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A Man of Change: Jim Anderson

By Tom Carlson

Springfield’s economic development efforts were stuck in the non-passing lane in the 1980s. Unlike the go-go days of the fifties and sixties, growth had become a bad word. Even the Mayor opposed it.

For many, Springfield was a nice mid-sized town where one could comfortably earn a living and raise a family. The cost of living was low, so if you had a job, things were pretty much okay.

But that belief ignored gathering storm clouds. Manufacturing jobs were dwindling because of foreign competition; suburban growth led to the construction of the Battlefield Mall and the closing of the square to traffic had killed Downtown and Commercial Street business; and City revenues to maintain its streets and sidewalks were inadequate.

This was the City and situation that Jim Anderson entered when accepting the job as president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce in February 1988.

An Ozarks native, Anderson was familiar with regional dynamics. He grew up in Ozark, and in high school excelled in debate. After receiving an education degree from Southwest Missouri State (SMS), he moved to Jefferson City where he married his wife, Janet, and taught school.

In 1979, his path took a turn when he was hired to lead the Jefferson City Chamber. While working there, he experienced the capitol’s machinations first-hand. He watched how Kansas City and St. Louis passed legislation for their constituents by working together.

He also saw a lack of enthusiasm from his home area of the state. “The feeling in Jefferson City about Springfield was that it did not want to be involved, and just wanted to do its own thing,” he remembers.

The takeaway, to use his words, is that in order to accomplish something, you must get people out of their comfort zone and work together. He brought those lessons with him to Springfield, where he led the Chamber for the next quarter century.

“My first order of business when I got here was economic development,” he said. “Springfield was known nationally as not wanting to grow. The previous Mayor avowed no growth. I felt that we all needed to get on the same page to begin with.”

In Jefferson City, the City, County and Chamber had a formal economic development partnership in which the City and the County hired the Chamber to do economic development services. But in Springfield that was heresy to some people.

Anderson recalled that when he proposed a similar public/private partnership between the City, Utility and the Chamber at a council meeting, someone accused him of being a socialist.

The project could have died quietly then if Jim had not been convinced of the benefits of public/private partnerships.

A Different Approach

I met Jim the first day on his new job as Chamber director, after he called and asked if I had time to see him. At the time, I was serving my first term as mayor.

It was a cold Monday morning in February 1988. We discussed the boarded-up storefronts he passed on his way to my office on Park Central East, which was located just a few blocks from the Chamber's office on Jefferson Avenue.

Jim talked of the City’s failed effort of creating a "pedestrian" mall downtown in response to competition from the Battlefield Mall which opened in 1970.

As we spoke, there were two things I noticed: his politeness and his careful listening. These characteristics stayed with him throughout his tenure -- and the fact he has a gift for remembering people and events.

During our conversation, he said he hoped we could work together, which was nice to hear since his boss Casey (later a friend of mine) had supported incumbent Mayor George Scruggs when I defeated him the year before.

The next time I heard from Jim was about a month later, and he asked if I could meet with him and Allen at University Plaza to discuss an idea. They proposed the formation of a group that would be called the Community Leadership Forum. Its members would meet monthly for breakfast to discuss community issues.

The group initially consisted of representatives from the City of Springfield, City Utilities, the Greene County Commission, Springfield Public Schools, the United Way, organized labor, Ozarks Technical Community College, then-Southwest Missouri State University, then-Evangel College, then-Drury College and the Chamber. Later, the Springfield-Greene County Library District, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Minorities in Business would be added.

The group’s first order of business was to try to improve communication and planning for the future of the community. This group was key to advance planning and prioritization especially related to issues requiring voter approval.

At the monthly breakfast meetings, officials discussed issues and needs on their drawing boards. Participants outlined future plans including possible ballot issues. Feedback was offered from the other members who collectively had over 100 years’ experience in these matters.

