Photo courtesy of the Springfield, MO Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Whereas Springfield's major claim to fame used to be a building with a giant Solo cup flanking the entrance, it now has a lot more going for it. It's the home of Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, which was recently voted Best New Attraction in the country by USA Today. It's the perfect candidate to become one of the next metropolitan players in the Silicon Prairie movement. It recently got its own flag. It's a booming college town, home to Missouri State University's 26,000+ strong student body, private universities like Drury and Evangel, and an economy-supporting community college presence through Ozarks Technical Community College.
And yes, it's got cashew chicken. To know cashew chicken here is to love cashew chicken—or at least respect the hype.
I've lived here since 2009. In the past nine years, I've become reliant on Springfield's downtown coffee shops to get me through long days and all-nighters. I've gotten to know every major neighborhood (and I've lived in five of them). I've watched new businesses open and flourish, every last one of them challenging Springfield's stereotypes. I've met a brand of people unique to Springfield, all big-hearted and driven and ready to go to bat for what they believe in—many of them in their 20s, like me. And when I leave Springfield for more than a week or so, I have to admit—I miss it.
As if all that wasn't enough to satisfy, there's even more that keeps 20-somethings like me anchored here.
Springfield holds plenty of opportunity for professional experience.
While I can't speak to every industry out there, I've witnessed time and time again that Springfield is full of unique and challenging opportunities for young professionals. There's less competition for internships and entry level roles than in bigger cities. Networking and meeting the right people is easier. There are multitudes of groups to get involved with that won't charge you an arm and a leg, if they charge you at all. There's room to carve your own path and even work remotely if you want. Plenty of people call Springfield home while working from home for sought-after companies like The New York Times, InVision, and Vox Media.
As of December 2017, the unemployment rate in Springfield, Missouri was a full percentage lower than the rest of the country.
Department of Numbers
As for me, the depth of work and life experience I’ve gained in my handful of years out of college has made me a more confident, competitive young professional. Although I probably would have traveled a similar career path had I moved somewhere else, it’s the experiences I’ve gathered here in Springfield that have pruned me to be capable of much more. And that’s not limited to positive experiences, either—I’ve had some not-so-great ones that were tough to go through at the time, yet still taught me so much about navigating professional life.
We get to enjoy a balanced standard of living.
Over the holidays, my husband and I were catching up with some friends who moved from Ozark, Missouri to Brooklyn, New York. We were comparing notes on our respective living situations and realized—with laughter on both sides—that my husband and I's mortgage cost less than half of what our friends pay to split a Brooklyn apartment five ways.
The cost of housing in Springfield, Missouri is nearly 22 percent lower than in other areas of the country, with the median home listing price at less than $120,000.
When my husband and I bought our house back in May, we complained about going from a three minute morning commute to a fifteen minute morning commute. After hearing our big city friends describe their morning commutes (which only deliver them to work on time if a certain degree of luck is involved), I vowed to never complain about ours again.
Despite our modest incomes, we can typically afford the gas and groceries we need because competition in Springfield keeps the prices of both relatively steady. With all our essential payments covered, we can still afford to fund our savings accounts, go out to dinner, and generally treat ourselves from time to time—although there are certain things in Springfield I'd forever be willing to adjust my budget for, like The Aviary's Bloody Marys or fresh bouquets from the Ozark Mountain Flower Truck.
Springfield, Mo. has been blessed with the irresistible sensory appeal of the Ozark Mountain Flower Truck.
We know our city's shortcomings and work to make them better.
Though quality standards of living are true for a lot of 20-somethings who have had the good fortune of educations and comfortable lifestyles, this article runs the risk of sounding tone-deaf without pointing out that income inequality and poverty rates both run alarmingly high in the Springfield metropolitan area. Fortunately, Springfield is also uniquely dedicated to curbing low incomes, deep poverty rates, and homelessness thanks to a plethora of non-prorifts, task forces, and other communities, many of which are headed up by compassionate young professionals. Check out Community Foundation of the Ozarks' comprehensive (and staggering) list of organizations to see just how many there are.
Larissa Ruggeberg, who gets a shout-out later in this article, is a force to be reckoned with for homeless outreach in particular and is a great point of contact to know if you want to get involved with such efforts directly. Though the Ozarks' challenge with poverty is complex, many people—even young ones—with comfortable homes and incomes (and even those without) are actively paying it forward to bring those less fortunate into the same standard of living.
I coordinate breakfast for around 80 - 150 folks every Friday morning—which is truly the highlight of my week—through The Venues Church. My homeless friends are some of the most genuine and loving people I have ever had the honor of meeting and working with.
