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Opinion: Building an economy by linking financial, social, natural capital

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Hello 2024. As we embark on a new year, many of us reflect on the past and make plans for the future. For most of us, it is hard to believe that 2020 is four years behind us.

For some, this annual reflection involves choosing a focus word, a word that exemplifies the goal of the year. Individually, this word choice can be helpful because it gives assurance when the chaos and noise of the daily grind overwhelm our thoughts.

To pledge a single word can be a difficult practice, when so many come to mind: Survival. Intention. Strength. Health. Alignment. Growth. Reflection.

For many of us, the past few years have felt like survival. Thus, for me personally and professionally, I declare prosper as the word of the year. A theme that moves past mere survival, but to the point of thriving.

This is synonymous with where we are as a destination. The city of Springfield is in the process of implementing Forward SGF, the new comprehensive plan which sets the tone for the growth and sustainable development of the city over the next two decades. The plan incorporated the ideas and desires of the community to strengthen Springfield’s identity and ensure it is a place for everyone to live, work and thrive. Forward SGF champions 10 top initiatives: neighborhood revitalization, place-based improvements, update the community development code, ungap the trail network, promote entrepreneurial stewardship, enable corridor improvements, develop neighborhood commercial hubs, connect to nature, facilitate growth and annexation, and focus on regional planning and partnerships.

How does economic vitality fit into the equation? Economic vitality is a holistic approach, elevating the importance of place and people in the context of economic development. This focus aligns economic development goals to community priorities to ensure a climate that fosters low poverty, affordable options for quality housing, workforce training and wage levels that allow the opportunity for people to participate in quality-of-life endeavors.

From an academic approach, sustainable development initiatives can be understood as striving to balance the triple bottom line between economic, natural and sociocultural components. How does the Springfield region become the best place possible while retaining the facets of the community that make it unique – which are its people and places? This can be accomplished by linking financial capital, increasing social capital and highlighting the natural capital that makes southwest Missouri stand apart from competitors. This perspective identifies a variety of resources that are helpful to ensure a thriving economy. It allows for flexibility and responsiveness during disruptions, increasing the community’s resilience and preparedness through a broader support network. This approach provides the vital foundation for a prosperous society.

Economic development extends past winning the next big project. For a community to prosper, it must consider all facets of community needs and work collaboratively to overcome challenges. Thus, placemaking is a core tenet of Forward SGF, seeking to create quality places, stimulate revitalization and foster collaboration. Inclusive planning processes, such as Forward SGF, lay the framework for deploying strategic economic development tools and programs that empower stakeholder groups with influence and capacity to realize success. Economic development initiatives cultivate partnerships to leverage funding to implement strategic construction projects and social programming that support the local economy and its people.

Economic development in its simplest terms seeks to market a city’s assets to targeted audiences to attract and retain business to a region. A primary objective of economic development is to attract and retain talent. This effort requires integration with a larger network of public and private partners to help identify and remove barriers. This multifaceted approach to economic development recognizes weaknesses and helps to link resources to elevate individuals in our community that are barely surviving with those that are thriving. These efforts cover a range of topics from addressing housing needs, to workforce development, access to multimodal transportation, improving infrastructure, increasing educational opportunities and mobilizing community resources.

The vision of Forward SGF is aspirational and demonstrates the impressive inventory of natural and cultural assets that are prevalent in our region. Through implementation of the plan, Springfield will tap into the imagination of our entrepreneurs to solidify its identity and overcome obstacles to ensure future generations prosper.

Amanda Ohlensehlen is the director of Economic Vitality for the city of Springfield. She can be reached at amanda.ohlensehlen@springfieldmo.gov.

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