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Jason Ray, 26
Community and Regional Planner and Program Manager at Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council
ï¡¿The Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council is a quasi-governmental, nonprofit agency serving four counties and more than 50 cities in the far southwest reaches of 417-land. Jason Ray has a hand in almost all of the things the Council—which has offices in other parts of the state, including Springfield—does, including economic development, grant management and disaster relief planning, among many other community planning endeavors.
Disaster planning was the field Ray had hoped to go into after graduating from Missouri State University in 2010. Ironically, his skills were put to the test a year later, when the devastating EF-5 tornado swept through Jasper County and the heart of Joplin. Within three days, he had secured $350,000 from the Federal Economic Development Council, which provided Joplin with an economic development coordinator and other technical assistance and eventually opened the door to about $20 million in additional relief aid.
Despite a strong presence in the Joplin community, Ray lives and is extremely active in Springfield. He serves as a volunteer on the Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission, recently spearheading a committee that led talks between Missouri State University and the Rountree neighborhood about the future impact of traffic on the historical district. Ray also is a member of the Black Tie Committee, which plans the annual Black Tie Gala fundraiser for the AIDS Project of the Ozarks (among other charities). He was also a founding member of the Joplin Area Fuller Center for Housing. And whether it’s in Joplin or Springfield, Ray says it’s meeting with people that leads to his most gratifying moments. He quotes professor and mentor, Diane May: “‘If you want to get ahead, you have to work for free.’ You get to know people, network, and learn things from a whole new perspective.”
Occupation: Planner & Program Manager at Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council (HSTCC)
Education: Bachelor of science in Community & Regional Planning, Missouri State University
1. How did you end up at your current job/profession?
I started off as a music major at Missouri State but decided to pursue something different, so I literally flipped through the back of the course catalogue, read the description of Community & Regional Planning, thought it sounded cool, and switched! It was the best decision of my life! I then interned for HSTCC during my last semester in college, and they offered me a full-time position. I was appointed by City Council to serve on the Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission that same year.
2. Where do you find passion to do what you do?
I am passionate about public engagement. When I hear from citizens and businesses about what they wish could be improved in their community, then work with local officials to develop a plan to implement those improvements, it’s very satisfying to me. I’ve come to realize that many people don’t always know how the “system” works, or they don’t have the time to be a community advocate. I enjoy listening to people, translating what they say into more technical terms, and getting it implemented.
3. Tell us about your family.
Unmarried/committed relationship. No children, except two very, very old, dogs, Molly (126 in dog years) and Chloe (77).
4. What are your hobbies (when you’re not working)?
My interests change rampantly, but in general I enjoy going to the gym (10 Fitness— Evan Williams is the best trainer ever!). It helps me clear my head, de-stress, and get reenergized. I also enjoy cooking, traveling, and teaching myself new things. Most recently it’s been watching YouTube videos on how to bartend.
5. Are you involved in any charitable organizations? (If so, what are they, and what is your role? Why is it important to you?)
• Springfield Black Tie. This event continues to grow and amaze everyone involved. It raises money for several great causes across Southwest Missouri, it’s well organized, and it is a total blast to be a part of!
• Joplin Area Fuller Center for Housing. I was a founding board member for JAFCH after the Joplin tornado. Similar to Habitat for Humanity, we provide a hand-up for people in need of a quality home, and help make repairs to existing homes for people who may not have the resources to do so themselves.
6. Are you a member of any professional organizations? (If so, what are they, and what is your role?)
American Planning Association (APA) – Member
APA Ozark Mountain Section – President
APA Economic Development Division – Communications Coordinator
International Economic Development Council (IEDC) – Member
Missouri Economic Development Council (MEDC) – Member
RPO America – Missouri Representative
7. How would you define the secret to success?
A college professor once told me: “Sometimes, to get ahead, you have to work for free.” That piece of advice has motivated me to get involved in civic groups, causes and professional associations and to volunteer for special tasks or projects. Each time I’ve volunteered, I’ve created quality relationships and learned many new things from a unique perspective. I think it’s important to get involved in ways that use your talent, skill, or knowledge, yet challenges you to address issues you wouldn’t normally face in your day-to-day life. You’ll grow as a person which will be reflected in other aspects of your life and help make you successful.
8. What's your favorite thing about your career?
Being able to identify community issues, find a solution for them, and then develop a strategy to implement those solutions. I also enjoy being able to work with so many different types of people, businesses, communities, and government agencies to piece together different ideas and perspectives to find the most effective solutions.
9. What's your favorite thing about working in 417-land?
The best thing about working in 417-land is, in general, people here want to see others succeed and will usually drop whatever they’re doing to help with a project, offer advice, or point you in the right direction. Most people here understand that we’re all in this together, and if one person or project succeeds, we all win in the long run.
10. If you could go back and give the high school version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Midday naps only make you grouchy and ruin the rest of your day! Just wait it out, you’ll get a second wind eventually.
11. What was your “dream job” at age 5?
I think at age 5 I wanted to be a policeman or firefighter, but at my first “Career Day” in second grade, I went as a truck driver. I had a flannel shirt, coffee Thermos, and an old steering wheel. My grandfather had been a driver for Campbell 66 Express based in Springfield after the military, and I wanted to be just like him.
12. List three traits that define a successful career:
• Enjoy what you do.
• Serve your profession through volunteerism/going above and beyond.
• Be able to know when to ask for help. People are willing to give support; it builds relationships, and keeps you from falling on your face.
13. Why are you a 20 under 30?
Someone thought very highly of me and nominated me. It’s probably because of my ridiculously good looks. Seriously though, I think it’s because I have a lot of passion for what I do, and I have several “nerd” moments when I get excited about an opportunity to be a part of something like a Traffic Task Force. Hopefully my passion, enthusiasm and ability to listen have been noticed by others which helped make me a 20 under 30.
14. What projects do you have on the horizon at your job that you’re excited about?
I am studying to become certified in my profession through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) which is extremely tough, but will be rewarding in the end. I’m also working on a new environmental planning partnership with another organization which will be the first of its kind in Missouri (and possibly the country). I can’t spill too many beans on this one because our contracts haven’t been finalized, but I’m very excited about it!
15. What completed project are you most proud of?
The “project” I’m most proud of is the circle of positive relationships I’ve built with so many incredible people.
Fill in the following blanks with five words or less:
Bacon and good friends make life worth living.
A day at work wouldn't be complete without lunch with my colleague and friend, Brianna
Ten years from now, I hope I'm running my own (successful) business.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would travel, donate to my favorite causes and open a business.
The best part about being a 20 under 30 is still being under 30!