As a result of this process, planning for growth and meeting financial needs occurred months, sometimes even a year or two, in advance. For example, it was considered poor form not to plan issues requiring voter approval well in advance. A party who, at the last minute, scheduled an election without time for the process of community and peer input, had to think twice about whether they could get away with it and still get support. Just like in school, some people learned faster than others.

Over the years, communication strengthened among the group as they all got to know each other. Because of these meetings, leaders who would rarely have communicated with each other developed trust with their counterparts. There is an old saying: don’t try to make friends when you need them. Incoming leaders to the universities, schools or government were informed that the community prided itself on the collaborative approach that existed between the major institutions. The unspoken message was that if you ignore this fact about the local geography, do so at your own peril.

Of course, there are some people who just don’t listen. Typically, their boards let them go after about a year. A couple of university presidents come to mind. On the other hand, those leaders who embraced the concept had long tenures. Examples during that period are city managers Tom Finnie and his predecessor Don Busch, CU General Manager Bob Roundtree, OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon, Evangel President Bob Spence, MSU President John Keiser, and Drury President John Moore.

The Fantus Report

The year before Jim returned to Springfield to lead the Chamber, the City and the Chamber had hired the Chicago consulting firm Fantus Company to produce a SWOT analysis outlining Springfield’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This was at a time when Zenith Electronics Corporation was reducing production of televisions here while increasing operations in Mexico. Bill Dauer, then serving as Chamber director for the second time, had worked with Fantus in 1957 when Royal Typewriter picked Springfield for its plant on East Sunshine.

Fantus identified three weaknesses: the need for improved air travel in and out of the City, poor labor-management relations, and declining manufacturing jobs due to globalization.

Labor-Management Relations

Springfield had a poor reputation on issues of union and labor management dating back decades. In September 1970, Southwest Missouri made the national nightly news shows when a union sympathizer fired a rifle at a semi-tractor trailer carrying 21 tons of dynamite. The rig blew up and created a massive crater on Interstate 44 near Brookline.

The driver, John A. Galt, an Oklahoma City man who had crossed a Teamsters picket line during a strike against Tri-State Motors, was killed. This event and other bitter labor activity hampered efforts to attract new industries to the area.

In response, on Labor Day September 1987, a broad group of business, labor, and government leaders announced the formation of CALM, the Coalition of Area Labor Management.

At the outset, the executive director was Beryl Carlew, an arbitrator on labor management issues. The officers were Chairman of the Board - President of MSU, Marshall Gordon, President - Ray Edwards, IBEW, Vice President - Ted Smith, DeWitt and Associates, Secretary - Geoffrey Butler, Butler Group Architects, and Treasurer - Don Busch, City Manager.

The Chamber was represented by Bill Buckner, Allen Casey, and Jim, who had replaced Bill Dauer. Other entities on the original 19-member committee were the Mayor and a member of City Council, City Utilities, 3M, Zenith, and the Burlington Northern Railroad, known by locals as Frisco.

CALM improved labor-management communication and supported increased job training programs at Ozarks Technical College before disbanding a few years later.

Preparing for Change

While CALM was successful in changing Springfield’s reputation for poor labor relations and the Community Leadership Forum was communicating and planning for the future more effectively, the Chamber’s primary mission of promoting economic development remained.

Economic development was dormant. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s, there was an aggressive recruiting effort that brought to town companies like Kraft, Zenith and Lily Tulip but by the late eighties those efforts were no longer being made,” Jim said.

Shortly after arriving, Jim put together a forum to diagnose why economic development in Springfield had dropped off.

Don Dailey, a prominent businessman, who was active in the earlier effort, the group put together a downtown redevelopment plan that was defeated by a wide margin. Citizens were upset that growth had created traffic, stormwater and other infrastructure problems. Because of the community opposition, the pro-economic supporters retired to the sidelines.

By the 1980s, the jobs that came with those companies 20 years earlier were not being replaced as good manufacturing jobs were moving to Mexico and overseas.

Tom Finnie remembers asking Jim shortly after he arrived to identify the biggest challenge that Springfield faced.

