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Springfield tops Missouri in cost-of-living report

State ranks fifth nationally, and companies say it's an attraction tool for the city

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Springfield’s cost of living in the third quarter was among the lowest nationwide. That’s according to Council for Community & Economic Research survey results presented late last month in a Missouri Economic Research and Information Center report.

Springfield had an 87.2 index score with 100 representing the average national cost, according to the report. It placed No. 2 among major Missouri cities and rated better than the overall state index of 88.9. Only Joplin, with a score of 81.6, fared better among the participating Missouri cities in the survey

By category, the Queen City individually scored 69.8 in housing; 86.2 in utilities; 89.4 in transportation; 94.1 in miscellaneous; 98.6 in health; and 99.9 in groceries, according to the report.

Companies are paying attention.

“We do use that data. It is mentioned quite a bit,” said Celeste Cramer, CoxHealth’s system director of recruitment and retention.

Cramer said the 12,393-employee health care system cites the city’s low cost of living as a promotional tool to attract or retain workers. CoxHealth also uses materials from the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce that reference MERIC cost-of-living data. Part of that material is LiveInSpringfieldMO.com, a site launched by the chamber that has a cost-of-living index calculator to compare a base salary and city living costs.

She said cost of living is referenced when out-of-the-area job candidates are brought on-site. It’s also stressed by CoxHealth officials to the next generation workforce.

“Whenever we go and speak at colleges and high schools to get people to stay in this area, even if it isn’t with us … we highlight (cost of living),” she said. “It’s hard to explain it to college and high school students sometimes until they’ve lived on their own for a little bit and really understand why those amounts matter. We try to do that just to get people to stay in the area.”

Corporate draw
The lower costs recently attracted two companies to town: Columbia-based Mortgage Research Center LLC and Bolivar-based Promoveo LLC.

A division of Mortgage Research Center opened a Springfield office in August and it’s currently staffed with 54 employees. It’s called Paddio, a full-service mortgage lender under Veterans United Home Loans. The long-term goal is to employ 100, said August Nielsen, the parent company’s vice president of people services.

Nielsen said cost of living, paired with the college-age talent pool, were key factors in the decision to expand into Springfield. Company officials worked with the Springfield chamber to identify potential office space, and Paddio now occupies half of the building at 1930 W. Bennett St. Jacksonville, Florida-based One Call Care Management fills the remainder, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

The plans for 100 workers qualify Paddio for incentives through Missouri Works, in which companies can utilize tax reductions or credits in exchange for jobs and reinvestment plans.

Veterans United already has corporate offices in Kansas City and St. Louis, Nielsen said, adding officials wanted to be in the next-largest market in the state.

For Promoveo, President Will Westmoreland said his business process outsourcing company invested around $160,000 to add a Springfield office at Hammons Tower in September. The 5-year-old company maintains an office in Bolivar, where it employs 26. Only six employees currently work in Springfield, but Westmoreland plans to grow the local staff to 50 by April 2021, when an account with an undisclosed client goes into effect, he said.

Cost of living was an important component for expansion, Westmoreland said, noting officials chose Springfield over St. Louis and Columbia.

“We really believe in a livable wage,” he said. “Over the long term – and when I say long term, I mean over the next 18 months or so – we’re trying to get all our front-line employees to $15 per hour.”

He said Promoveo hopes to qualify for incentives via HUBZone, a U.S. Small Business Administration program designed to increase business growth in underutilized business zones. The designation means at least 3% of federal contract dollars are awarded to employers within historically under-utilized business zones. Hammons Tower is in a federally designated HUBZone, he said.

Next on the Promoveo radar is opening a call center in Springfield with 400 employees.

Westmoreland said that plan is around five years down the line.

Additional hiring is always on CoxHealth’s radar, Cramer said, noting the health care provider averages around 700 job openings at any given time. Its nursing vacancy rate is around 15%, which she said is lower than in recent years. Still, it’s hovering above the statewide nursing vacancy rate, which was around 10% in 2018, according to a Missouri Hospital Association report.

Missouri cities listed in the survey report are, by cost-of-living index:

• Joplin, 81.6;

• Springfield, 87.2;

• St. Louis, 88.1;

• Jefferson City, 89.3;

• Columbia, 91.9; and

• Kansas City, 95.4.

Missouri’s cost-of-living index was 88.9, ranking the state fifth nationally behind Mississippi, at 84.8; Oklahoma, at 86.8; Arkansas, at 87.8; and Kansas, at 87.9.

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Linda Palmisano

While Springfield’s lower cost of living is often touted, our wages are on the low end too, so the typical worker does not see a net benefit. In fact, according to 2018 data from the US Federal Reserve, average per capita personal income in the Springfield MSA was $41,780, compared with $47,746 for Missouri and $56,446 nationally. Suddenly Springfield’s 87.2 cost-of-living index score doesn’t look so good next to its 76.7 income score. And Springfield’s high food and medical costs strain the budgets of our fixed-income retired neighbors — especially if they spent their working lives earning low local wages!

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