MegaphoneWhat's the Word?

There's no better way to learn about a community than hearing directly from the locals. The following testimonials feature local residents who provide their perspective and experiences living in the Springfield and Sangamon County area.

  Shawnaci Schroeder - Chatham, IL

Shawnaci Schroeder

After growing up in Chatham, Shawnaci Schroeder spent eight years living in Missouri - four years attending Truman State and another four years working in Kirksville.

But when her husband Brady’s job as a State Farm insurance agent brought the couple back to Sangamon County and Chatham, Shawnaci was excited and now has no plans to leave again. “I have five siblings and my niece here, and my parents live a few minutes away; when we decided to move back, we knew we were staying,” she says.

Finding a passion for working with individuals with disabilities after college, Shawnaci now serves as Central Illinois Respite Director for a Chicago-based agency supporting people with developmental disabilities in 18 Illinois counties. Her primary role is to connect state agencies, special education teachers and families affected by disability to assist with resources and financial support.

Shawnaci has also developed a personal brand on social media as a fashion influencer, which has grown and is now taking her to major events across the U.S, like New York’s Fashion Week.

Traveling for both her full-time job and her side gig has only made her appreciate Sangamon County even more.

“I see a lot of other cities, and access to destinations in Springfield is so easy; the max you have to drive is a half hour,” Shawnaci says. “It’s really easy to pop downtown, and you’re not wasting your time traveling and sitting in traffic.

“I also love that you know someone everywhere you go. I can go to the grocery store and probably see someone I know. As you continue to grow your circle of friends, you know people at most events or activities too.”

In fact, Shawnaci enjoys living in the Springfield area so much that she’s become invested in growing the community of younger generations in the area and connecting young adults, particularly women.

Most recently, Shawnaci helped start a Springfield area chapter of SheFactor, a Denver-based organization focused on helping women build a fulfilling life and career. The first local SheFactor meeting in January at Papo’s Cafe had around 55 attendees; Shawnaci says each month’s gathering will have a different focus and different community partners/sponsors.

“It’s almost like a blend between Girl Scouts and a sorority,” she explains. “It’s been so fun because there are so many people who need community in our age range.”

Shawnaci says she recognizes there may be a general perception from her peers that there isn’t enough to do in Springfield, so she’s working to change that by promoting all that the area has to offer.

“It can be easy to just stay home, but I’d love to see more people exploring new interests. Most events in Springfield are extremely low cost and easy to get to,” she says.

“I have a heart for downtown because it’s so vibrant and there is a lot going on. There is so much to do in Springfield, and I really appreciate that even more when I go to other places. I love all of the different restaurants and trying new food. Springfield offers a small-town feel but is big, so there are always opportunities to create new relationships, new growth, new businesses.”

Shawnaci encourages young adults to consider moving to - or back to - the Springfield area after completing their education, “not just for work opportunities but because of the community we have.” Through her involvement, she hopes to provide and promote different avenues for people to connect.

“I’m so passionate about building the community I’m in because I want to be here forever,” she says.

  David Lee - Springfield, IL

You only have one true hometown. So why not invest in it?

That’s the philosophy of David Lee, Springfield High School graduate who moved back to the Springfield area after seven years of living in Rock Island for college and in Iowa following college.

“You only get one hometown, so for me, that’s special. Springfield is a special place,” he says.

David graduated from Augustana College in 2012, playing football for four years and studying business, finance and marketing. He was unsure what to pursue post-graduation and explored options in coaching and sports.

Then, however, he went through a five-month-long interview process for a medical device company and was offered a job in sales.

“I knew I didn’t want to be at a desk, and I like talking to people. I didn’t know a lot about the medical device industry, but it ended up being a good fit,” he says.

For three years, David worked in the Quad Cities on a sales team for orthopedic devices, such as knee, hip, shoulder and surgical devices. Then, while flying back after a conference in Las Vegas, he struck up a conversation with a representative from a different medical company.

“He was terrified of flying, so he talked my ear off,” David laughs. “Through that conversation, he found out I was from Springfield and told me his company was hiring in Springfield for a lead rep role, which was ultimately what I was looking for.

“I always thought I was going to end up in a bigger city because, in my mind, there would be more opportunities there. But there’s a lot more opportunity here in Springfield than people think.”

Today, David works for Stryker’s emergency care division, selling equipment to emergency service agencies. “We say we help the people who help save people. Our products are life-saving and life-changing,” he says. “I honestly love it; it’s really fun.”