“He told me that it was inevitable that Zenith was going to close. If the community reaction was ‘Woe are us’ we were in trouble,” Finnie said. “On the other hand, if the community and its leadership turned this into a success, it could be a real turning point.”

At one time, Zenith employed 3,300 workers but those jobs had been steadily moving to Reynosa, Mexico because of the cheaper cost of production. By 1989, the number had dwindled to 2,000.

These were some of the best manufacturing jobs in Springfield. Many couples supported their families by working at Zenith. If the plant closed, it was not going to be easy to replace those jobs or find a use for Zenith’s two-million-square-foot facility on East Kearney.

The news hit in October 1991.

“Terry Connor, who was the Zenith plant manager, called me one morning and said, ‘We need to have lunch’ and I knew something was up,” Jim said. “So we had lunch and Terry told me that we are going to announce that afternoon that ‘We are closing’ and here is the timeline.”

Conner announced later that day that Zenith was laying off 1,500 of its 2000 workers and moving their jobs to Mexico, where the average worker made 83 cents per hour as compared to $5 to $10 per hour in Springfield. The immediate question facing the community was what to do about the loss of jobs.

“Immediately after lunch, I called Tom Finnie, the County, Paul Hagerty (superintendent of schools), Bob Roundtree and the chairman of the Chamber that year and we decided that we were going to roll up our sleeves and do something.”

The job of collaboration was going to a whole new level.

Partnership Industrial Center

The Fantus report noted a shortage of the type of industrial land that new industries would be looking for. If the site was already in place, it would shorten lead time in starting operations. This could be a major factor in an industry deciding to locate in Springfield.

Such large industrial parks, however, are capital intensive. Millions of dollars must be spent in acquiring the land and putting in the infrastructure before the first lot can be sold. It is a risky endeavor that requires patient capital and deep pockets. For this reason, private sector developers and the banks that finance them avoid soft markets. Early investors can become bankrupt investors.

While private developers must make a profit, the City and the Utility have constant revenue streams pretty much regardless of the economy. They frequently can afford to make the investments when private enterprise cannot.

City Utilities General Manager Robert Roundtree, armed with the Fantus report and the Zenith announcement, had amended the Utility’s long-range plan in 1990 to include a provision for “active participation in industrial park construction.”

The proposed public/private partnership involving the Chamber, the City and City Utilities that Roundtree advocated set off a 10-year battle in the business community over the proper role of government in economic development issues.

Roundtree argued that because the utility had unused electric capacity, the proposed industrial park would generate additional electric revenues and lower its other customers’ utility bills. Demand for electricity in the city varied throughout the day. In the morning and evening when people are at home, usage rises. Electric demand drops during the day, however, creating unused capacity that additional manufacturing business could fill without the need for additional capital investment by the Utility.

The CU General Manager, who served as Chamber Chairman in 1992, was always thinking 20 years ahead. When Roundtree took over management of the Utility in 1983, its finances were in poor shape. During the next 20 years, the Utility improved its finances, expanded its water capacity, increased its electric capacity, moved into broadband, to mention a few, and kept rates low. The American Public Power Association recognized his career by creating the “Robert E. Roundtree Rising Star Award.”

During his term as chairman, the entrepreneurial head of the Utility would meet on Sunday afternoons in Jim’s office where he could enjoy a cigar and strategize.

While capable, Roundtree was abrasive and unforgiving if he felt someone crossed him. The combativeness of this WWII fighter pilot made him a target of the opposition until he retired in 2002. “Much of the controversy was because of Roundtree’s involvement,” Jim recalls. "Roundtree was a lightning rod.”

Chamber Leadership came down on either side of the issue.

Opponents claimed the Utility’s involvement was illegal without a voter-approved election. Furthermore, they argued, something was fundamentally wrong with the government (meaning City Utilities) competing with the private sector. Supporters countered that the opponents’ real reason for opposition was to keep wages low so they could make bigger profits.

Other well-regarded business people decided to stay out of the fray because they had friends on both sides.

