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This Saturday, leaders from government, business, non-profits, and the faith community will come together to discuss how diversity is connected to Springfield’s economic future. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.
You might not immediately make the connection between diversity and economic development.
“There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that our city has experienced economic losses because we’re not diverse enough.”
Tim Rosenbury is chairman of the Board of Director for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He’ll be one of thirteen panelists at the conference “Diversity and Economic Development: Building Springfield’s Future.”
“At the Chamber of Commerce, when there are companies from out of town looking to put facilities here in Springfield, they will ask questions about diversity. Many companies that maintain diversity as a value choose not to locate in Springfield.”
Rosenbury says some major companies have embraced diversity as one of their corporate values and may not see Springfield as a diverse place to locate. A competitive assessment of Springfield’s position in the marketplace showed one of the weaknesses is a lack of diversity among the population, which is about 92% white. The result is that it’s harder for Springfield to recruit non-white professionals like physicians. Rosenbury says he’s not advocating changing the racial make-up of the community. The competitive assessment shows that’s already happening.
“We’ve got a community that’s becoming more diverse naturally. By emphasizing diversity as we are at the chamber of commerce, this gives us as a community the chance to get ahead of the issue before it catches up with us and becomes an even bigger problem than it may be now…This is not a call to change who we are but it’s a call to change how we perceive other people.”
One of the panelists at this weekend’s conference is Wes Pratt, the coordinator of diversity outreach and recruitment at Missouri State University. He says talented non-white students graduate from college and go elsewhere to work. He says many students feel they aren’t welcome here.
“Sometimes students may have things said to them. They may read things in the newspaper that suggest Springfield is not a welcoming community. And it may be from fringe groups who maybe have a negative perception about what diversity means. They get discouraged. I think if students feel there are opportunity to be gainfully employed once they graduate from college, then they’ll want to stay here because it is a good place to live.”
Changing how people of different races perceive each other is a tall order and the Reverend Dr. Phil Snyder knows that. He’s senior minister of Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield. His church organized the conference because it promotes what he calls a spirit of reconciliation that’s consistent with their spiritual beliefs.
“As a reconciling witness, we are trying to give a safe space for people to be honest, to really deal with the ways in which our lives are marred by the historical legacy of racism and to try to envision new ways of being so that we might live into what, as Christians, we would call God’s dream for humanity.”
Having a dialogue about race in Springfield is a good thing, according to Wes Pratt. He says it’s about recognizing where the community has been and where it’s headed in the future.
“We have no choice but to acknowledge what has gone on in the past and admit that there were mistakes made. But you don’t dwell on it. You build on it so that it never happens again and we never put ourselves in a situation where we don’t value people. We have more in common than we have in difference but a lot of people get caught up in issues of color, religion, and ethnic origin instead of accepting the fact that every parent wants the same thing for the child that everybody else does.”
The Diversity and Economic Development Conference is Saturday from 9AM to 1PM at Missouri State University’s Meyer Library Auditorium. The conference is free and open to the public.