic growth of southwest Missouri is revisiting how best to promote regionalism among the 10 counties in its purview.

Officials with the Springfield Regional Economic Partnership say the group has undergone a variety of structures involving financial support from members since its formation in 1999 when it launched as the Ozarks Regional Economic Partnership. Vicki Pratt, senior vice president of economic development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said the SREP is a coalition that doesn’t have a formal structure, such as a nonprofit. It comes under the umbrella of the Springfield Business Development Corp., the economic development arm of the chamber formed in 1983.

“It’s a coalition of the economic development organizations across the 10-county area that is focused together on the things we can do better together as opposed to trying to do individually,” she said. “It’s pooling our resources – talent, time and money – in order to get things done that are important for all of us but can’t really be done well at any one individual level. It’s much better to look at it from the regional level.”

The partnership is built on the foundation of regional cooperation, officials say. It spans Barry, Christian, Dade, Dallas, Greene, Lawrence, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties and includes 649,960 people, according to 2021 census data. Chambers of commerce, economic development groups, and municipal and county governments in the 10 counties are among those that have representation in SREP, although Pratt said there’s no longer any formal membership.

Pratt said there used to be a flat fee for annual membership. While she was uncertain of the amount, a 2017 document on the city of Republic’s website noted an annual minimum investment of $5,000.

“At this point, there is not a membership fee,” said Hollie Elliott, executive director of the Dallas County Economic Development Group and SREP chair. “It’s more of a convening of trust. This regional partnership really is built on that, investing in those relationships that, for example, I might have with counterparts in other counties and communities. We’re able to get together and share information and problem-solve.”

Structure seeking
While the SREP doesn’t have a board of directors, a chair is elected, Pratt said. As chair, Elliott also sits on the SBDC Board of Directors.

According to the SBDC website, the nonprofit developed a menu of services in 2011 for its SREP regional partners. While the site didn’t note levels of investment its partners could make, Pratt said service options included a website presence, economic profile and chamber representation to do retail outreach at International Council of Shopping Centers conventions. Those services have fallen by the wayside in recent years, she said.

“We’re still working through what that structure needs to be and should be,” Pratt said. “We’re having conversations with our respective organizations across the region. The conversations aren’t about the money as they are about what are you looking at from a regional entity going forward.”

The partnership holds quarterly meetings with the most recent in Springfield drawing around 25 people, Pratt said, adding the locations change frequently. Nixa will host the next one, most likely in June, she said.

Elliott said she’s been participating in SREP meetings since 2017 and sees the group having a capacity for relationship building for diverse counties in the economic development sphere.

“Hopefully, in the future, it is a way to better communicate regionalism with Springfield. That’s something Springfield definitely wants to see as value to the region,” she said. “This is one area where there’s many regional partners that are already kind of together and part of a committee.”

On topic
She said most of the meeting discussions cover topics such as site readiness and infrastructure needs in the 10 counties. Workforce development and talent attraction also are regularly covered, she said, noting Dallas County had a recent addition to boost those seeking careers after high school. The $12 million Dallas County Technical Center, which launched in 2021 as an addition to the Buffalo High School campus, trains students for the workforce in 10 programs, including agriculture, criminal justice and health science, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

“For many of our communities, it is a need to have land, sites or buildings that are ready and available for businesses to locate or expand in,” Elliott said. “That is something that I’m focused on here in my community and I know many others are too. I’m hoping that we can have broader conversations about that.”

Pratt said project wins within the partnership, whether a new company comes to town or chooses to expand its current footprint in the 10-county region, aren’t measured through SREP. Those are counted under SBDC, she said, and among them are The Kraft Heinz Food Co.’s (Nasdaq: KHC) $48 million improvement project at its Springfield plant; Moline, Illinois-based Deere & Co.’s (NYSE: DE) expansion of its local remanufacturing division; and Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) opening operations in Republic and Springfield.

While SREP doesn’t have any specific goals for the immediate future, Pratt said she has one of her own she believes will help better connect her to the regional partners. As the local chamber representative who participates and helps lead SREP meetings, Pratt, who started with the organization last year, is yet to visit all the communities she has on her list.

“While I’ve done some of that in my first 10 months, I haven’t done all of it,” she said. “I haven’t been everywhere yet.”


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