After three years of heated debate, the governing boards of the three partners approved the proposal. The partners were the City of Springfield, City Utilities and the Chamber’s Springfield Business Development Corporation (SBDC). The contract was modeled after the agreement Jefferson City adopted when Jim was president of the Chamber there.

The SBDC was a significant event in the history of economic development of the Chamber. An affiliate of the Chamber, it is a separate organization with its own governing board which includes SBDC investors (who are also Chamber members) and leaders of community institutions. The SBDC was charged with management of PIC-East and PIC-West.

Under the arrangement, the City would put in the infrastructure, the Utility would purchase the land and install the power, and the SBDC would handle marketing. The lots were to be sold at cost making it difficult for private developers to compete. To reduce criticism from commercial realtors, however, the Partnership did agree to pay real estate commissions. Also, to reduce opposition Finnie and Jim agreed over Roundtree’s objections not to permit warehousing/office development.

The Utility bought 340 acres from the Griesemer family who operated the nearby Springfield Underground. The first sale was in 1994 to Contico, a St. Louis plastic goods manufacturer specializing in injection molding. Contico paid $450,000 for 30 acres and announced that it planned to create 300 new jobs.

“We learned about the sale on Christmas Eve in 1993 and that was our best Christmas present ever,” Jim said.

“By the time the last lot was sold in 2006, 22 manufacturers had located at the Partnership Industrial Center, occupying 2.3 million square feet and employing 2,700 workers with excellent pay and benefits,” Jim said. Once full, the Partnership wanted to expand in the existing location and approached the Thompson family about selling their dairy farm. But they were unwilling to sell. Wanting to continue the momentum, the Partnership looked west and bought 408 acres in 2001 adjacent to the Springfield airport and called it PIC-West. As of this writing, 11 manufacturers have located there.

As for the two-million-square-foot Zenith facility on Kearney, it was eventually converted by Springfield native Johnny Morris into the headquarters for Bass Pro Shops.

Voters Support Ballot Issues for Transportation and Capitol Improvements

In November 1987, a few months before Jim moved back to Springfield, voters had defeated a proposed one-half cent capital improvement sales tax by a two-to-one margin.

City Hall had educated about the tax, noting that 30 percent would be paid by out-of-town residents, that it would reduce local property taxes, and that it would sunset after 10 years. We felt there was something in it for everybody to like, but it turned out that there was something in it for everybody to hate. This called for a new game plan.

So not long after formation of the community leadership forum group, the City and the Chamber began studying long-term capital improvements and transportation sales tax models for specific projects with built-in accountability measures for the citizens.

Over the next year and a half, the proposal was reworked and trimmed to a quarter-cent sales tax that would sunset after three years. Through the appropriate affiliate, the Chamber managed the campaign and adopted a playbook designed by Jim with campaign co-chairs. Former Houston Astros baseball manager Bill Virdon and longtime community volunteer Anne Drummond were the chairs of the campaign.

The election passed in August 1989, setting a new standard and enthusiasm for collaboration and strategy.

That reality segued nicely with the hiring of Tom Finnie in 1990. He was tasked with completing the project on time and on budget -- the City’s credibility was on the line. It was a tall order because the list of projects was long, and construction estimates are just that – estimates. Actual construction bids frequently are over budget. It took late nights and value engineering, but Finnie and his staff got it done.

Finnie was well-prepared for the job. He previously served as Deputy City Manager in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is unusual for a city manager with Finnie’s experience to move to a smaller community. Generally, a city manager will serve five years or so and then move to a larger market. But Finnie’s wife, Kay, had family ties here and he was persuaded to come to Springfield.

Finnie said he made his decision after going to Billy’s Chili restaurant near National and St. Louis. The restaurant was operated by Bill Cantrell, a former banker, and his wife Mary Alice Owen, a political science professor.

Cantrell and Owen had served together on the City Council and subsequently got married. Cantrell was social and freely shared his opinions about local issues (once quipping about a citizen’s proposal at a public meeting when he thought his microphone was turned off, “That dog won’t hunt.”).

