Many entrepreneurs have made their mark right here in the Ozarks, a region regarded as one of the best places to start a business. As the economic hub of Southwest Missouri, Springfield is one of the best cities for startups. It’s home to Fortune 500 companies and an ever-growing number of small businesses. The stories behind some of our most prominent companies may inspire you to open your dream business in Springfield, MO—a hotbed of entrepreneurship.
Industry Leaders with Queen City Roots
From retailers to manufacturers, several companies with roots in the Ozarks are now enjoying the harvest.
In 1972, Johnny Morris began Bass Pro Shops in the back of his father’s liquor store. This small bait shop would one day become the world’s No. 1 outdoor brand through 200 retail and marine centers across the United States and Canada. Bass Pro Shops opened its official Springfield headquarters in 1981, followed by the development of a 300,000-square-foot flagship store and home to the nation’s top-ranked aquarium, Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.
Morris reeled customers in with his appreciation for Ozarks wilderness as Springfield’s destination store combined retail with conservation for an experience customers wouldn’t forget. Bass Pro Shops acquired Cabela’s in 2017, doubling its locations across North America. Today, more than 200 million people visit Bass Pro Shops each year.
O’Reilly Auto Parts is another tale of Ozarks entrepreneurship. Charles F. O’Reilly and son Charles H. O’Reilly opened the auto parts store in 1957. The company quickly grew after its first year of business and was able to open a second Springfield location in 1965. Over the years, O’Reilly Auto Parts continued to grow, acquiring Hi/LO Supply, CSK, VIP, and Bond Auto Parts and expanding into the Midwest and Northeast. By 2016, what was once just a small store in Springfield transformed into more than 5,000 stores in 47 states and what’s become a nearly $12 billion enterprise. Plus, who can forget that catchy jingle? O…O…O…Oooooo…Reillllllly. Auto Parts.
Jack Henry & Associates literally started out as an idea scribbled on a napkin. The beginnings of that business plan would lead co-founders Jack Henry and Jerry Hall to build a billion-dollar financial software company. In 1976, Jack Henry & Associates was born on a borrowed computer in the back of an engine repair shop in Monett, Missouri. As demand for their services grew, Jack Henry & Associates tapped into tech talent across the Springfield region and went from one client to more than 9,000 clients and 6,500 associates nationwide.
An accounting firm named Baird, Kurtz, & Dobson opened its doors in Southwest Missouri in 1923. Now known as BKD, the firm welcomed customers to a third location in Springfield nearly 30 years later. The Queen City of the Ozarks would soon become—and remain—BKD’s national headquarters. In 1969, BKD expanded beyond Missouri, which marked the beginning of several new locations in the Midwest and Northeast. In 2021, the multimillion-dollar company had 41 offices in 19 states and was ranked the 14th largest public accounting firm in the nation.
Expedia Group Inc. is a travel industry leader with strong ties to Springfield, MO. Expedia owns household names like Travelocity and Hotels.com. In 2001, a Springfield business called TravelNow.com would bring the largest online travel company to the Ozarks.
TravelNow.com was founded in 1995 and later acquired by Hotels.com, which would eventually become a part of the Expedia Group. As the Springfield location began to grow, it moved to a more fitting space—a vacated airport terminal in northwest Springfield where the office has made its home since 2010. To date, this location has grown to be the second-largest Expedia operations center in the country. Only their headquarters in Washington is larger.
Russell Cellular started out as a family business based in a living room. Now it’s one of the nation’s largest Verizon Authorized Retailers with more than 620 locations in 40 states. Headquartered in Battlefield, Russell has repeatedly been named one of the region’s fastest-growing companies by Springfield Business Journal.
Owners Jeff and Kym Russell moved to Springfield in 1993 and opened Russell Cellular in December of that year. They were running their first retail store six months later, and business has been on the upward trajectory ever since. Russell Cellular was named the 2018 Verizon Partner of the Year. In 2020, the company was closing in on $700 million in annual revenue and 2,220 employees. Talk about explosive entrepreneurship!
Open-book management was born in Springfield. At what’s now the oldest employee-owned engine remanufacturer, a man named Jack Stack decided to change how the game of business was played. With his revolutionary management strategy and focus on entrepreneurship, Stack took a struggling business and made it into a company that hit $600 million in annual sales in 2018.
Author of “The Great Game of Business,” Stack changed the way people thought about business and their employees. In doing so, SRC Holdings became a worldwide name with joint ventures through John Deere and CNH Industrial. SRC Holdings employs more than 2,000 people across a number of divisions in Springfield today.
Tech Startups in the Area
Local IT businesses have made it big in Springfield, especially when it comes to catching the eyes of top healthcare companies. A urologist with a Springfield practice began Intuitive Medical Solutions after developing a management software in 2005. IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions acquired the company before becoming a part of the AmerisourceBergen Corporation, which was No. 8 on the Fortune 500 list in 2021.
NetSmart is another leader in healthcare IT, serving nearly 24,000 organizations across the country. Two Springfield-area businesses, Change Healthcare and HealthMedX, were acquired by NetSmart in recent years, and they continue to be successful.
You Can Grow in Springfield
Whether you want to start a business or are looking for a new career path, Springfield has plenty of opportunities. What are you waiting for? Here’s a closer look at why we’re considered one of the best cities for entrepreneurs.
Begun in 2013, the efactory is the front door for startups in Springfield. Owned and staffed by Missouri State University, this business incubator is home to more than 40 companies and always buzzing with collaboration. The efactory promotes entrepreneurship through regular pitch contests, speaker series, and mentor programs. Its accelerator program provides startups with early-stage investment and customized business training.
Springfield has numerous professional groups that can connect you with other businesses and organizations, many of which are based in the efactory. The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce is another great place to get plugged in and connect with others in your field. If you’re a young professional, The Network specifically provides mentorship for those under 40. You’ll be able to find the support you need to grow your business.
With multiple universities in town, there are several opportunities for you to continue your education. Missouri State University offers five fully accredited graduate degrees through its College of Business. You can combine Drury University’s MBA program with certificates in focus areas like cybersecurity. Whether you want to start an associate degree or pursue your master’s, education in Springfield can help you take your career to the next level.
Welcome to the land of entrepreneurship. Are you ready to start a business in the 417?
Download our relocation guide for more information about living in Springfield.