Working in the healthcare space has given David a new perspective on his hometown. It all started because he was meeting SIU medical residents while he was present during surgeries in which his medical devices were being used.

“We would all be scrubbing in, and they would be asking me what there was to do. It cultivated a lot of hometown pride, and I enjoyed talking with them about Springfield,” he says.

That prompted David to reach out to Downtown Springfield, Inc. about getting more involved, which eventually evolved into a new community-wide campaign promoting investment in downtown.

In 2019, David helped launch — and now chairs — Momentum on Main Street, which aims to educate and empower entrepreneurs, investors and developers in downtown Springfield.

Momentum on Main Street is run by a dedicated committee and hosts six events throughout the year. Past events have educated entrepreneurs and investors about topics like financing options, getting started at the farmers market, zoning regulations, the process of renovating a building and more.

David Lee in Art Alley“Downtown should be the place for young professionals — we already have the medical district, state government and many thriving companies,” David shares. “There are a lot of impressive people who want to take action to make Springfield better. And the downtown community is extremely friendly and believes that ‘a rising tide raises all ships’, so it’s been very encouraging.”

Momentum on Main Street is also partnering with Innovate Springfield to offer scholarships to entrepreneurs participating in Co.Starters, a 9-week program helping to get new businesses off the ground.

“We want to see a thriving downtown scene, from business to social and entertainment,” David says. “Our ultimate goal is a thriving district in all aspects, which means filling in vacant buildings with shops and restaurants and knocking out hurdles when it comes to moving forward with projects.”

David became an advocate for downtown revitalization after moving back to Springfield and recognizing the potential for downtown improvement — and the impact it could have on the greater regional area. He hopes his passion ignites the involvement of more like-minded community members.

“After being away for seven or eight years, I see a lot of good things going on here, but people don’t always appreciate what they have,” he says. “We want to see more professionals moving here and staying. It should matter to every business and every person in Springfield. We need a thriving downtown for the whole area to thrive. And we can all move forward together.”

  Matt Neale - Williamsville, IL  &  Josh Matchuny - Glenarm, IL

Technology Tops Opportunities in Springfield

As a student at the University of Illinois Springfield, Matt Neale gained IT experience outside of the classroom in roles for the UIS IT HelpDesk and UIS security team. When he decided to explore other local opportunities in information technology, that led him to Springfield-based tech company Levi, Ray & Shoup, Inc. (LRS), where he was offered a summer internship.

Matt NealeFollowing his internship, Matt accepted a full-time position as a Network Security Technician, where he works for LRS’ internal team in networking and penetration testing.

“I get to mimic what an outside attacker would do and then patch those holes. It’s fun to play both roles — both hacking the network and fixing it,” he says.

Founded in 1979, LRS is a top information technology company, providing software solutions to Fortune 100 companies around the world.

LRS boasts a supportive business environment and hires from a strong talent pool in the region, drawing in students from UIS, LLCC and Midwest Technical Institute, as well as nearby Illinois State University in Bloomington, Bradley University in Peoria, Jacksonville’s Illinois College and many more.

LRS’s formal tech internship program was created several years ago to help fill the need for IT expansion, says Shannon Heisler, Director of Marketing and Recruiting for LRS.

“We continue to grow at LRS and finding talent in the IT space is increasingly difficult,” Shannon says. “Demand for IT employment across the board is growing substantially; there are far more jobs than candidates. This is a problem for tech across the U.S.”

LRS now brings in a class of about 20 interns in areas of software development, web development and design, application development, business analysis, cybersecurity, pre-sales system engineering and product support. The interns are not only given opportunities to work on projects but also mentored and immersed in the staff activities of LRS, such as an axe throwing event for team-building.

“Our primary goal is that they walk away with added education in IT; we want to give them a meaningful experience and a good glimpse into what it looks like to work at LRS, what our culture is like,” Shannon says.

Matt says he’s been impressed with the longevity of the staff and appreciates being able to learn from that experience. At LRS, the average tenure of employees is more than 12 years, according to Shannon.

“I’m able to learn from everyone else here. I’m just starting my career and am able to build connections with the staff for learning and help,” Matt says. “During the internship, LRS also gave me time to achieve certain certifications, which I feel has allowed for more success within the company in my full-time position.”

Illinois State University graduate Josh Matchuny was also part of the LRS internship and now works full-time for LRS as a Pre-sales Systems Engineer, assisting the sales team and going on site to implement technology solutions for clients.