Between Kay’s desire to be near family and Cantrell’s splendid sales pitch, Finnie took the job.

Finnie had an uber devotion to public service. He served at the will of the City Council; never asking for a contract. Most individuals who head large organizations negotiate multi-year evergreen contracts. If it is a five-year contract, for example, a new year is added to its length every anniversary. That is why they are called evergreen. If the individual and his board are at odds, it is expensive to fire them.

Tom Finnie, city manager, and Anderson were on the same page from the start. Each time a new proposal was submitted by the city, the Chamber conducted a rigorous committee review. If opposition to a proposal developed, every effort was made to address specific con­cerns. The newspaper’s editorial staff would also be educated in hopes of garnering their support. If the Chamber board endorsed the issue and opted to manage a campaign to support the ballot measure, Anderson’s playbook included bringing on campaign co-chairs as well as em­ploying a highly effective plan of community and voter contact.

Once the election was over, communication remained a top priority for the city. As each sidewalk or road project got underway, a sign was erected that said, “Working as Promised.” When it was completed, another sign was erect­ed that said, “Completed as Promised.” The process for setting a standard of accountability and building trust with voters was simple. “Plan your work and work your plan.”

Subsequent capital improvement and trans­portation measures passed by an ever-growing majority due to Anderson’s playbook and the trust built by Finnie with follow-up commu­nications. Voters passed proposals that made possible Jordan Valley Park, Jordan Valley Ice Park and Hammons Field, and when Anderson retired in 2014, the city had passed 27 elections and lost only four. If an issue did arise once the campaign was underway, the Chamber would act as a trusted arbiter to resolve the dispute.

Downtown Redevelopment

The downtown had been deteriorating for 20 years since the Battlefield Mall opened in the early 1970s. In hopes of reviving downtown, the City had converted the Public Square, as well as St. Louis and College streets, into a pedestrian mall.

But shutting off traffic to the downtown area was like cutting off oxygen to a patient on the operating table: The result should have been predictable.

Ten years later, the error had been acknowledged and work was underway to revitalize the area, which began with reopening the square to traffic.

During that same time, the Chamber had taken a controversial position in deciding to keep its office downtown. Through a fund-raising campaign in 1979, led by Sam Hamra, the Chamber built a new building at 320 North Jefferson for Chamber staff and the United Way of the Ozarks. The Chamber’s offices had previously been on the second floor of the Guaranty Federal Savings and Loan at Walnut and Jefferson downtown.

Shortly after opening the square, the City formed a Community Improvement District (CID) downtown that called for property owners to impose upon themselves a property tax dedicated to Center City purposes.

The Chamber from the start actively participated on the CID board. Downtown banker Brian Fogle (now president of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks) and Jim went door to door downtown to collect signatures to form the CID. Later the two of them mediated disputes and helped develop a consensus for downtown projects.

In the meantime, the City started appropriating a minimum of $500,000 per year from federal Community Development Block Grants which required that the money be spent in blighted areas in the city. By earmarking this money for revolving loan programs, that fund grew to $50 million. Typically, it was lent on easy terms in the form of gap financing for projects downtown or on Commercial Street. It helped fund loft apartments and small businesses.

Simultaneously, Finnie and Jim approached the three associations representing Walnut Street, Downtown and Commercial Street and got them all to agree that they would get an allocation for their top project every three years. “This was better than just giving them a dab every year when they would not be enough to do much good,” Jim said.

MSU also played a major element in the revitalization of downtown Springfield. In the 1990s, University President John Keiser was encountering difficulty with MSU’s growth plans.

The homeowners south of Grand and east of National believed that the University’s encroachment would depreciate their property values.

The City proposed to cooperate with MSU’s growth if it was directed toward the downtown area north of the university campus. This would alleviate the neighborhood’s fear of encroachment and simultaneously spur downtown development. Keiser, unlike many university presidents, advocated a “town-gown” relationship. He believed the University should engage the community and not be an ivory tower. It also coincided with the University’s public affairs mission which Keiser had created.

