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Before a record breaking crowd at Good Morning, Springfield, Chairman of the Board Jeff Schrag sat down with the new Chamber President Matt Morrow to find out what Matt’s thoughts are on the top issues facing Springfield.
Q: Your early career was in radio and political communications, you spent 12 years at the Home Builders Association in Springfield and most recently you headed up the fifth largest Home Builders Association in the country in Birmingham, Alabama—how will these experiences shape your leadership of the Chamber?
A: Each new challenge has demonstrated how experiences along the way have been uniquely provided, in part, as preparation. I certainly couldn’t have predicted, planned or even hoped for the path that I’ve been given, but I know that the sequence of those experiences hasn’t happened by accident. Broadcasting prepared me for news and station management. News and station management prepared me for politics. Politics prepared me for advocacy. Advocacy prepared me for Association management and Association management prepared me for Chamber leadership. I can’t look you in the eye and say that all of that was a part of MY plan, but clearly it all has been part of THE plan. So, I know that my purpose in each past role - and in this new one – is to contribute in a meaningful, purposeful, and positive way to something much bigger than myself - and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity that lies ahead to do that here.
Q: In this new gig, you’ll spend a lot of time talking about Springfield. What do you think our biggest strengths are?
A: Our new talent attraction video hits all the right notes (liveinspringfieldmo.org). We have a lot of cause for optimism. You know, having moved away from Springfield and come back, it’s a lot like watching children grow. If you haven’t seen them for a while and then you see them again, you really notice how much they’ve grown. Springfield is a lot like that. There are so many areas of growth in our community—so many new and innovative initiatives and programs. I think that’s our strength, is that we’re constantly looking for the next opportunities, and working together as a community to create growth and innovation.
Q: What do you think our biggest challenges are as a community?
A: We have a mismatched workforce. At the Chamber we visit with employers on a very regular basis to see how we can help them grow and expand, and one of the top issues that they have brought to us is workforce. During the recession, we were not creating jobs, but there was a tremendous amount of innovation and technology that has impacted some of Springfield’s top industries—manufacturing, healthcare, etc. So now that companies are beginning to hire again, we’re finding that there’s a disparity between the skills in our workforce and the needs of our employers. This “mismatched workforce” issue is a problem everywhere, but I believe Springfield is uniquely positioned to have a competitive advantage over many other communities. That is because 1) our region’s population continues to grow and diversify, and 2) we have a robust education sector that is ready and willing to engage with employers to hear and respond quickly to real, on-the-ground workforce needs.
Q: The Chamber board recently approved the organization’s action plan. Can you tell us how that plan along with your leadership will address these challenges in the years to come?
A: Everything we do as a Chamber of Commerce is about growing the economy, creating jobs, and expanding economic opportunity for everybody who lives here. That means we are persistently focused on attracting new capital investment and new jobs to the area through our economic development efforts, on advocating on behalf of business for public policy that allows private enterprise to thrive, and on helping Chamber members grow their business. When our Action Plan debuts in February, you’ll see that we are putting a lot more emphasis on workforce development than we ever have before. The Talent Attraction Initiative is a big part of this, but we’ll also be looking at ways that we can develop the talent that already exists within Springfield by strengthening partnerships and communication between educators and employers.
To see more of Matt’s answers or to ask your own questions of Matt, pay him a visit on Twitter at @matt_morrow.