Matt Morrow is president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, which he said represents the voice of business. The organization, with between 1500 and 1600 area businesses as members, is the head economic development organization for the region. It works with other organizations, such as city and county government, utility companies and educational institutions to help manage projects of expansion and relocation of business. About 3/4 of new jobs that are created in the area are created by businesses that are already here, he said.
The area's economy is strong, according to Morrow. Unemployment is at two percent, which is great if you're a job seeker and difficult for a business that wants to expand, Morrow said. That means Springfield must compete even harder for jobs and make a case for a growing population. The educational opportunities are a good draw for companies. But the area's growth rate is currently at one percent, which is "not as robust as those areas that are really winning a lot of projects right now," he said.
Communities have really started to focus on what they can do to attract new people, according to Morrow. "It has really changed the conversation in economic development." There's a lot of focus on place making, he said. The chamber has worked the last few years with others in the community to look at "what is the future of Springfield? What can we look like? What kinds of investments can we make today that'll make this a spectacular place for people to live and really a magnet for people to move to."
But, he said, the number one need of employers is to know that they have the skilled workforce that they need to grow. A lot of states in the south have been winning contracts by investing heavily in training, according to Morrow. He supports Governor Mike Parson's Fast Track legislation, which would provide funds for adults working toward degrees that fill a high need skills gap. And he supports Missouri One Start, which would consolidate and expand the Missouri Works program.
Morrow said wages are on the increase in Greene County. The county was the fastest-growing wage county by percentage in the country in the last quarter, according to Morrow, with a little more than a six percent wage growth year over year in that time period. One organization that increased wages was CoxHealth. The $6 million investment, he said, will help them compete for talent.