COVID-19 hit its endemic stages, but the disease and the rippling impact it continues to have on Springfield are a focal point for Mayor Ken McClure.
The mayor delivered the 2022 State of the City Address to members of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce the morning of June 2 from Spence Chapel at Evangel University. The State of the City is a sweeping look around Springfield designed to summarize what city government and tax dollars are involved with, and what matters are at the forefront for elected leaders. McClure started the 2022 version the same way he started the speech in 2021, by talking about COVID-19.
“Today, I commemorate our community’s brave, innovative and critical work in the battle of our intersecting crises,” McClure said. “The pandemic has illuminated vast inequities and now we are collectively feeling the post-traumatic reverberations and the unpredicted ramifications ranging from workforce shortages, to supply chain issues to mental health struggles.”
The State of the City Address is a fast way for Springfield residents to learn a little bit about several areas of involvement for their city government. It provides short bits of information about what their tax dollars will be doing in the upcoming year, and what their mayor’s areas of focus are.
Springfield’s population went up about 6 percent from 2010 to 2020, and is now estimated at around 169,000 people. Springfield is the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in Missouri.
On May 31, Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Katie Towns said the seven-day average for new COVID cases in Greene County was 42. There were 26 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Springfield hospitals.
“Those numbers will ebb and flow, and the good news is that we have seen an increase over the past couple of weeks, but they seem to have plateaued, and so with the vaccine as well as treatment, and the virus having changed and becoming less severe, we are hopeful that we will continue to be able to manage the ebbs and flows,” Towns said.
While COVID-19 has reached an endemic stage, McClure told Springfield residents in his State of the City speech that the impact of the disease will forever change the way Springfield responds to a crisis.
“On this day, I implore of you, we cannot allow ourselves to resume what was, we must reimagine what can be.”
McClure thanked the staff members and health workers at Mercy Springfield, CoxHealth, Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department for their continued work in preventative and responsive care related to COVID-19.
“Despite the trauma of both the deadly disease and the rollercoaster both economic and emotional we all were forced to ride, I am uplifted by the stories of resilience, and of sacrifice and of service,” McClure said.
Economic recovery from worldwide pandemic
In relation to COVID-19, much of McClure’s speech was about economic development in the private and public sectors.
“I’m very proud of our business community hosting a very diverse economy. Springfield is blessed to have a very large number of small businesses and entrepreneurial startups,” McClure said. “Businesses of all sizes learned to adapt their operations and are helping Springfield continue to be a hub for great job opportunities and are providing excellent goods and services Springfield needs to be a vibrant city on the move.”
McClure pointed to nine major economic development projects expected to create 1,300 new jobs and spur $319 million in capital growth in 2021. They include the development of an American Airlines maintenance center at the Springfield-Branson National Airport, the development of a CoxHealth “super clinic” on east Battlefield Road and Springfield’s new HyVee and Costco stores.
“A strong economy has made our region attractive for new and existing businesses to expand,” McClure said.
McClure pointed to economic projects underway or in development: the $14.3 million expansion of the Missouri State University Jordan Valley Innovation Center, the $19 million O’Reilly Hospitality development of the Moxie Hotel, the $20 million Brody Corners commercial development in southwest Springfield, the $56 million Buc-ee’s store with 100 gas pumps on Interstate 44, and the $20 million Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town development on West Chestnut Expressway.
McClure praised the work of educators across the city, both in Springfield Public Schools and on the campuses at Missouri State, Drury University, Evangel University and Ozarks Technical Community College.
“More than 45,000 college students bring us a vibrancy that is both social and economic,” McClure said.
The mayor also noted how nonprofit groups around the Ozarks adapted and changed their models because of COVID-19. He especially noted groups dedicated to helping unsheltered and unhoused persons in Springfield.
“Our safety net nonprofits refocused their efforts this past year, working with increased demand for the basic necessities of food, shelter, health care and jobs,” McClure said. “Too many of our friends are living on the streets, and I commend the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, the Gathering Tree, the Connecting Grounds and so many others who are working together to help those in need.”
In 2020, Springfield took about 57 percent of its total revenue from sales taxes, a reliance that bond rater Moody’s notes in its independent assessment of Springfield’s financial wellbeing and credibility. In the 2023 fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2022, sales tax revenue is expected to make up about 60 percent of Springfield’s overall income.
“Springfield continues to experience exceptional retail sales and strong progress in an overall area of economic development,” McClure said. “Sales tax continues to fund vital functions such as police, fire operations and development-related service. During the positive economic times, this reliance is beneficial.”
“COVID-19 has significantly affected mental health and substance use in our community,” McClure said. “The pandemic caused not only illness and death, it disrupted so many lives. It has also created new community dialogue, leading to a reduction in the stigma associated with seeking care for mental health.”
McClure mentioned that early in the pandemic, Burrell Behavioral Health started a free-to-use series of Facebook posts for anyone feeling grief, depression or anxiety related to the pandemic.
McClure said that Springfieldians need not feel shame when reaching out to a counselor, mental health professional or support group for mental issues they struggle with.
“I encourage them to keep hope and faith alive,” McClure said. “It is okay to reach out for help. It is okay to not be okay.”
McClure made special mention of the Behavioral Crisis Center. The walk-in crisis center was the result of an 18-month study of mental health in Greene County. The crisis center is located at 800 South Park Avenue in Springfield, and is a place where people can go for “immediate stabilization” during a mental health or substance abuse crisis where they may threaten to harm themselves or others.
“Following 2019’s community health assessment, which focused on mental health, we identified access to behavioral health and substance use services as a key need for our area. Partners from health care, behavioral health and the criminal justice system came together to work towards launching Burrell Behavioral Health’s Behavioral Crisis Center, or rapid access unit.”
The rapid access unit treats people experiencing immediate mental health crises or substance misuse events. The staff at the center treated about 1,500 people in its first year, about 400 of whom were referred directly from law enforcement agents or from the Greene County Jail.
At a Greene County Commission briefing at the end of April, Dustin Brown, vice president of integration for Burrell Behavioral Health, said about half of the people who come through the door at the Burrell Behavioral Crisis Center are there for about 4-6 hours. They receive treatment and intervention, and then go home, Brown said. Another 40 percent of patients are admitted to a mental health facility for longer-term care. Less than 10 percent of the patients are sent to another facility, like a hospital or a jail.
“We have quite a bit of substance use, especially methamphetamine — has been on the rise in the last two years. We’re seeing a lot more of that, which can mimic the mental health symptoms of psychosis,” Brown said.
McClure was elected to the Springfield City Council in 2015, and then elected mayor in 2017. He was elected to a third term in April 2021, and that term expires in April 2023. By city charter, a mayor may not serve more than four consecutive two-year terms.