On Thursday, August 22, almost 200 business, governmental, civic, and military leaders and community members gathered at the Ark Community and Sports Center in Waynesville, Mo. for the 7th annual Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP) annual meeting.
This year’s theme “Supporting National Defense in the Heart of America” focused the group on updates and progress that has been made over the last year, as well as the importance of the roles that our communities, region, and state play in supporting the Department of Defense, enhancing Fort Leonard Wood’s mission success, and improving the quality of life of our men and women in uniform and their families.
“Our organization has only been able to accomplish so much because of the strong partnerships between regional communities and Fort Leonard Wood and the hard work of all of our volunteers, especially our board of directors. We will continue to do all we can to strengthen Fort Leonard Wood and the region and we sincerely appreciate the community’s support,” said SOP Executive Director Dorsey Newcomb.
Keynote speaker United States Senator Roy Blunt discussed the hard work and efforts being made at the federal level to implement big changes at Fort Leonard Wood, including securing funding for a new hospital. He also spoke about the strong community support in the region and how valuable those partnerships are when speaking with senior military leaders. Blunt also emphasized the efforts being made within the state of Missouri to make it more military-friendly, including the passage of legislation that makes it easier for military spouses to continue their careers in Missouri.
“When Heather Wilson was Secretary of the Air Force, I asked her what are the things we can best do for families and she said good schools and spouse opportunities. She said if you’re looking at the best things you can do to improve your base from an off the base world, that’s what you can do. We’re beginning to do that in Missouri. I’d like to be able to make the argument year in and year out that no state is doing that better than we are,” said Blunt.
Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe who spoke to the room about the importance of steps taken by the state, specifically Fort Leonard Wood Region legislators, to make the state more military-friendly. A number of pieces of legislation have been passed recently, including in-state tuition for military members and dependents, business fee waivers for active duty and guard members, and military experience in exchange for professional licensing.
“We’re recognizing more and more talents that the men and women have in the military and figuring out a way to make it as easy and possible to get a license of that type here in the state,” said Kehoe.
Fort Leonard Wood leaders also contributed to the meeting. Fort Leonard Wood Commanding General Major General Donna Martin provided a recorded video message highlighting the recent successes resulting from community partnerships, which were cemented by FLW Garrison Commander Colonel Erin Towns’ in person remarks. Both leaders emphasized the need for continuous partnership efforts to continue moving the region forward.
During and after lunch, regional state legislators provided brief remarks and Missouri Military Advocate Joe Driskill provided an update on strides being made at the state level to enhance and bring more awareness to Missouri’s defense industry.
Director of Policy and Business Development, Kit Bond Strategies Mike Dubois, who has attended the meeting for many years, was able to provide a connection between happenings at the federal level and the work being done in the FLW Region and throughout Missouri. DuBois helped meeting attendees better understand the climate in Washington, D.C. and how it directly impacts the region.
Throughout the meeting, the SOP also recognized sustaining members and former SOP Executive Director Kent Thomas and his wife Barbara for his time leading the organization. Newcomb led the group through an annual SOP update, including accomplishments and future plans. During the formal business meeting, St. Robert Mayor Dr. George Lauritson was re-elected as Chair and Brennon Willard was elected Treasurer.
Slides and other resources from the meeting can be found here: https://sustainableozarks.org/2019-sop-annual-meeting.