Springfield, MO

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Economic Development

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by David Knight

As the holidays pass us by, people begin to focus their attention back to the year that was and the year that is to come. How did the year stack up to the year before? Were projections met? What went right? What went wrong?

This year has been a learning experience for me. I left the challenge, yet security, of the public sector for the excitement and uncertainty of the private sector. Words like marketing, client satisfaction and profit-sharing have been my new words to live by.

What I have found however is that the basic principles of hard work, positive attitude and enthusiasm carry just as well in the private sector as in the public. There seems to be this myth that everyone in the public sector eats donuts and takes breaks just when you need them. There are many exceptional people in the public sector, as well as in private business.

The important issue is how can the two work together to improve our business environment, provide employment opportunities for our citizens and create wealth in our community?

If one looks at our current economic picture, all the indicators show signs of a healthy and vibrant economy, but there are cracks in the armor. People are working. The current unemployment rate is 3 percent, basically full employment. But are people employed to their fullest production and earning potential? I think not.

The numbers. In Springfield and Greene County, retail sales figures for the latest reporting period, ended Oct. 31, were down for the month and year to date. Production of durable and nondurable goods were down while personnel costs were up.

Residential building permits were down 21 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, with commercial permits down as well.

Year-to-date residential permits were up 6.5 percent, and commercial permits were down 0.9 percent in number and 23.7 percent in value.

According to the Kiplinger Letter, "In the year to come there will be fewer new jobs, putting a damper on both personal incomes and spending."

The vision. At last month's City Council hearing, there was 2 1/2 hours of discussion on the need for a second industrial park. What is there to discuss? The City Council adopted The Vision 20/20 Economic Development Plan Element that sets out specific goals, objectives and actions to achieve economic development for our community.

The plan says, "The quality of job growth is an increasingly significant issue in Springfield. As a percent of total employment, skilled and higher-paying manufacturing, transportation and government jobs have declined. To overcome these underlying trends will require a proactive and targeted economic strategy." In 1980, 21 percent of our work force was employed in manufacturing compared to 15 percent today.

A specific strategy and action to overcome this is to "Form a partnership to develop an industrial park to continue the success of the existing efforts established by the Partnership Industrial Park." We need to provide opportunities for our young and talented people to be employed to their fullest.

Employers who are concerned about competing in a tight labor market are those who have trouble regardless of the market. If we can provide a wider range of employment opportunities it will allow the market to open up, freeing up positions once occupied by underemployed individuals.

The plan. The Springfield Business and Development Corporation needs to move forward with plans to develop a 300-acre industrial park. The background work has been completed, and discussion has taken place.

Consultants have provided their 2 cents on where and how the park should be developed. The need for additional quality, ready-to-be-developed manufacturing property will be here by 2001.

Let's stop talking and start acting on the vision, goals and actions identified and approved by the Vision 20/20 efforts. The citizens of Springfield deserve to have community leadership put aside personal differences and selfish concerns to allow people the opportunity to be employed to their fullest potential and improve Springfield's overall economic health and prosperity.

It's all about underemployment and our community's economic future.

(David Knight is a planner with Butler, Rosenbury & Partners and former economic development coordinator for the city of Springfield.)

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