The Springfield Business Development Corp. marked more than $88 million in capital investment pledges last year, officials said at the organization’s Feb. 21 annual meeting.
Ryan Mooney, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development, pointed to SBDC’s role in helping secure six projects in 2019 expected to collectively generate $88.3 million in capital investments, $14.3 million in new payroll and 321 jobs. The projects entail either expansions or relocations.
“I think that is the anchor,” Mooney said. “Companies that have made that commitment are a little more anchored to our community.”
The SBDC, which works to attract and retain businesses to the Springfield region, is the economic development arm of the chamber. Its annual meeting at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center drew nearly 490 people, according to chamber officials.
Three of the projects referenced by Mooney are connected to the food processing and specialty manufacturing sectors. And two of them involved businesses already established in the Queen City: Vital Farms Inc. and Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co.
Vital Farms announced plans in October 2019 to add 64,000 square feet to its 84,000-square-foot plant in Partnership Industrial Center West, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Through the expansion, the company plans to add 50 more workers to its plant that currently employs nearly 100.
Also in October, Ozarks Coca-Cola began dirt work on a two-phase, $40 million expansion that includes a new production line and adds over 400,000 square feet of warehouse space to its existing 125,000-square-foot plant. It’s expected to bring 25 new jobs, according to a December news release.
Planned projects by CNH Industrial Reman and Jarden Plastic Solutions also were cited in the SBDC annual report. However, Mooney declined to disclose additional details, and officials with both companies declined to comment.
New in town
One of the projects noted by SBDC officials landed in Christian County.
Through the Springfield Regional Economic Partnership, SBDC worked with nonprofit Show Me Christian County to bring Alpine Aviation Group Inc. to Ozark. The New Jersey-based aerospace-focused advanced manufacturing company is now manufacturing aircraft wiring harnesses in 6,000 square feet at 1624 W. Jackson St.
Missouri beat out New Jersey and Alabama to secure the business, Show Me Christian County Executive Director Andrea Sitzes previously told SBJ.
Terry Cedar, Alpine Aviation’s director of operations, said the company started manufacturing work in October 2019. The company now employs 11 with plans to expand to 40, although Cedar said he’s uncertain when that number would be reached. He previously told SBJ 40 employees were anticipated to be on board by this summer.
“I’d like to go faster, but I’m not unhappy,” he said of the progress of operations at the plant.
Getting the plant up and running required lengthy development of a system for paperwork and processes, Cedar said. Noting the work involves the military, the company is preparing for its manufacturing readiness assessment process with the Army next month.
“We’re making sure we’re doing harnesses with the right processes,” he said. “There are a lot of standards.”
Alpine wasn’t the only newcomer from out of town identified in the SBDC report.
Athens, Georgia-based food ingredient maker IsoAge Technologies made an investment in the Queen City last May after transitioning its manufacturing center to full capacity. IsoAge has owned a 90,000-square-foot plant at 2829 S. Scenic Ave. since October 2018, said Senior Vice President Robert Brooks. Declining to disclose IsoAge’s investment, he said the company now employs 10 in Springfield.
At the SBDC meeting, Mooney also pointed to the future, citing placemaking efforts such as a $21 million federal grant received by the city for the Grant Avenue Parkway and Springfield’s ongoing comprehensive plan development, dubbed Forward SGF.
Through such projects, Mooney said SBDC is a “great vehicle for our community to be able to move these initiatives forward.”
“If we can make this the best possible place to work and to live, we will be able to attract talent,” he said. “We will be able to attract high-quality talent to our community and that will help us win the competition for jobs.”
Mark Viguet, senior manager of corporate communications for Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., said placemaking was a new term for him to hear at the meeting. However, he said Forward SGF has the vision and planning that recognizes a desire to make Springfield better. That process can lead to a stronger workforce, he said, as locals invested in the community stay here.
Noting the cooperative employs around 300, Viguet said the worker count has remained stable in recent years.
“We’re in the power generation and transmission business, so that is a steady business,” he said. “Our employment numbers don’t radically shift due to necessarily changing winds in the market.”
Mooney noted the local talent pipeline has been served for the past five years through the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies career exploration program. Over 750 high school students in the Springfield region have participated. The first three GO CAPS graduating classes were recently surveyed, he said, adding 69% have attended or are now attending a Springfield-area college or university.
“That’s certainly encouraging for our workforce we’re training with the right skills and that they’re staying here in our community,” he said.
On the cusp
Keynote speaker Rebecca Ryan echoed some of Mooney’s remarks, as she told attendees Springfield is on the cusp of greatness. Ryan, an economist and futurist, is the founder and owner of Next Generation Consulting Inc., a forecasting consultancy firm in Madison, Wisconsin.
“You have put so much effort into laying the groundwork,” she said. “Now, how do we with care, wisdom and stewardship create a community that our future generations can be proud to inherit?”
Regarding Forward SGF, Ryan said she was impressed with how engaged younger generations are in the process through groups such as The Network, the chamber’s young professionals organization.
“This is a really big deal for you guys the way you have institutionalized having the voice of young professionals at the decision-making table,” she said. “It’s the best I’ve seen in the country.”
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