As we think about strategies to help Springfield win the competition with other cities for quality jobs and talent, one of our best opportunities is connecting with students attending colleges and universities in the region. Thousands of students who live here for several years while pursuing an education should be a great source of talent for growing companies.
Our higher education institutions have been incredibly innovative in constructing degree, training and research programs that build an environment to create and attract quality jobs with great potential for retaining graduates. Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center and the Efactory are prime examples; they focus on supporting private-sector research and business growth, and they provide students with the experiential learning and training needed to pursue careers in these areas.
At Ozarks Technical Community College, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology will strengthen our capacity to become a professional hub for careers in manufacturing. That, in turn, helps us grow that industry sector and build the capacity to keep more graduates here.
There’s more we can do to retain students to grow our workforce and economy. On its Community Leadership Visit to Boise, Idaho, in 2017, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce focused on that city’s placemaking efforts to retain young professionals to both grow their talent pool and increase diversity. Their 2% annual population growth rate means that by the end of this decade, Boise will grow by more than 100,000 new residents in its metro area.
One of the other keys to their retention strategy was making young professionals feel connected. It’s harder to take a job in another city when you are tethered by strong relationships and have a stake in your community’s future.
While many local businesses and organizations are acting on this principle to retain young professionals, it also can be applied to college students. How can we be more intentional in connecting them to our community and make the case that staying in Springfield is a desirable option?
The Network for Springfield’s Young Professionals, a committee of the chamber, has been focused on answering that question and has developed a more robust outreach program to start establishing the relationship between college students and Springfield. Since 2017, The Network’s College Student Outreach Task Force has been leading in this direction and with a new presentation created in mid-2018, the group took the message of being a young professional in Springfield to over 500 students. In 2019, the task force increased the goal to 800. The outreach program’s objective is to showcase opportunities Springfield offers young professionals and speak to the misconceptions commonly held.
Perhaps the most important part of this process has been gathering qualitative data. In a survey prior to our presentations, we ask students about the factors that will lead them to determine where they will live after graduation, their impression of Springfield and how likely they are to live in the Queen City after they graduate.
There are some common misconceptions we are working to hit head on: Springfield is too small, there’s no opportunity for career advancement and there’s not enough access to the outdoors.
Resources used in the presentation, housed on the LiveInSpringfieldMo.com website, provide plenty of data and testimonial information that debunk these notions. Those who’ve helped in the presentations tell me the students appreciate being asked to consider staying here.
In their own initiatives to create inclusive culture and positive campus experiences, our higher education partners have established a strong foundation for building student connections to the community. Other civic organizations also have been working in this area. Among others, for example, Minorities in Business is working to create an initiative to engage college students in the community and connect them with mentoring and leadership opportunities.
It’s important we empower students to see themselves here in the future, enjoying great quality of life built on real assets like housing affordability, close proximity to the outdoor recreational opportunities of the Ozarks and working in a strong local economy. The more we can welcome and engage them in volunteer opportunities, internships and community events, the more they can make the connections that help in deciding to remain after graduation or to return in the future.
Paden Wilcox, chairman of The Network for Springfield’s Young Professionals Leadership Council, is the business development manager at Computer Recycling Center LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This drive-thru coffee shop is the third Scooter’s Coffee franchise in the Springfield area.
Marc Thornsberry, a Senior Engineer at CJW, says he joined the company after working in the public sphere. He says CJW had a ton of experience working with the community, and putting their customer's and clients.
Sandra Smart, a technology and commercialization specialist, shares helpful advice and cautionary tips about the importance of tracking cash flow for new or established businesses. Smart works with tech entrepreneurs and hosts training workshops through the Missouri SBDC at Missouri State University's efactory.
Michael Smith and Chris Sawyer, COO and CEO of Next Level Solutions respectively, discuss how they keep their remote teams and offices in and out of country on the same page. Next Level Solutions was ranked #1 in the Springfield Business Journal's 2021 Dynamic Dozen.
John Oke-Thomas, architect and co-founder of minorities in business, responds to the accusation that minority businesses are only successful because of the priority they have received in lending. He says that if a business uses a loan well, it shows their worth.
Sandra Smart, a technology and commercialization specialist, shares tips for entrepreneurs who are ready to seek funding. Some of her tips apply broadly; some target technology industry businesses. Smart works with tech entrepreneurs and startups, and hosts training workshops through the Missouri SBDC at Missouri State University's efactory.
Hollie Elliott discusses common misconceptions about locating your business in a small town. She says that there are a lot of benefits that people may not consider.
Drawing on his own experience dynamically evolving his company and business model, Jim Meinsen discusses when and how you might need to draw on new technology. Jim and Debbie Meinsen are co-owners of TCI Graphics in Springfield.
John Oke-Thomas, longtime Springfield architect, discusses his philosophy on architecture. He says that future historians will be focused on the sustainability of our contemporary architecture.
Erin Hedlun, director of marketing and communications at Evangel University, says compassion is an important job skill. Hedlun says it is a component of what makes a leader.
Rachel Barks, owner of Artistree Pottery, talks about the concepting that went behind the aesthetic of the business.