Branding Springfield, Missouri

A number of local entities are working to define 417-land’s brand. Biz 417 spoke with two of them to find out why that’s good for the business community.

by Jennifer Swenson

Jul 2024

How do we define 417-land? How does it look to outsiders? How do we ensure a strong future for the Ozarks? Two area organizations—the newly formed Leaders for Ozarks Region Evolvement (LORE) and the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)—are seeking to answer these important questions.

The concept for LORE grew out of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Community Leadership Visit to Northwest Arkansas. The group saw firsthand how four cities (Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers) had united to attract new talent and to improve the quality of life in that area. “It was the first time I’d heard the term ‘regionalism,’” says Erin Danastasio, Executive Director of Hatch Foundation. “In Northwest Arkansas, the cab driver, the grocery store clerk and the retail owner all have the exact same speech. They know how the community defines itself and can showcase that to the rest of the country.”

Following the visit, Hatch Foundation and Community Foundation of the Ozarks funded a study on regional development; the study suggested the formation of a nonprofit focusing on branding, workforce attraction and quality of life. LORE is the outgrowth of that study. The nonprofit is bringing together business leaders across a 10-county region to identify common problems and find solutions that will positively impact the region for generations to come. “Because LORE will be led by the private sector, it can be more nimble and reactive to a situation,” says Danastasio. “The private sector isn’t tied up by red tape, and it understands how a win for one city or county is a win for the whole region.” LORE’s first initiative will focus on branding. “Branding is a quick win,” says Danastasio. “We have so many wonderful benefits in our region—the arts, the outdoors, the attractions. If we can educate our community and define or brand ourselves, we can showcase our quality of life.”

“Branding is a hot topic right now,” says Megan Buchbinder, Director of Marketing for Springfield CVB. “It’s our elevator pitch. It’s an encompassing message about who we are, what embodies the city, the character behind it.” Over the last six months, Springfield CVB has been working with Heart & Mind Strategies, a market research firm based in Virginia, to articulate Springfield’s unique brand.

Taking a community-focused approach, the rebranding project will drive Springfield CVB’s advertising and campaigns. “We would love for everyone in Springfield, from business owners to community members, to see themselves in our brand,” Buchbinder says. “CVB’s job is to reflect Springfield as a destination and to create more cohesion.” The rebranding will strengthen Springfield CVB’s mission to promote economic development through travel and tourism. “Everyone has to be a visitor first,” she says. Visitors may come to Springfield to attend a conference, or travel iconic Route 66, or interview for a job. And while they’re here, they might fall in love with the area and decide to move here. “At the CVB, we are not an island,” says Buchbinder. ”We look at the city’s priorities, such as economic development through manufacturing, and we ask ourselves how travel and tourism can help.”

Similarly, LORE is committed to the economic development of the Ozarks region. Branding goes hand-in-hand with LORE’s biggest long-term goal: workforce attraction.

“We want businesses and organizations to partner with LORE to pitch the job,” says Danastasio. “We want individuals to come to our website and see what resources we have and what it’s like to live here.”

Danastasio looks to the Northwest Arkansas Council to anticipate the impact LORE will have on Southwest Missouri. Over the last three decades, the Council has been the driving force behind the building of the Northwest Arkansas National Airport, highway expansion, clean water access and more. By collaborating with Springfield leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, LORE will “be a catalyst for transformation,” Danastasio says.