A healthy community benefits from economic stability, a category that examines issues such as poverty, housing affordability and the availability of robust employment opportunities. If community members do not have the foundational ability to support themselves with a livable wage and live under safe, affordable shelter, other areas of their lives will suffer.
A consistent Blue Ribbon is Springfield- Greene County's economic strength and growth. Even during the worst economic effects of the pandemic, the area's unemployment rate remained lower than state and national averages; the Springfield MSA's jobless rate peaked in April 2020 but has dropped back to pre-pandemic levels.
Our historically strong economy makes our region attractive for new and existing businesses such as Amazon to expand operations. The region's economic power is harnessed from sources including health care, education and services. And a healthy natural environment also contributes. Hunting in Missouri represents a $1.6 billion industry, according to the Conservation Federation of Missouri, while fishing activities create $1.3 billion in economic output and support 9,840 jobs, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Greene County—the home and world headquarters of Bass Pro Shops/Cabela's—and nearby counties excel as outdoor destinations. Invasive wildlife and plant species and extreme weather, however, threaten to disrupt our natural assets that support those activities.
Over the last decade, Greene County's population growth has been at or below 1% per year; growth of less than a half percent in three of the four most recent years with data available matches the national average, according to data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Greene County should be growing at rates closer to 3% to compete with the fastest-growing metro areas in the country recruiting talent to their cities.
Springfield and Greene County have a shortage of skilled workers in sectors, including education, health care and law enforcement, but recent improvements such as placemaking efforts and public buy-in on bond issues for Ozarks Technical Community College and Springfield Public Schools are helping. A continued focus on long-range planning efforts such as the Forward SGF initiative and large-scale projects like major infrastructure upgrades will be necessary—to continue to attract talent.
Besides our natural environment, other catalysts for growth in recent years have been the revitalization of downtown Springfield and other areas, such as the Galloway area in southeast Springfield, and the grant-funded Grant Avenue Parkway project that will connect downtown with the Bass Pro Shops/ Wonders of Wildlife campus.
The labor shortage did help address a continuing Red Flag in our region: The need to raise wages. Greene County has made strides in recent years, with annual average wages increasing by 10.2% from 2016 to 2019, to just over $46,000, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This is on par with the 9.9% growth in St. Louis County and outpaces the 8.7% rate in Jackson County. But the 2019 median household income of $46,086 in Greene County remained below St. Louis County ($67,420) and Jackson County ($55,134), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The community's strong education system at all levels, a Blue Ribbon, has been critical to bring people to the area and allow residents to educate themselves up the income scale.
Springfield does face a critical shortage of safe, decent and affordable housing, a recurring Red Flag. According to annual counts conducted by Community Partnership of the Ozarks' Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, approximately 500 people experience homelessness in our community on any given night. The pandemic exacerbated the local need for additional housing when construction slowed and costs increased. It has led to an increasingly competitive housing market. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the five-year rolling average of Springfield residents living in owner-occupied housing dropped to 42.3% in 2019 from 46.2% in 2015. The region also faces a shortage of accessible housing and opportunities for renters with evictions or low credit scores.
Though the pandemic's economic toll has affected people's ability to meet their daily needs, federal and state assistance has helped households and businesses. A moratorium on evictions also helped keep struggling people in their homes. Amid the uncertainty, local collaboration—a consistent Blue Ribbon across sectors—continued to be a bright spot for our community. At the time of publication, more than $10,855,000 in federal assistance funds had been allocated to local social service agencies through the City of Springfield, Greene County and Missouri Housing Development Commission.