Springfield, MO asks what can we do to be as good as Boise?

SPRINGFIELD, MO - About 25 years ago, Boise, Idaho, and Springfield were about the same size, with populations around 140,000.

Today, Springfield’s population has grown to about 167,000, while Boise’s has leaped to more than 220,000.

In its growth, Boise has also thrived. Its median household income is about $50,000, compared to Springfield’s $33,000. It’s about 20 percent more expensive to live in Boise, but the pay is about 50 percent better on average.

The poverty rate in Boise is around 14 percent, compared to Springfield’s 25 percent.

And while comparing crime data is tricky, it’s hard to argue the gulfs between Springfield and Boise based on FBI crime stats – which show Springfield sees about four times more violent crime and more than twice as much property crime, per capita.

Boise is a good test subject partly because of its comparable demographics, politics and geography.

For most folks, Springfield is a pretty good place to live. Based on the numbers, that’s true for a greater percentage of people in Boise.

So what’s Boise doing right?

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce took a group to the city recently, part of an annual program in which local leaders seek ideas from thriving communities.

We reached out to several of the people who went on that trip to find out what Springfield can learn from Boise. A few themes emerged.

Brand yourself

Chamber President Matt Morrow said Boise branded itself as the Outdoor Capital of the West.

“There are probably places that have better skiing, better canoeing, better bicycling, but (Boise is) great in all those areas," he said. "They decided, ‘This is what we’re going to be, and were just going to start doing things every day that move us closer to that.”

Boise officials say that’s helped them recruit top young talent with a concept they call “the second paycheck.”

In areas where Boise has equal pay and cost of living to other regional communities, they aim to be more attractive by marketing their outdoor amenities. That’s the “second paycheck.”

That’s an area in which Springfield has comparable value, with beautiful parks, lakes, rivers and more around the area. Springfield would be wise to continue weaving the outdoors identity into marketing, especially as it attempts to attract talent.

Leverage the colleges and universities

Many people who went on the trip talked about the way Boise State University has become a centerpiece of the city’s identity. Again, Springfield has several institutes of higher education, include a large state school in Missouri State.

That’s also been a big part of talent attraction. Missouri State is already looking at ways to change and add programs to stay competitive. Adding programs that draw talent for in-demand professions could give the city an extra jolt of young talent.

Matt Simpson, who works for Ozarks Technical Community College, said he was impressed with the way Boise State and other organizations worked with a local community college in the city.

“We’re very fortunate to have close partnerships already in southwest Missouri,” he said. “But I saw some best practices there that we can use to make them even closer and more productive.”

Invest in workforce development

Boise is another community that has put resources toward workforce development over the years, but it’s something that’s really been turning in Morrow’s mind from a previous trip to Huntsville, Alabama.

There, they have the Alabama Industrial Development Program, which uses state funds to train and place workers for businesses looking to make Alabama home.

Morrow said the biggest hurdle local businesses have is finding qualified workers. He said Sen. Jay Wasson and Rob Dixon, the state director of economic development, have shown they value workforce development programs, and he believes we’ll see more progress in that area.

But it doesn’t just have to happen at the state level, as Boise has shown.

“It’s the largest city in Idaho and also the state capital,” Morrow said. “But sometimes they’ve had to decide they’re done waiting around on state funding. They decide locally what their priorities are and do it themselves. There’s certainly an amount of help that we can and should expect from the state level, but there’s also an admirable quality of doing it yourself.”

It’s something Katie Towns, with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, also noticed.

“I was very intrigued and awed by the way the city engaged and let private industry drive their city rather than the government,” she said. “I think we do that some, but not quite to the level that is possible.”

Develop downtown

This is a theme that also came back from the recent Millennial SWAT Team that visited several cities. Morrow said that’s a common theme for all the thriving communities the chamber visits.

Springfield has seen growth and development there, but there’s still room to improve. City leaders could continue to prioritize, with incentives, developers who want to build and renovate in the center of the city.

Thriving communities seem to pull a lot of identity from their downtown areas, and Springfield’s remains a mixed bag.

Focus on transportation infrastructure

In one way, this combines a few of the other themes. There have been several suggestions for more paths to connect downtown and surrounding communities. When it comes to biking and walking, this can also play up the outdoors element.

But it’s also important to keep up with general infrastructure, something Boise has struggled with a bit.

Mike Brothers, who works for Drury University and is also the president of Leadership Springfield, said Boise is a bit behind on transportation planning, and short commute times are getting longer.

“We have to think more regionally on transportation and look at what we can do within the city to shore up public transit as we become more dense,” he said.

All these themes connect to what Morrow has seen in his many visits.

“My belief is the biggest thing they have going for them is they have focused on building a vibrant, growing economy,” he said.

He said all the communities seem to share certain principles.

“They have a shared identity or vision that builds on its strengths for the purpose of prioritizing economic catalysts, workforce pipeline, and a robust infrastructure to create a safe, healthy and welcoming community.”

This editorial is the view of the News-Leader Editorial Board.

Allen Jones, President

Cheryl Whitsitt, News Director

Stephen Herzog, Engagement Editor

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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