And while destination venues like the then Mediacom Ice Park or Hammons Field are helpful, they are insufficient on their own to revitalize a downtown. People drive in from the suburbs to attend an event and then they drive home. Small retail businesses by contrast depend on customers who live in the area. Once loft development took off with the help of the City’s revolving loan fund, the streetscape changed as students and young professionals started living downtown.

As a result of the University’s decision to grow toward downtown, MSU eventually established the Roy Blunt Jordan Valley Innovation Center.

JVIC converted the former MFA milling facility on Boonville into a research and development center. By 2017, the seven-story 60,000 square foot Center was occupied by four private companies and two University research centers.

Following the success of JVIC, MSU established a business incubator, "the efactory," a block away on Jefferson. On the other side of Boonville, MSU moved its art and design department into six buildings called Brick City in IDEA Commons.

At JVIC’s 10-year anniversary ceremony in June 2017, current Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Morrow said the jobs supported by the Innovation Center "represents so much of our aspirational future of our community and our economy. Ten years in and the vision is clearer today than ever — accelerating innovation through collaboration.”

Thanks to the collaboration among the many players, downtown Springfield today is a far cry from the boarded-up storefronts and cracked sidewalks that Jim saw on his first days with the Chamber some 30-plus years ago.

Air Transportation

The original Springfield-Greene County Airport north of the City was constructed in 1945. Shortly after, the name was changed to the Springfield Municipal Airport after a funding disagreement between the City and the County. Traffic through the airport steadily grew as time progressed, especially through the advent of homegrown Ozark Air Lines.

By 1992, four years after Jim arrived at the Chamber, it was clear that the airport was ready to go to the next level as recommended by the Fantus Report. That year, the Chamber supported efforts to rename it Springfield–Branson Regional Airport.

This decision came for two reasons. Primarily, airport leaders thought the name change would encourage more Branson vacations to fly into Springfield. It was also hoped that it would discourage talk of a separate Branson airport. The name was changed again in 2006 to the Springfield-Branson National Airport in connection with construction of the new terminal.

Springfield, the airport board, and the Chamber continued to lobby the FAA and our Congressional representatives for increased funding. In May 2009, the Springfield-Branson airport opened a new passenger terminal. Financing included $97 million in revenue bonds issued by the airport and $20 million of discretionary federal aviation funds, with no City funds used.

A shining, high-flying moment came in 2019, when the Springfield-Branson National Airport crossed the one million passenger mark.

Legislative Initiatives

Prior to 1988, Springfield had a minimal presence in Jefferson City. It had a reputation as a part of the state that went its own way, contrasted with Kansas City and St. Louis which lobbied extensively. But the old saying is that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. Things had to change if the third largest City in the state was to receive its fair share of state resources.

Under Jim’s leadership, the Chamber developed a coordinated approach to interfacing with the legislature. Shortly after taking the Chamber job, Jim elevated the Legislative Salute event each January in Jefferson City. Representatives from the City, County, School Board, OTC, and Missouri State would charter buses to the Capital Plaza Hotel (owned by John Q. Hammons) in Jefferson City and host what was usually the largest reception of the year.

At the same time, the Chamber was hosting monthly legislative breakfasts in Jefferson City during the session to help continue the dialogue about the area’s priorities. The first meeting was at the Capitol Plaza in the Springfield Room.

“In those days there was not a Southwest Missouri mentality,” Jim recalled. “Scott Marrs, Jerry Clark who worked for me at the time, and I put this together with (Senator) Dennis Smith who got our representatives there. We said folks we know you represent your constituents, but we need to think in terms of the Springfield region to have more impact.”

In politics, when the public and the private sectors speak with one voice, they have more influence. If you are a politician, you don’t have to pick winners and losers either. It works for everyone if you are not playing divide and conquer.

