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Christian County reels in manufacturer

Alpine Aviation and Creative Audio are the first recruitment wins for new economic development group

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A Christian County organization formed to spur economic development is having an active summer.

In July, Show Me Christian County hired recent Drury University graduate Sarah Buxton as its first-ever project coordinator. It marks the second hire for the nonprofit after Andrea Sitzes was tabbed as executive director in March 2018.

On Aug. 13, it announced Alpine Aviation Group Inc., an electrical airline harness manufacturer for the military, was moving into an Ozark plant with intentions of hiring 40 employees. Then came the formation of the Show Me Strong Business Council a couple of weeks later. The 10-member group’s focus is on retaining and expanding existing Christian County businesses.

Those involved say it’s all aimed at bolstering its presence and activity in the business community.

Sitzes said Alpine Aviation was Show Me Christian County’s second big business recruitment. The first was a new headquarters and distribution center for Creative Audio, an electronics business that’s worked from Springfield for 18 years. That $2 million project is set for completion by the start of October, owner Don Fleury said.

“We’ve been stacking dominos all year,” Sitzes said. “Big things are being set into motion.”

With the arrival of Alpine Aviation and Creative Audio, dozens of new jobs will follow, Sitzes said. However, those aren’t the only projects the organization expects to announce this year.

“We’re hoping for two announcements before the end of the year,” she said.

One project is new construction that would finish in the next year, she said, and the other is a retrofit of an existing facility. Up to 50 net new jobs would result from each company.

“Each one of those will house ideally around 100 jobs,” said Sitzes, the previous executive director of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce.

The two companies are part of the project list she’s developed since joining Show Me Christian County 18 months ago. Within her first three months, she had six large projects going simultaneously. Now, the list has grown to over 20 projects, as she and Buxton check in with the businesses regularly to get status updates and provide any desired assistance.

“There’s a lot that we’re trying to manage behind the scenes right now,” she said, looking over paperwork on her desk in the organization’s office in Nixa City Hall.

Some projects are long shots while others are stalemated, Sitzes said. However, she has confidence several of them will come to fruition. “The thing about this job is that I can do everything right, and it’s still not going to happen,” she said. “But there are six I feel pretty strong that look to be happening. We have a pretty good shot.”

Formed in 2017, the organization is halfway into its five-year memorandum of understanding in which investors, including the Christian County government and the cities of Ozark and Nixa, have pledged some $800,000. The budget breaks down to $160,000 per year, Sitzes said.

New in town
Operations are gradually ramping up for Alpine Aviation Group in its roughly 6,000-square-foot space at 1624 W. Jackson St. in Ozark. Locals know the building as the former massive Fasco plant.

Nixa resident Terry Cedar registered Alpine Aviation in December 2018 with the Missouri secretary of state, as he was brought on to lead the venture by Manasquan, New Jersey-based Aspen Consulting Group Inc. He’s joined on the business filing with Aspen Consulting CEO Larry Singer, and the two have a working relationship through Cedar’s experience at the Missouri National Guard Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot.

Cedar said the company plans to begin manufacturing aircraft wiring harnesses by early October. By mid-September, officials should have around a half-dozen employees, with more to be added until reaching 40 next summer.

While the company originally was established to produce electrical harnesses for the military, officials hope to expand into the commercial aircraft sector.

“There’s a lot of possibilities for us,” Cedar said. “I’m excited to get something like this in Missouri.”

Alpine Aviation is operating in a 170,000-square-foot building the Ozark School District purchased in July for $4.1 million. The property, right next door to the Dolby Laboratories facility, also will be used for a career and technical center for high school students, as well as district offices, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The ample on-site parking was a key draw among several locations considered, Cedar said.

In a nationally competitive process to get Alpine Aviation, Sitzes said Missouri beat out New Jersey and Alabama.

Show Me Christian County worked with the city of Ozark, Springfield Regional Economic Partnership, the Missouri Partnership and the state Department of Economic Development to secure the company. No real estate tax abatements were provided to Alpine Aviation, but Sitzes said the company did sign up with the Missouri Works tax incentive program through the DED. It allows a business to retain the state withholding tax of new jobs it creates for a period of five years.

“Since they are a startup, that allows them to pour that money back into the business and make sure they get a strong foothold,” she said.

Neither Sitzes nor Cedar disclosed Alpine Aviation’s terms in the state program.

Getting Creative
For Fleury and Creative Audio, Springfield, Republic, Strafford, Ozark and Nixa were all in the mix as he considered relocating his Queen City office.

“We’re completely out of space,” he said of the 12,000-square-foot facility at 2534 N. Patterson Ave.

The new headquarters, which fronts U.S. Highway 65 at 2151 Lakeland Drive in Ozark, is more than twice as big.

“Mainly what we wanted was high visibility for branding our building and making it our long-term headquarters,” Fleury said, adding he was impressed with Sitzes’ proactive approach.

After she learned about his interest in a new headquarters, Sitzes called Fleury and followed up the next day with a visit to his West Sunshine Street store.

“That project is near and dear to me because I had just literally started,” she said.

Sitzes researched properties that might meet his needs and proposed 10 sites in Ozark and Nixa. Fleury credits her groundwork.

While a wet spring delayed construction, Fleury said the project is a few weeks away from completion. Within the next 90 days, around five jobs will be added to the current 20-person warehouse staff, he said. Another 10 jobs are expected within two years.

With one project nearing completion and another just starting, Sitzes said she’s excited for the future of the organization. She remembers how the office space started with “four walls and nothing,” with her first task purchasing supplies and furniture.

“I was very fortunate in my previous position lending itself very well,” she said, noting she applies past experience in the hospitality industry. “It really just made sense, and I had a great base of knowledge coming into this.”

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