By Astrid Zeppenfeld
Nothing, really. But there is a reason The Simpsons lived in Springfield. At the government’s last count, there were 34 U.S. states with a city named Springfield and the only more common city name in the United States was Riverside. So for the show’s purposes, Springfield was an inconspicuous little town, seemingly located anywhere. Springfield, Missouri – by contrast – is not so inconspicuous. By virtue of being the state’s third-largest city and centrally located in the country, it is a go-to for meeting planners in the Midwest, especially those from Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis. With a nickname like “Queen City of the Ozarks”, meeting planners from neighboring states, such as Arkansas and Oklahoma, are frequently drawn to Springfield for conventions and other business functions as well.
Dana Maugans, CDME, is the Director of Sales at the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. She describes Springfield as “a centrally located, affordable, and safe community that is very easy to navigate and boasts ample and mostly free parking.”
Where St. Louis is often called “The Gateway to the West”, Maugans has heard many people refer to Springfield as “The Gateway to the Ozarks”. For meeting planners looking to add outdoor activities for attendees to their events, the beauty of the Ozarks means that there are a lot of walking trails, biking trails, and lots of golf opportunities in Springfield. For sightseeing opportunities, Maugans notes that “Bass Pro Shops is headquartered in Springfield and the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum “Wonders of Wildlife”, which has been the USA ranked Number One Aquarium for the past two years.” She adds, “The Aquarium is amazing and we have Fantastic Caverns, as well as our great Arts scene with Broadway plays and live music, so there is plenty to do in Springfield. And let’s not forget about the big brewery scene here, where the breweries can be used as venues for off-site gatherings.” If you are willing to drive a bit, Maugans says, “We’re only 35 miles north of Branson, so a lot of groups like to meet in Springfield and then do a side trip to Branson. Springfield has the much busier airport with all the major carriers which makes it an easier destination for the business portion of the event than Branson.”
Obviously, as everywhere in the world, the current pandemic has put a damper on the live events that usually enhance the bustle of the city and add more fun to business gatherings. The Springfield CVB has been working with the City of Springfield and the Springfield Greene County Health Department to ensure they are communicating up-to-date and accurate information to all visitors and meeting planners before they come to Springfield. Many of the area businesses, hotels and meetings facilities have signed the city’s Health Pledge to ensure they are following protocols to keep everyone safe and help meeting planners navigate the new pandemic rules during activities and business events.
Maugans explains further, “The hotels are following their standards that their companies have set, like spacing tables 6 feet apart and such. What we found, too, is that a lot of the groups coming in have already devised their own policies and procedures on safety guidelines. We try to take a look at that to help planners have everything they need to be in Springfield and in Greene County. Then we work with the hotels on the practices and standards that they have set and what the expectations are.” She adds, “We have not really had too many conferences or meetings yet, but so far, there have not been any issues and everything has worked out beautifully, especially while the weather was nice and many events could take place outdoors. We do have a small conference coming in October and they are doing a hybrid version, part of it being in person and part of it being virtual.” That is certainly a good way to circumvent any bad weather issues!
Many meeting planners are waiting to see how the pandemic plays out before making definite plans, but others confidently take the step towards resuming business with the new restrictions in place. Karen Mason, Executive Director at Missouri Association for Career and Technical Education, is undeterred in planning the association’s annual summer conference for about 1,100 attendees, which for the past 32 of its 51 consecutive years has been in Springfield, Missouri. Aware of the pandemic, Mason explains, “Last year, we went virtual and our plan right now is for in person this year. We may offer some virtual parts.” The association consists of eight different divisions which partake in the annual conference lasting several days. Mason elaborates, “Our headquarter hotel is the Oasis Hotel and Convention Center, but we utilize others as well. Each division holds meetings for their members each day except on Tuesday when we all come together at the Oasis for Missouri ACTE day, we have a opening session speaker and meetings throughout the day, ending it with an awards reception over at Moon Town Crossing from 4:30-6:30 pm. We do hold other activities for the association on Monday, Wed and Thursday but those are board meetings. […] We also have an exhibit hall with approximately 50 different educational companies, institutions etc. for our attendees to visit.”
In the city with a small-town vibe, everyone is working together to bring safe events back to Springfield, Missouri.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.