With the Chamber and metro partners hosting the legislative breakfasts, they also presented joint legislative priorities. The City retained Scott Marrs as its lobbyist until his untimely death in 2018. City Utilities, the schools, and the Greene County Commission had also worked with the Springfield native.

Marrs, who had been friends with Jim since his days in the Jefferson City Chamber, and his partner Jerry Burch, who represented MSU, coordinated lobbying activity in Jefferson City and Washington. They lobbied the legislature for the name change to Missouri State University. Similarly, they all supported MSU’s request for federal dollars to help build the Roy Blunt Jordan Valley Innovation Center.

There was a sort of golden era in the early 2000s in Washington when Congressman Roy Blunt served as the Republican Whip and Senator Christopher Bond held the number two position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The City and the Chamber worked closely on funding requests for downtown redevelopment and transportation needs. Either Blunt (for the House) or Bond (for the Senate) would insert a request on behalf of the City in an appropriations bill. When both bills went to the Conference Committee for House/Senate reconciliation, Blunt and/or Bond always worked hard to keep the proposed funding.

The currency of politicians is votes, and the City and the Chamber always did their utmost to recognize legislators who helped our community. While both Blunt and Bond were ardent Republicans, partisanship was never an issue when it came to helping Springfield.

Community Leadership Visits

Springfield's Community Leadership Visits to other U.S. cities have been an annual event since the early 1990s.

The trips are coordinated by the Chamber with its counterpart in the host City. During the three-day field trips, participants learn how and why initiatives either failed or succeeded in these cities. These experiences then inform discussion of best practices back in Springfield about similar local initiatives.

The format usually calls for a welcome by the mayor (or other official representative of the City,) and then an explanation by the local Chamber director of the community’s experience so far on the projects the Springfield delegation will see.

At the end of these trips, Jim would conduct a post-mortem and solicit impressions from the other members of the group. Once back in Springfield, the Chamber prepared a report which would be used as a discussion point for considering whether, for example, Lexington, Kentucky’s project would work here. Some initiatives adopted as a result of these trips are:

  • The Community Focus Report - Lexington, Kentucky
  • Expansion of the Airport - Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Airport Name Change - Des Moines, Iowa
  • Springfield Regional Economic Partnership - Boise, Idaho
  • Facing Racism program - Grand Rapids, Michigan

Many of these initiatives wouldn’t have happened without the collaboration that developed because of these leadership visits.

Change in Focus

During the first ten years as Chamber president, the Chamber focused on the “nut and bolts” of economic development and attracting businesses to the area. The next 15 years, the emphasis shifted to attracting and developing a workforce that could compete globally. Education was vital.

Advocacy in Education

With the decline in manufacturing jobs and the transition to a service-based economy, the importance of educating the next generation’s workforce grew. Service-based jobs were filling the void, but frequently, these jobs required employees to have a different skill set.

The best jobs were jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and starting pay for these jobs was quite good, but it required education beyond high school.

Armed with that fact, the Chamber turned its attention to Springfield Public Schools.

As the largest public-school system in the state, it was a priority to start these efforts at home.

To further their efforts, the Chamber start­ed recruiting and endorsing candidates for the school board in 1989. The effort has been large­ly successful and long-term recruiting efforts are now conducted in collaboration with several community partners.

The Chamber has also reviewed and endorsed various school bond and other funding pro­posals over the years. Through the Chamber’s Community Leadership Visits, leaders studied a number of best practices related to establish­ing a sustainable, community-driven advoca­cy committee to support the funding needs of school districts over time. In 2019, a cross-sec­tion of business and education leaders estab­lished Friends of SPS with the goal of advocat­ing for Proposition S, a board-proposed increase to the debt-service levy to fund high-priority fa­cility projects. A similar proposal had failed in 2017. With the backing of Friends of SPS and endorsed by the Chamber, Prop S passed with more 60% approval.

