Business leaders and ranking officials from across Christian County gathered to learn the latest on an organization whose mission is to stimulate the local economy.
Show Me Christian County Board of Directors President Scott McDonald described the launch of Show Me Christian County like the experience amusement park visitors have when they board a roller coaster and start the ride. At the beginning of a roller coaster, the cars are towed to the top of an incline. Then comes the part where some riders put their hands in the air in anticipation of the first thrilling plunge.
If you enjoy the ride, you’ll get back into the line and ride the roller coaster again. It’s been that way since Show Me Christian County officially launched in 2017.
“We’ve been on the roller coaster,” McDonald said.
Andrea Sitzes, a former director of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, serves as the President and CEO of Show Me Christian County. In the organization’s first year, she was its only paid employee.
At a meeting at Fremont Hills Country Club June 27, Sitzes shared the status of Show Me Christian County with its key stakeholders.
“At this time last year, we were sitting in this room, and said, ‘Okay, here we go.’ Hands in the air, we were on the roller coaster getting ready to take a historical journey for our county,” Sitzes said.
In 2012, the cities of Ozark and Nixa, the chambers of commerce in Ozark and Nixa and the government of Christian County funded a study by Austin, Texas-based TIP Strategies to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the northern Christian County economy. One of the consultants’ top recommendations in the report was for Christian County entities to form a singular organization for future economic development work. It took more than five years, but Nixa, Ozark and Christian County eventually came to the table to establish Show Me Christian County.
The group’s task has been to stop Ozark and Nixa from posturing against each other, and to better position Christian County regionally as a target for commercial and industrial growth.
Sitzes outlined five key action steps that Show Me Christian County will take in the coming year with its local investors and with other partners in southwest Missouri.
The organization hired a project coordinator, Sarah Buxton, an OTC and Drury University alumnus who becomes the first Show Me Christian County staff member who isn’t Sitzes. Sitzes said Show Me Christian County has 10 active projects that its staff hopes will bring new businesses into the area. One business, if they can land it, promises 39 new jobs paying average wages of $65,000 per year.
Sitzes also announced the intent to start what will be called the Show Me Strong Business Council, a 10-member group which will focus on retaining and expanding existing businesses in Christian County. Sitzes said six of the members will be “top-level business owners.”
“With those existing businesses, it is so vitally important that we are with them, boots on the ground, understanding what keeps our business owners awake at night,” Sitzes said.
The other members will be chamber of commerce directors from Ozark and Nixa, Sitzes and a member from the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Each member will make a two-year or three-year commitment to the council.
Show Me Christian County also intends to work more closely with the Carl G. Hefner Enterprise Center, a small business incubator that is part of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce.
Economic development officials from Christian County will also take “leadership visits,” where they tour other parts of the country with similar economic climates to Christian County in order to learn what works and what doesn’t work in other parts of the country.
“There is a Broken Arrow outside of Tulsa, or a Franklin outside of Nashville, a St. Charles outside of St. Louis, so on and so on. Christian County, as you all would agree, is that to Springfield,” Sitzes said. “Why don’t we start doing some of these benchmarking visits and see how we can play a better role in our region?”
Finally, Show Me Christian County intends to expand the “three legs of the stool” that make up its operating model. The theory of “place-building” will be implemented to encourage making Christian County a more connected and cohesive community for the people who live in it and for the people who visit.
“It’s pretty exciting what’s taking place in Christian County,” McDonald said.
McDonald, also the president of the Nixa Board of Education and the Community Bank President at Central Bank of the Ozarks, gave a quick rundown of Show Me Christian County’s statistical output over its first year: $3.5 million in investments creating 32 jobs, 22 “business assists” to existing Christian County business owners plus 25 “engagements,” in which Show Me Christian County leaders made meaningful contact with business owners that may lead to growth, improvement and job creation in the future.
“Every business that is brand new, on the next day becomes an existing business. We want to make sure that we touch the existing businesses and we’re not just focused on the new that’s taking place in Christian County,” McDonald said.
“We have had some wonderful and great successes over the last year,” Sitzes said. “We’re really looking forward to where we’re headed next.”
Show Me Christian County held a three-member panel discussion with entrepreneurs as part of the key investor meeting at Fremont Hills.
Bonnie Snyder, co-founder of VoiceXP, operates a company doing business on four different continents. VoiceXP makes Alexa Skills, the programs that run on Amazon voice devices. Clients use their voice apps to market their businesses and accept customers.
VoiceXP launched in 2017, about the same time that Show Me Christian County launched. The company is an official Amazon business partner.
As electronics manufacturers are roll out devices that are compatible with voice assistants, televisions, thermostats and watches can work from voice commands. Snyder hopes VoiceXP will make Ozark into a hub for the advancement of voice apps.
“We want to make this area the epicenter for technology. There are the types of jobs that are going to be year-round, good-paying, benefits, and will allow our young people to have secure positions after college,” Snyder said.
Don Fleury, owner of Creative Audio, announced in October 2018 that his company will build a headquarters and distribution center in Ozark. The $1.5 million project will replace Creative Audio’s Springfield headquarters, and will serve to connect Creative Audio employees in four other cities.
“We wanted to build something that was specific to our needs instead of buying a building that was pre-existing, so we looked at high visibility areas. Our current building is not visible and not branded, so we wanted to bring our retail brand to our warehouse,” Fleury said.
Fleury selected a site off of Lakeland Drive, which is visible from U.S. Highway 65. At its core, Creative Audio builds sound systems for vehicles such as cars, trucks and boats.
Fleury revealed that his site selection was swayed toward Ozark because of Sitzes’ persistence.
“One thing that really came out of it as I was calling different chambers, from Republic to Springfield to Ozark, I had one person show up at my door. That was Andrea,” Fleury said. “If someone takes action with you, it makes the path way better.”
John Widiger, General Manager at Youngblood Auto Group, is overseeing the auto dealer’s expansion of its Ozark store.
“We are jacked up, excited to be in Christian County, excited to get the store open in Ozark, and we’re excited about our expansion,” Widiger said.
Widiger had to approach the Ozark Planning and Zoning Commission and the Ozark Board of Aldermen for some zoning variances as they relate to constructing a parking lot large enough to sell cars. Widiger said Show Me Christian County’s board members and staff helped him through the process of negotiating with the city to obtain all of the proper permits.
“If we didn’t get those variances done, we would have lost 120 parking spots in front of the dealership, which basically would have killed the project,” Widiger said. “Chrysler requires X-amount of parking for a vehicle display.”
Widiger also commended city officials from Ozark for helping to encourage the Youngblood development.
“At the end of the day, they were business focused. They were motivated to help us get this deal put together. From what I understand, that can be unusual,” Widiger said.