We're here for the long haul.
Despite my love for Springfield, it's not to say that watching our friends pack up and move to bigger cities over the years hasn't been hard. My husband, Jason, loves the sun and pace of Los Angeles; I'm obsessed with Seattle. At one point in time I envisioned myself strolling through Pike Place on the weekends with a coffee in one hand and fresh produce in the other, waiting out the rain before walking back to a tiny, cozy apartment. I worried more than once that our wanderlust would fossilize into resentment. What if we never left Springfield?
After a while, I got fed up with my own mindset. So what if we never leave?
Staying in Springfield—and loving it—starts with shedding the stereotype that young professionals should leave. And for those of us who stay, I feel that it's up to us to help cultivate a unique culture that people in other cities want to flock to. Luckily, I think us 20-somethings are more up to the challenge than ever.
Aside from my wonderful home in close proximity to a ten-mile-long greenway trail, my job, and my hazardous addiction to downtown Springfield's The Coffee Ethic, there's something else, something almost ineffably worth staying for—not just for me, but for every young professional who calls Springfield home.
We’re surrounded by people who care immensely about making Springfield better.
The intense level of care shared by Springfieldians is making the food scene more exciting, putting up sculptures on every street corner, running for public office, winning awards, and launching efforts to bring the community together. That unapologetic passion is infectious, especially for 20-somethings eager to get their own initiatives off the ground. In a strange way, the fact that bigger metropolitan areas have less growing to do—in more than one sense of the word—makes it even more fun to be part of this movement of people pruning Springfield to be a destination in its own right.
Launching an organization, event, or community-minded group here in Springfield is easily achievable, not only because odds are pretty good it hasn’t been done yet, but because you don’t have to go far to gather support from like-minded people who also want to make a difference. A few great examples come to mind.
Pictured Above, From Left: Maranda Provance, Emilee Blansit, Jarad Johnson, and Larissa Ruggeberg
Backed by It's All Downtown, Bethany Bell (27) and Lillian Stone (23) are the driving forces behind the event coordination and marketing of Rated SGF Film Festival, which seeks to engage local audiences by blurring artistic boundaries and challenging assumptions. It's coming up on March 31st.
Larissa Ruggeberg (23) is the Movement Director for 7 Billion Ones, a non-profit that aims to connect and empower everyday people through stories and portrait photography. She is also an active volunteer and board member for groups like SWMO NOW, PROMO, and The Gathering Tree. A compassionate feminist, LGBTQ ally, and activist for all people, Larissa is an inspiration for 20-somethings in Springfield.
Emilee Blansit (24) manages the many, many garden locations thriving under Springfield Community Gardens, which manages a variety of urban gardens around the city and has distributed over 550,000 pounds of produce to families in need to date.
Mostly Serious’ president, Jarad Johnson, founded Springfield Creatives when he was just 25. It now has over 250 members, many of which are college students and young professionals.
Page Oxendine (27) co-founded Rosie, which set out in 2016 to support, assist, and serve as an advocate network for female founders, business owners, and leaders.
Kristen Binder (28) recently started a local rock band group for teenagers with Autism and other developmental disabilities through Easter Seals. She's currently coordinating their first performance at an open mic night for community inclusion, advocacy, and awareness.
Maranda Provance (28) co-founded The Geek Foundation, a non-profit that educates future engineer and techies, especially women and at-risk youth, regardless of their ability to pay.
Jordan Griffin (28) founded Springfield Women in Tech, which wants to grow the number of women in tech in the Springfield area.
The talent and compassion in this list isn't anywhere close to exhaustive.
Best of all, no matter what age you are or what your "big idea" is, Springfield is home to a resource that seems to extends more value to the innovation sector to our city by the month. The eFactory offers accelerator programs with funding and coworking spaces to help individuals fronting startups and organizations of any size get firm footing. Both The eFactory's ideology and its footprint are growing, which will attract even more diverse, inspired, and courageous young professionals in the coming years.
If you're a 20-something professional living in Springfield, you're in the perfect place to create something of your own or launch something nobody else has done. You're in the perfect place to find your niche or change your career path. You're in the perfect place to make a name for yourself and contribute to something greater—surely this article is evidence of that.
Molly Riddle-Nunn is the 26-year-old Director of Content Strategy at Mostly Serious. In addition to being a writer and data analyst, she sits on the YMCA Board of Managers and recently launched her own nonprofit organization, Mid Century Modern SGF.