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Effingham Magazine

Matt Morris: Springfield City Manager Makes a Difference Where it Matters

Matt Morris

Springfield City Manager Makes a Difference Where it Matters

Story by Katrice Williams  |  Photos by Tonya Perry

Springfield City Manager Matt Morris has been an asset to the city over the past few years, fostering growth and development while being a proponent for Springfield’s overall prosperity and success. The city has been gaining attention from citizens and visitors alike, largely due to the efforts of Matt and his team of dedicated officials.

“Springfield is my hometown,” says Matt. “We moved here when I was very young. It’s a place I hold near and dear. I truly have Springfield’s best interest at heart.”

Matt obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from Armstrong Atlantic State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Georgia Southern University. He began his career at Effingham County Planning & Engineering, where he gained several years of invaluable experience in the public sector. He then assumed a general manager role for an industrial equipment company in Statesboro, allowing him to gain varied experiences in the private sector as well.

A Call to Duty

Matt made a decision that changed his life and the lives of others when he accepted a new career opportunity as Springfield’s assistant city manager under the leadership of City Manager Brett Bennett. Upon Bennett’s retirement from service, Matt was selected to fill the position. That was about four years ago, and it has been full steam ahead ever since.

“I just wanted Springfield to succeed. I saw it as a blank canvas. I’ve tried to look at problems as opportunities,” Matt says.

Growth and Development

Matt has been encouraging other potential businesses and investors to embrace those opportunities. One of Matt’s biggest initiatives has been to foster downtown development, alongside the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

“I’ve tried to use our Development Authority as a way to help spur that desire to grow and to get new businesses here,” he says.

Matt has been privileged to work with passionate business professionals like James Carlson of Carlson & Company—a local entrepreneur striving to make Springfield a great city for living and leisure. James has brought several businesses to the community over the years. In 2018, he and his wife Liz renovated a historic building in downtown Springfield on Laurel Street, turning it into an event venue—The Local on Laurel. It has been a huge success. After closing on a long-time negotiation with the DDA last year, James leased the Walt’s Furniture Store building on Laurel, completing a major renovation on it, and subsequently, moving two of their businesses there—Joann’s Florist and Carlsons’ Premier Events.

Matt also brokered a deal earlier this year where the city gave the old and abandoned Springfield Fire Station building to the DDA. James Krikava, a retired firefighter and certified CrossFit coach, signed a lease agreement for the property and has turned it into a CrossFit gym—Pine Street CrossFit; Krikava has an option to buy after two years. The new gym has been a great addition to downtown Springfield. As Matt himself enjoys CrossFit, he feels that the gym has been an outstanding benefit to the community.

Investing Locally

Matt is thrilled that others have seen the benefit of investing locally. Whether it’s coffee shops, taco restaurants, pizzerias or event venues like Moncrief Square, downtown Springfield has seen its share of new businesses. Matt hopes that prospective entrepreneurs will be encouraged to take that leap of faith and bring more businesses to the community. He knows that the local economy will thrive if citizens choose to shop locally, which will build the city’s tax base.

“Profit is a good word in my vocabulary. I just want people to come here and be successful,” he says.

Prosperity and Progress

During the height of the pandemic, Matt was concerned that there would be a drastic decline in SPLOST funds, or the “local-option sales tax” used to fund various city projects—public facilities, infrastructure improvements, etc. But instead of a decline, there was an increase.

“I thought our SPLOST money would take a dip, but it didn’t. It actually went in the other direction. Revenue came in and a lot was being spent at businesses in town,” he says.

Matt is proud that he and Effingham Finance Director Amber Dyson received a federal grant—following a one-year grant certification process—for the completion of a streetscape project on Main Street.

Looking ahead, Matt wants city beautification projects to continue, understanding that people are more willing to invest in a place they can be proud of—one with beautiful landscapes, trees, proper lighting and inviting atmospheres.

A Strong Team Makes the Difference

Matt feels that one of his biggest contributions has been to “help incubate people to take risks and open businesses to invigorate the economy.” Though most would agree that Matt has played a huge role in Springfield’s progress, he insists that he alone gets little credit.

“I have a great city council. I have an amazing staff here. They do so much that is not recognized most of the time. The credit lies in my staff. They play an integral role in this,” Matt says.

Matt knows that the city relies on local leaders who work well together toward a common goal—leaders who have the city’s best interest at heart.

“We’re going to communicate and implement whatever we think is best for everybody. I want to go with the best idea, even if it’s not my idea,” he says.

What Matters Most

Matt gives credit where it is due. He is incredibly proud to have his loving and supportive wife Natalie by his side.

“She is my best friend. She is my rock. I couldn’t do any of this without her,” he says.

The couple has a three-year-old son, Miller Payne, and a 15-month-old daughter, Carter Renn. The couple also remembers their precious baby girl, Merritt Faye, who passed away in 2017 before her first birthday.

“It made our faith much stronger. I learned that you have to keep moving forward. The Lord keeps you here for a reason. It’s grace, and it’s faith,” he said.

The family enjoys fellowship with their church family at The Church at Godley Station under the leadership of Pastor Darren Thomas, who has been a “tremendous asset” to them over the years.

Matt’s faith, along with his genuine love for helping his community succeed, has allowed him to make a real difference where it matters.