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Entrepreneurial Spirit: City’s comprehensive plan looks to draw businesses and workers

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Forward SGF is Springfield City Council’s comprehensive plan to guide the city’s development through 2040. The plan outlines a vision to be carried out through 10 key initiatives, which Springfield Business Journal is unpacking in this series. This installment, the eighth, focuses on entrepreneurial stewardship. See previous coverage at SBJ.net/ForwardSGF.

A city’s comprehensive plan is, at heart, a land-use plan. That much is clear when the 250-page Forward SGF planning document describes plans to revitalize neighborhoods, connect portions of the city’s trail network, improve corridors, and follow a sustainable growth and annexation strategy.

A plan initiative dedicated to entrepreneurial stewardship is a less obvious fit. That objective calls for the city to cultivate an environment for entrepreneurship, business growth, living-working opportunities and startups.

But every good idea needs a setting. Businesses require buildings – or not. And workers need offices of some sort – a site where their efforts can unfold.

The entrepreneurial stewardship initiative looks beyond startups, which is the idea most people have in mind when they think of entrepreneurship. Instead, this goal broadens the lens to include all aspects of where and how work happens.

Making way for business
Part of Forward SGF is geared toward removing barriers for small businesses.

“This should be done by maintaining open dialogue with business owners and developers and conducting a local survey to identify issues,” the plan states. “Overly complex and time-consuming permitting and licensing processes are often identified as barriers to small businesses at the local government level.”

The plan embraces the idea that time is money, and it suggests four strategies for making the most of it:

  1. Review existing permits, licenses and approvals needed for entrepreneurs to start a business and remove any cost-prohibitive fees, processing delays or overly complex requirements.
  2. Review and update land use and zoning regulations to align with designated mixed-use areas. “For example, chain stores should be restricted in this place type, while uses like food trucks, corner stores, breweries and temporary pop-up shops should be permitted,” the plan states.
  3. Continue to support business retention and expansion programs and work with Missouri State University’s Efactory to help local businesses identify and resolve challenges.
  4. Review and update the land development code to support living-working opportunities, small startups and artisan-type businesses.

Part of the calculus of attracting people to Springfield is being able to offer jobs that are desirable enough for people to want to relocate. “If you build it, they will come,” in other words.

On the other hand, if people come to Springfield to experience what the Queen City has to offer, maybe they’ll build it – “it” being startups or business relocations.

(Work)place-making
Amanda Ohlensehlen, Springfield’s director of Economic Vitality, said entrepreneurial stewardship is closely aligned to the City Council priority of quality of place, and that principle is woven through the Forward SGF plan.

“It’s reinvesting in our neighborhoods and our commercial corridors to establish places where people really want to start businesses and grow ideas,” she said. “It’s a focus on growing innovation districts and workforce development opportunities.”

Another initiative in the top 10 calls for the city to build on its brand as the “Basecamp of the Ozarks” by enhancing outdoor recreation, improving sustainability and using ecotourism to connect residents and attract visitors.

Ohlensehlen noted people might come to Springfield for the beauty and recreation potential of the Ozarks or the cultural opportunities of the urban environment.

At that point, their positive experiences might inspire them to become long-term residents.

“We’re creating places and an identity that attracts people who want to do their own thing, too,” Ohlensehlen said. “That’sthat attracts people who want to do their own thing, too,” Ohlensehlen said. “That’s really what makes a place unique and establishes the charm.”

Entrepreneurship is tied to having places where people want to both live and work, she said.

That means improving walkability. It also means tying the idea of business growth to reinvestment in neighborhoods and corridors and establishing commercial hubs there. These commercial hubs – which require an entrepreneurial mindset – provide better connectivity for neighborhoods, encouraging them to support small businesses of all different types in an iterative process.

An example that is brought up repeatedly in these discussions is the group of restaurants and shops located at Pickwick Avenue and Cherry Street on the north end of the Rountree neighborhood.

“Springfield has some examples of success in that,” Ohlensehlen said. “A lot of people when you start talking about this topic start thinking about Cherry and Pickwick, but really, that idea – a collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit – can happen throughout other areas as well.”

Attracting talent
The plan also stresses the importance of establishing Springfield’s strength as a leader in the regional market, something Ohlensehlen said will be accomplished by pursuing a long-term economic development strategy.

“Having those plans be related to actionable objections and steps to take to further establish Springfield’s strengths and attract talent, that’s going to be the key for our future viability,” she said.

Workforce is vital to the success of the plan, Ohlensehlen said.

“By having a multitude of different opportunities for people to want to work and live here and have all of the activities that they want to do in their free time, we have a tremendous opening,” she said. “We can leverage our strengths to really retain more of those individuals. That continues to build our tax base and continues to strengthen the region as a whole.”

Setting stakes in the Basecamp
Four years ago, Jordan McAdoo started working for Stitch Fix Inc., an online apparel delivery company based in San Francisco with $2 billion annual revenue.

But McAdoo, an iOS engineer, has not had to live in San Francisco for her job. For most of those four years, she was stationed in Springfield – though for want of woods and chickens, she recently moved to an 11-acre property in Highlandville.

McAdoo was born and raised in Springfield. Though she moved away for college out of state, she ended up moving back after a semester.

“I got so homesick,” she said. “I feel like when I was younger it was like, ‘Oh, I have to get out of Springfield and experience a bigger city.’ I was really idealistic.”

But McAdoo, who grew up floating, camping and embracing the Ozarks wilderness, said it didn’t take much time away from Springfield to appreciate what she had here.

“I just discovered I want this home base,” she said.

She noted Springfield has a hidden asset as well in a tight-knit and supportive technology community. Plus, Stitch Fix has an established remote work culture and understands how to help its employees thrive, McAdoo said, and that means she has everything she needs right here at home.

“I’m pretty lucky that my job is really flexible,” she said.

In its entrepreneurial stewardship initiative, the Forward SGF plan takes a broad view of the topic.

“The city should take a creative approach in facilitating local entrepreneurship and small-business development,” the plan states. “It should foster a culture of makerspaces, co-working spaces and live-work opportunities, reducing excessive barriers to small business spaces.”

According to the plan, Springfield’s core neighborhoods give the city an advantage over its suburban counterparts for fostering unique places and employment opportunities.

As a result, the plan states, neighborhoods can act as economic engines to grow local job opportunities and generate wealth.

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