The Chamber has also supported other educa­tional needs, such as endorsing and managing a campaign through affiliate Committee for the Future in 2018 to pass both OTC’s proposed re­newal of an existing 5-cent tax levy and a new 5-cent property tax levy to expand high-demand technical and health care programs at several campuses and to establish a new Center for Ad­vanced Manufacturing and Technology. Both issues were approved by voters in the district and plans for the manufacturing center are now well underway.

An example of Jim’s personal dedication in this area of education: In the early 2000s 20 Chamber employees, working in partnership with a very dedicated faculty and Principal Tim Brown, adopted Campbell Elementary school on South Grant.

Over the next few years, Jim and fellow employees donated an hour each week working with the students. The Campbell Cougars are some of the poorest students in Springfield and, before the involvement of the Chamber, had some of the worst test scores. After four years, the school’s report card improved dramatically. In 2000 six per cent of the students passed their state math exam; in 2004, 79 percent passed.

2007 The Network for Springfield's Young Professionals

While the Chamber was active in School Board elections, it also formed The Network for Springfield’s Young Professionals to attract and retain talent in Springfield.

This organization complimented Leadership Springfield, a program that was established in 1986 by the Chamber, Junior League of Springfield and the United Way of the Ozarks, to help connect local leaders with needs and opportunities of the community – ultimately preparing them for service on non-profit and civic boards and commissions. Through the program, enrollees dedicate one day a month for nine months visiting schools, not for profits, businesses and local governments to develop a better understanding of their community.

Both efforts were tied to a concern about a “brain drain” among younger professionals. Too many young people were getting an education in Springfield, but then moving to larger metropolitan markets. Studies showed the desired destinations were vibrant communities with lots of diversity.

The Network opened itself to Chamber members under 40. Monthly events were designed with their interests in mind. The Network continues to grow, now numbering 450 members.

Furthering the diversity effort has been MSU’s effort to attract foreign and minority students. For example, when John Keiser was president of Missouri State, he brought Jim Baker with him from Boise State. Baker is the most entrepreneurial PH.D. you will ever meet. He may have 10 different projects going at any one time. Keiser had appointed Baker to establish a relationship with a university in a major Chinese city. They selected Dalian University in Dalian, China. Under the arrangement Dalian students could get an MBA degree from Missouri State by coming to Springfield and studying. In addition to facilitating Chamber efforts to establish business in China, Baker’s efforts have resulted in thousands of Chinese students attending MSU. For over two decades, he has recruited foreign students from around the world to MSU.

Today in downtown Springfield, you will see students from all continents boarding "Bear Line" buses to transfer between classes. This welcoming and inclusive approach is helping Springfield become the kind of City where educated young people want to stay.

Highway Commission

Highways are like arteries to a City. Transportation improves economic development tremendously. The absences of access kills.

In 2001, Jim was appointed to the State Highway Commission. This is a six-member volunteer board which has enormous authority over how highway funds are spent in Missouri. Jim served for eight years, making him the third longest-serving member.

During that time, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) modified its funding formula by moving projects up in its five-year plan if local dollars paid part of the construction. In response, the City allocated part of its capital improvement dollars to MoDOT projects in the area. Because of that effort, the “diverging diamonds” at busy City intersections were the first to be built in the United States.

During Jim’s service on the commission, and with federal funding supported by Blunt and Bond, the flyover structures at James River Freeway and U.S. 65 and I-44 were also eventually built. And during this time, U.S. 60 was upgraded to four lanes all the way across the state; significant progress was also made on MO 13 and MO 7 from Springfield to Kansas City.

Looking Forward

Every generation has its challenges. Just as in the 1980s, the community will be called upon again to decide how it will adapt to a changing world. The City will once again have to choose between the hard work of working together or settling for the status quo until we are forced to change. Two things you can say about change: it is going to happen, and it can be painful.

Building on the strong foundation of entrepreneurship and collaboration advanced by Jim Anderson over his decades of leadership has supported a suc­cessful transition into the future.


This article is part of the Chamber's special Centennial publication. Click here to return to the main page.

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