“In the internship, they encouraged us to feel around for what we wanted to do, so I was able to explore systems engineering and product support. Everyone was extremely nice and helpful; it was obvious they really wanted us to succeed,” Josh says. “I still like that friendly, supportive environment. LRS doesn’t micromanage its team, but my coworkers are always quick to respond if someone needs help.”

Despite its global expansion over the last several decades, LRS has kept its headquarters in Springfield, a vibrant city that is a great place to work, live and raise a family. Not being based in Silicon Valley isn’t a drawback when Springfield is so connected — the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport flies to international hubs Dallas and Chicago, allowing residents to easily get anywhere they need.

For Josh, one of the major perks of Springfield is that he can efficiently make sales calls around the area without the hassle of big city traffic.

“It’s easy to drive around, and Springfield offers the taste of city life but a smaller feel,” Josh says.

Both Josh and Matt grew up as local residents — Matt in Williamsville, Josh in Glenarm — and are enjoying living here as young adults.

“It’s small enough to build connections with people, but also big enough to find what you want to do, entertainment-wise or career-wise,” Matt says. “I like trying new options for restaurants and love to attend shows at the PAC (UIS Performing Arts Center).”

“We have a lot of unique attractions, and downtown has a lot to offer,” Josh agrees. “I like the variety of breweries, like Obed & Isaac’s. I also enjoy golfing; we have some beautiful golf courses around here.”

LRS as a whole has been extremely involved in the local community and continues to promote technology as a career choice for young people — from career programs at the Boys and Girls Club to involvement with the Sangamon CEO program.

“We’d like to get even more involved at the high school level to really help entice students to consider going into IT and STEM careers,” Shannon says. “Technology is not going anywhere. And the great thing about tech as a career path is that you can drive your career: you can be a software developer if you love to write code or be more customer-facing if you like explaining technology and aligning solutions with what customers need. Or you may want to be on the forefront of understanding the risks of cybersecurity and how to protect against disruption of daily business.”

“Every organization now relies on technology so it makes the job market open to students like me. Whether it’s healthcare, insurance, agriculture — everything is dedicated to tech, so you can shape your job responsibilities around your interests,” Matt says.

Today, the tech industry filters into virtually every other industry imaginable. From large corporations to state government, nearly every entity utilizes technology for daily operations, which opens up substantial career possibilities.

  Archana Rajan - Springfield, IL

Archana Rajan was unsure what kind of adjustment it would be to move from bustling New York City to the small Midwestern city of Springfield.

What her family found was a welcoming community with good schools.

Archana’s move to Springfield was a result of her husband’s career path. Originally from India, she moved to the United States in 2006. Her husband completed his medical residency in New York and then considered four different positions around the country before the couple decided on Springfield.

“We liked Springfield the most. The pay was very competitive, and The Real Estate Group took us on a tour of the community and different subdivisions,” she recalls. “There are really nice people in Springfield; it’s a very nice community.”

Though it was a “big change” from New York, Archana found a thriving Asian Indian community in Springfield and accepted a job at LRS, which she loves.

“I work as a quality analyst, so I test software,” she says. “People are really nice at my workplace, and working here is what I like most about living here.”

Archana shares that she misses the activity and attractions in New York, and she wishes more people would frequent downtown Springfield on the weekends. But she does appreciate that Springfield has easy access to Chicago and St. Louis when her family is craving the “big city” lifestyle.

Her husband is currently completing a medical fellowship in Iowa, but when he was living and working in Springfield, the family would make a weekend trip to Chicago once or twice a month.

“We often go to St. Louis or Chicago to see Indian movies. We used to go every two weeks to Chicago because there is authentic Indian food to get there and a lot of shops there. I’m a traditional Indian woman who likes to shop!” she says. “We like that St. Louis is a bit closer, and there is much to do there as well.”

Locally, Archana and her family enjoy going to see movies, and she says Springfield offers “some great restaurants.” Some of her favorites include Little Saigon and Los Rancheros.

Archana has also been happy with the schools her daughter has attended. At nine, her daughter is now at Glenwood Elementary School. The overall community has made it much easier to adjust to moving here.

“She also goes for violin and taekwondo; we have some nice music lessons and taekwondo options here,” Archana says. “We also have a big Indian community, so that’s played a big role in why I have wanted to stay in Springfield. I have a lot of friends, and my daughter has company too.”

“In New York, people don’t even look at each other. They are in their own world. Springfield is not like that; the people are really friendly.”