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Business and the Economy
Business and economy news and issues in the Ozarks.

Managing Nixa's Growth, Now and In the Future

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Nixa, Missouri’s city administrator Brian Bingle says with a sly grin, “Tongue-in-cheek, we’ve always recognized ourselves as a ‘bedroom community’ of Springfield. But we’ve gone one step further and suggest that we’re the master bedroom!”

Tongue-in-cheek or not, Bingle is referencing the explosive population growth of Christian County, and specifically the city of Nixa, over the last few decades.  We’ll take a look at how that growth is being managed now and what steps will be necessary in the future if—as projected—Nixa’s growth continues over the next quarter-century. 

Just what kind of growth are we talking about? In 1990 Nixa’s population was around 4,100; in the year 2000 it had jumped to about 12,000.  And in the last census in 2010, it had ballooned to 19,022.  Brian Bingle says that represents “about a 350 percent growth rate over the course of 20 years.”

To manage that growth, and the increases in services and infrastructure needed by the citizens of Nixa, Brian Bingle relies on a “very professional, prolific” staff. “We master-plan all of our enterprises—which is your electric, your water, your waste water.  We master-plan our streets.”

Bingle not only relies on his own municipal staff to research trends and needs in Nixa’s water, sewer and electric departments—not to mention present and future transportation needs—but also consults experts in the civil engineering field.  One of these is Sara Fields, Executive Director of the Ozarks Transportation Administration, a Federally-designated regional planning organization that helps facilitate dialogue and cooperative decision making on transportation issues by state and local governments and regional planning agencies. 

Between now and 2040, they’re projected the population of Nixa, both within the city limits and in the surrounding area, will grow from its present 20 thousand to about 39,000 by the year 2040... which will cause a serious rise in the traffic volume along South Campbell Avenue/Highway 160, says Sara Fields. “South of the James River Freeway, the volumes are nearing 40 thousand cars a day, which is just amazing!”

Amazing... and often frustrating for motorists.  And Sara Fields predicts it will only increase.  One of the OTA’s studies, called the “North-South Corridor Study,” projected a delay of just short of an hour to travel from Nixa to Springfield if additional highway access into Christian county is not provided.  “This growth is inevitable,” she says.

A study done a few years ago suggested extending three Greene County roads—National Avenue, Kansas Expressway, and Greene County Route FF in Battlefield—all into Christian County to relieve congestion on Campbell Avenue/160.  These projects, in today’s money, would cost around $40 million... and who knows how much more than that in the future when inflation is taken into account. And as Sara Fields notes, the transportation funding situation isn’t very good right now, between the Missouri Department of Transportation’s financial woes and uncertainty at the Federal level.  And to even get such road projects off the drawing board will require major expenditures, says Brian Bingle.  The Kansas Expressway project, for example, would require a $2.5 million environmental impact analysis before a single shovel hits dirt... and as Bingle says, “we don’t have that type of money.” 

“Absent state and federal money, we would have to go to the taxpayers here locally and ask what they’re willing support,” adds Sara Fields.

Unlike other similar communities such as Ozark, Nixa does have a transportation fee in place, in the form of a half-cent sales tax.  But a metro area growing the way Nixa is growing has plenty of other issues that require additional funding, says City Administrator Brian Bingle.  “One is retaining and maintaining a police department that is capable of servicing the community’s public safety.  The other is our parks and recreation.”

Nixa also has in place a one-cent sales tax that the city heavily relies on for various municipal services other than police and parks, such as municipal court, planning and development, and building inspections.  This tax money will only go so far, in part because Nixa has had fairly limited success in enticing business, retail and commercial industry into town.  Brian Bingle feels the major reason for this is that some 60 to 70 percent of Nixa’s workforce works outside Nixa’s jurisdiction... in other words, the majority of Nixa residents commute to and from Springfield to work.  So, says Bingle, “our nighttime population isn’t the same as our daytime population.”  Still, he feels that population is more than sufficient to sustain more commercial activities than what Nixa currently has.  Certainly there are numerous national, regional and local chains who have opened locations in Nixa, including Harter House, Wal-Mart, Ruby Tuesday, Applebys, McAllister’s, and Tractor Supply Company.  But the city remains at a disadvantage when it comes to bringing in new business. In addition to most of the local workforce coming to Springfield for their jobs, the Nixa city administration lacks a key staff position: a fulltime economic development director, something Brian Bingle feels they badly need. He and various other staffers devote what time they can to fulfilling the need, but as Bingle admits, “I’m an urban-regional planner—but I’m NOT a salesperson!  And I think the marketing aspects are what is lacking in that regard.  I think it would behoove us to have somebody on staff that could devote 100 percent of the time towards economic development.”

Despite the fiscal and infrastructure challenges, Nixa continues to grow, and Brian Bingle feels the city’s most potent economic development tools are its public school system, and its general quality of life. He says, “I don’t think you can find another school district within the state that has achieved what the Nixa public school system has achieved—the accreditations, the recognitions, the awards.  But again, the quality of life within the city of Nixa, we take that very, very seriously.  And it is our intent to preserve and protect that as best we can.”