Every town needs solid employment opportunities to sustain its population and Sweet Springs was no different. During the early part of the 20th Century, the town saw a slight reduction in population. The population in 1800 was listed at 1,182 persons and in 1890, it dropped about four percent to 1,137. By 1900, the population was yet another five percent lower at 1, 080 residents. On a bit of a larger scale, Saline County where Sweet Springs is located, also saw population declines in the beginning of the 20th century.
Sweet Springs was fortunate to attract a larger employer to town and in 1922 the International Shoe Co. converted what was formerly known as Smith's Ice plant into a shoe factory. Immediately, the International Shoe Company filled an important role in the community's economy, furnishing jobs for almost 400 people. Many small communities relied upon a business model where larger corporations branched out into smaller towns. This was a symbiotic relationship in that the local communities benefited from increased income leading to a higher quality of living, and the larger companies benefited through operating cost reductions.
The International Shoe Company played a significant role in helping to pull Sweet Springs out of its economic decline early in the 20th century. Over the years, however, various factors pushed International Shoe out of Sweet Springs and in the mid 1960s Rival Manufacturing acquired the factory. Again, the branch strategy being leveraged in smaller towns was a beneficial relationship for both the community and the corporation. Rival benefited in that these local branches reduced operation costs and there was less influence of the unions on its workforce. Rival Manufacturing operated for many years at the Sweet Springs location making appliances such as crock pots, until the late 1990s when the factory closed.
Both the International Shoe Company and Rival Manufacturing provided important jobs for the community and many residents spent their working careers at these two companies. One resident, Shirley Colson, was noted as starting her career at International Shoe when she was 16 years old and also worked at Rival Manufacturing when they took over. Multiple residents of Sweet Springs retired from International Shoe and then retired a second time from the Rival Company. Another Sweet Springs resident, Cheryl Brown-Wolfe was raised in the Sweet Springs community and following graduation, started working for the International Shoe Company and remained with them until it closed and then worked for Rival Manufacturing until it also closed. The International Shoe Company and Rival Manufacturing played an important role in the growth of Sweet Springs and provided sustainable incomes for many residents over the 70-plus years that both companies operated.