For someone who has risen to a top job in her city’s planning and development department, Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner’s career path certainly hasn’t followed much of a blueprint.
Kerner has worked for the city of Springfield since 2008, and in that time, spent time in the city law department, where she served numerous departments, including parks and public works. Before that, she worked for about three years for a law firm in Springfield doing, as she said, “a little bit of everything.”
And before that? When Kerner reached the University of Missouri, the Chillicothe native said her future was hardly set in stone, though she had a lot of lawyers in her family, including her father.
“I majored in anthropology, a really lucrative career field,” Kerner said with a laugh. “I thought maybe I’d be a Spanish teacher, I don’t know. . . . I wasn’t thinking long term with anthropology. I thought maybe small-town civil practice — at least my dad’s version of what that was.”
Kerner said when she joined the city, she worked with the airport and dealt with the Federal Aviation Administration while the city was building a new terminal and officials were looking for a new use for the old building, which was eventually leased to Expedia as a call center. Despite all of the changes in Kerner’s career, that kind of redevelopment sparked something that has been a constant for her.
“I really like intellectual pursuits, solving complex problems and applying previous cases and how they apply to now,” Kerner said. “I feel like so many twists and turns in my career have been like things I never even knew were jobs. I didn’t know there was an airport attorney until I started there.”
She does plenty of solving complex problems in her current role, where she started in 2015.
She has worked on a $21 million build grant for a pedestrian trail to connect the Wonders of Wildlife Museum that’s next to Bass Pro Shops to the central part of downtown. Kerner also points out the trail has a lot of history and should help slightly impoverished neighborhoods through which it passes.
The airport also passed the 1 million passenger mark last year, and Kerner said she believes the work she helped to complete 10 years earlier played a big role in that.
With all of the different directions her career has taken, it’s no surprise she stresses the importance of job-shadowing as part of her advice for young women looking to get into the law.
“Job-shadow different types of lawyers and see all of the options out there, and do that before law school,” she said. “Having mentors, whether or not they’re attorneys, is also important. I was paired up with a person who’s now my boss a couple of years before I got to the position.”
It’s a position that’s just another unexpected but successful turn in the path Kerner has taken — even though she was hesitant to apply for it.
“At the time, someone said, ‘Hey, how about economic development?’ and my boss asked me to apply, and I said no, and she said, ‘You can do this,’” Kerner said. “It was a really good move. It’s just a really neat kind of intersection between government and business as far as helping business grow to make it a cool place to live, and it helps the community thrive. That makes me feel good.”