Megan Morris announces Finley Farms

Megan Morris, daughter of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, shared the vision of the Ozark Mill redevelopment project called Finley Farms with reporters at a press conference Aug. 1, in a building that once housed Wheeler Gardens.

Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers refers to U.S. Highway 65 as a “string of pearls,” and he hopes Ozark can shine like the rest of the pearls in the string when it comes to economics.

The string of pearls analogy came up on the day Bass Pro Shops announced plans for a multipurpose commercial development on the Finley River in Ozark at the site of the old Ozark Mill. The property will have a historic museum, fine dining, meeting space, trails, river access, retail shopping and agricultural development.

Ozark sits between Springfield and Branson, places where guests from out of town spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to have one-of-a-kind experiences they can’t get anywhere else, and pay for all of the hotel stays, restaurant meals and incidentals that come along with those experiences. Developers spend millions of dollars to locate their businesses in Branson and Springfield because they want a piece of the spending.

In the middle sits Ozark, where abut 85 percent of the population goes to sleep after working all day in Springfield or Branson, and that’s not bad. The Christian County Assessor’s Office reports a “bumper year” in residential housing construction, which means people want to live in Christian County. It also means construction workers and tradesmen have work to do and opportunities to make money.

That same quarterly report from the assessor’s office contained very little in the way of commercial economic development construction. While the housing market is flying right along, commercial growth is slower to keep up.

Here’s hoping that the Bass Pro Shops development in Ozark creates good, living-wage jobs, and that people in Christian County have the skills and desire to compete for those jobs. Here’s hoping that more than one person has the opportunity to work at Finley Farms, discover their true passion and cultivate it into a career.

Statistics show people in Ozark, and beyond, are interested in what the Morris family is doing at the old mill. More than 11,000 people stopped to check out the Headliner News’ posts on Facebook, and more than 2,900 clicked on our links to read the story in the first 24 hours after we covered the announcement.

Beyond the stats, the people who work here at this newspaper all have anecdotal stories about meeting strangers, telling them what we do for work, and then being asked what we know about the old mill and Bass Pro Shops from people in Ozark, Nixa, Springfield and places further outside of Christian County.

Interest is a great thing to have. That means that when the first phase of Finley Farms opens, there won’t be a shortage of business, and that’s good for the overall economy of Christian County. Hopefully that interest will also translate into a staff of qualified people welcoming visitors to Finley Farms and giving guests a great experience.

In the long term, we hope Steve Childers is right about the string of pearls, and that Ozark can shine beyond its snazzy new Bass Pro Shops development on the Finley River. Hopefully commercial development can pick up along with the residential growth, so that all of Christian County can shine.

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