NPR’s Journeys of Discovery Podcast Visits Springfield, Missouri – Episode 2

The Springfield region in Missouri is a great place for companies looking to grow, make, move, or connect. The region recently caught the attention of award-winning NPR podcast host Tom Wilmer. He spent several days in Missouri visiting with leaders in the community to learn more about what makes Springfield a leading destination for businesses, residents and tourists.

In the second episode of the series, Tom visits with Askinosie Chocolate Factory, Ozarks Coca Cola-Dr. Pepper, Springfield Underground, Finley Farms, the Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and David Cameron, Republic’s City Administrator.

Photo credit: Tom Wilmer

Askinosie Chocolate Factory in downtown Springfield was Tom’s first stop. He visited with Shawn Askinosie, who gave up a successful law career to follow his passion for creating world-class chocolates. Askinosie shares profits with his small-scale family run cocoa bean growers in Ecuador, the Amazon, Tanzania and the Philippines.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“What (about chocolate) resonated with you?”

Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate Factory:

“One of the things that I loved about it, and still do, is that I knew I will never master it. It is one of those things that is constantly changing, it really has quite a mystery to it, both from the sourcing of the cocoa beans – which I love, and I love traveling and meeting with the farmers, which I have been doing for 17 years – but also even the making of the chocolate. It changes with the seasons, it’s very complex, and it seemed like it was bottomless in terms of the learning process which was really intriguing to me.”

Photo credit: Alexis Bowlby

Next stop – Tom visited with Sally Hargis, VP/Chairman of the 100-year-old family-run Ozarks Coca Cola-Dr. Pepper bottling operation-serving Missouri and Northwest Arkansas.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“Your family, your grandparent go all the way back with this company, right?”

Sally Hargis, Ozarks Coca Cola-Dr. Pepper:

“Yes sir. In 1920, my grandparents, and their families, moved from Fulton, Kentucky. My grandfather was a teller at a bank, and they moved because they heard the Coca-Cola franchise was available here. No paved roads at that time, they moved their families all the way across to the West to Springfield, Missouri.”

Photo credit: Alexis Bowlby

Springfield Underground is a unique 3.2 million square-foot industrial park housed in a mammoth underground limestone cave. Tom joined John Griesemer, President and CEO of the 3rd generation family-run operation, whose clients include Kraft, Vital Farms and Meta. More than 600 hundred truck-and-trailer rigs shuttle in and out of the limestone caverns every day.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“Give us an example of what types of products are stored here, and the incredible volume.”

John Griesemer, Springfield Underground:

“So, the entire facility is a little more than 3.2 million square feet. About 70 percent of that is food product, products that are either ready to eat, or that need to be further processed. A lot of cheese product is aged here, and then it is shredded, sliced and packaged at a local plant. We also have eggs, ready to drink energy drinks and sports drinks as well.”

Photo credit: Alexis Bowlby

The heart of 40-acre Finley Farms is the circa-1833 Ozark grain mill. The modern incarnation of the farm was the vision of noted conservationist and Founder of Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris. In addition to farm tours where visitors learn about the farm’s organic practices, the riverside destination is a multi-purpose event destination for weddings and much more.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“Tell us a little bit about this facility.”

Dayle Duggins, Finley Farms:

“Finley Farms, and the Ozark Mill is a concept that was created by the Morris family. Johnny Morris, a noted conservationist and the Founder of Bass Pro Shops, and then his daughter is the Co-Founder of the property, and really, she has taken the vision that started as a riverfront restaurant and turned it into a community gathering place in the town of Ozark.”

Photo credit: Alexis Bowlby

Located within the Ozarks Technical Community College, the Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing serves as a regional hub for all advanced manufacturing and technology-related education and training. Tom met with Executive Director Robert Randolph for a tour of the cutting-edge facility.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“Tell us the big picture.”

Robert Randolph, Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing:

“The big picture is a dream that I am very passionate about, and that is helping to solve the workforce shortage in advanced manufacturing, and related technological fields in Southwest Missouri and the greater region. This has been years in the making. OTC presented this concept to our local community back in 2018, in the form of a small tax levy, which passed overwhelmingly, and that says something about the support from our community. To see it come to life is a dream come true.”

Photo credit: Alexis Bowlby

David Cameron, the Republic’s City Administrator, shares his passion for engaging the citizenry while propelling economic development and environmental compliance. Republic is located just outside of Springfield.

Tom Wilmer, Journeys of Discovery Podcast Host:

“Tell us about Republic, where it is, and why it is.”

David Cameron, Town of Republic:

“Republic is in Southwest Missouri, adjacent to Springfield. We started off as a farming community, then rail came through in the late 1800s and from there we have grown into an industrial community.”

Check out the full conversation on the Journeys of Discovery podcast here.

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