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Opinion: Urban park serves as brain-drain antidote

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One of Springfield’s biggest exports shipped out last month.

Hundreds of college graduates loaded up their cars and headed to larger markets seeking employment and higher wages.

At the request of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Market Street Services developed a strategic action plan last fall to strengthen Springfield’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining businesses and reducing the brain drain. To see the plan’s four main goals in action, look no further than the IDEA Commons, Missouri State University’s urban park blending innovation, design, entrepreneurship and the arts with residential, retail and entertainment uses.

Developing our talent
The Jordan Valley Innovation Center provides a hands-on learning experience for its students, as well as support and business opportunities for corporate affiliates Brewer Science, Crosslink, Lockheed-Martin Nanosystems and St. John’s Medical Research Institute. Engineering and science majors can assist in developing new products in nanotechnology, national defense and health research.

Missouri State’s art and design department is home to more than 400 students, a dozen faculty and 10 areas of study in an historic ice house complex called Brick City.

The impromptu interactions between innovation, design, entrepreneurship and art can stimulate creativity and new business ventures.

Growing our economy
JVIC has created more than 90 jobs with an average salary of $70,000. The $100,000 city investment in the former MFA mill site has generated $25 million in facility construction and renovation, $30 million in equipment and machinery, and $60 million in research funding.

Missouri State is renovating the former Willowbrook plant into the Robert W. Plaster Center for Free Enterprise and Business Development. When it opens in fall 2012, it will become home to the MSU Small Business and Technology Development Center, the department of technology and construction management, and more than 20,000 square feet of business incubator space as a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs in any stage of the business-planning process.

One of the early fruits of the IDEA Commons business cultivation efforts has been the opening of Apple Empire apparel store featuring international fashions for men and women. The retail store at 338 Boonville Ave. is owned by Apple Li, a Drury University and Olympic swimmer.

Enhancing our community
The Taylor-Martin Group LLC is a private-sector pioneer in the IDEA Commons bringing its Obelisk Home retail store, Unleashed Life pet accessories, Bridge Blue Sourcing Partners and seven loft apartments to Phelps Street across from JVIC.

The Jordan Valley Health Center in the former L.E. Cox Building at Kimbrough Avenue and Tampa Street employs 275 people and continues to grow to meet the public health needs of the area. It continues to develop and expand its campus, anchoring the northeast corner of downtown.

Marlin Co. advertising agency leased the third floor of Brick City, Phase II, for its downtown office. Its creative teams, demonstration kitchen complete with a Blue Bunny ice cream freezer, eclectic meeting spaces, bike-share program and community art gallery broaden the visions of work spaces for Springfield and rival the facilities of any metropolitan city.

The progress of the IDEA Commons during the past six years has been impressive. The foundation has been set for the urban innovation park to become a transformational regional development of new ideas, products and processes that employs future generations of Springfield’s young professionals.

Should IDEA Commons continue down this path, future development has the potential to shift center city Springfield’s export tides.

Rusty Worley, executive director of Urban Districts Alliance, can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.[[In-content Ad]]

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