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Opinion: Risk-takers, passion drive vibrant economy

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Springfield Business Journal’s founding publisher, Dianne Elizabeth Osis, started the Economic Impact Awards in part to celebrate SBJ’s 20th anniversary in 2000.

Fast-forward two decades, and this year we’re celebrating 40 years of SBJ, and the 21st edition of these awards.

That time horizon is nothing for this year’s Lifetime Achievement in Business Award winner Harold Bengsch, who has served our community for over 60 years. Harold will officially retire at the end of the year at age 85 (although, it should be noted he reads at an 88-year-old level). I suspect, though, he will continue to find some way to help our community for another few decades.

A vibrant economy requires many things. We need supportive public policy, a strong market and entrepreneurs willing to take risks.

If we’ve learned anything in this strange and challenging year of 2020, it is that public health has a critical role to play as well. Harold has provided knowledge, skill and a thoughtful hand in protecting Springfield and Greene County for over a half century.

From an unquenchable quarry fire, to the AIDS crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, he has served us – truly served us – as a staff person and more recently, an elected official.

He has approached every position he’s had with tireless dedication, a thirst for the right information and unflinching kindness.

He has touched all of our lives, even though many may not know of his behind-the-scenes work.

As mentioned earlier, though, we could have the strongest public policy, a competent civic sector, but still have a flailing community if we did not have entrepreneurs to provide the investment, jobs, and goods and services to contribute to our quality of life.

Just as it takes special people like Harold to commit to public service, we also need citizens that are willing to risk their own assets and wealth to take a chance on an idea.

The firms and people being honored this year represent that unique trait. Markets can change, competitors can threaten and economic cycles can throttle many hopes and dreams.

As we’ve learned this year, too, unforeseen perils like a pandemic can menace personal investment, as well. Despite all that can go wrong, entrepreneurs jump in regardless.

This year’s honorees represent many different industries. Some are from more traditional commerce and some cutting-edge technology.

Yet, they are all bound together by that willingness to risk reputation, wealth and time for a chance to meet a market need. That singular trait is what drives a capitalist economy and creates economic opportunity. That, in turn, creates community.

Congratulations, award winners. Twenty years from now, when little Johnny asks, “What did you do during the pandemic, grandma?” You can proudly say, “I took a risk, son. I took a risk.”

Brian Fogle is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Ozarks. He can be reached at bfogle@cfozarks.org.

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