By Jack Rogers
From the March/April 2020 Issue
The word “infrastructure” resonated throughout Gov. Mike Parson’s 2020 State of the State Address, but Missouri’s chief executive wasn’t just talking about the dozens of roads and bridges his administration is working to upgrade.
Gov. Parson’s definition of infrastructure also encompasses the people who will drive the engine of Missouri’s economic growth. So when the governor prioritized MO’s infrastructure goals, workforce development and connectivity also were at the top of the to-do list.
In an exclusive interview with BF, Gov. Parson outlined a series of workforce development and education programs geared to make sure Missouri’s workers have the skills that are needed by businesses in emerging 21st century growth sectors.
The governor also discussed the economic development benefits of a push to bring high-speed broadband to rural parts of the state, the partnerships generated by recent trade missions, and he gave us an inside look at what it takes to successfully execute a diversified growth strategy in the Show Me State.
DEVELOPING A WORLD-CLASS WORKFORCE
In his annual address to the legislature, Gov. Parson identified workforce development as a top priority, announcing the continuation of the Fast Track scholarship program and the employer-driven higher education initiative MoExcels.
“Fast Track and MoExcels are both programs we rolled out last year to encourage more Missourians to pursue education to benefit them in the workforce. This not only gives citizens the qualifications to obtain higher-paying jobs, but it also helps address the state’s workforce needs by prioritizing high-need areas,” Parson told BF. “Having a pool of quality workers available is critical to drive economic development, and Missouri’s workforce is truly world class.
Fast Track is a workforce incentive grant for Missouri residents aged 25 and older who have not earned a bachelor’s degree and do not make more than $40,000 per year. This grant, in addition to other federal and state financial aid programs, ensures that tuition and fees are fully covered. Recipients of the grant are required to work in the state for three years after graduation, otherwise the grant becomes a loan that must be repaid.
“This guarantees that we are investing in Missouri,” Parson noted.
MoExcels was created with the goal of expanding employer-driven education to give more employees the opportunity to obtain education. Community colleges, State Technical College of Missouri and public universities are eligible to submit proposals. Through these institutions, employers are able to provide employees the option to further their education.
“These programs will help meet Missouri’s Big Goal of 60 percent of working-age adults having a high quality certificate or degree by 2025. Not only will these individuals have certifications, but they will have confidence in their jobs,” Parson said.
Gov. Parson also has increased funding for Missouri One Start, which offers businesses customized workforce training and recruitment solutions. We asked the governor if Missouri One Start has been a key factor in securing major capital investments bringing new jobs to MO.
“While Missouri has been training workers for decades, Missouri One Start is a new division that is on track to train over 42,000 workers this year,” he said. “It has provided assistance in securing major capital investments such as General Motors, Nucor and Briggs & Stratton, all of which are bringing new jobs to the state.”
Parson added, “Missouri One Start’s services are a huge factor for those considering investing in Missouri. We want to send a message that Missouri is open for business, and providing beneficial programs like Missouri One Start sends that message loud and clear.”
One of the most popular services Missouri offers is recruitment assistance, which is free to new or expanding businesses that qualify. From events to job sites, email marketing to social media—MO’s team expands a company’s ability to reach and engage specialized talent for unique workforce needs.
Missouri also has prioritized efforts to increase the number of college graduates with STEM skills. The Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development is currently working with the Missouri Chamber to promote STEM initiatives. The Missouri STEM Signing Day Program was created by the Missouri Chamber Foundation’s Mathematics and Science Coalition to raise awareness of STEM pathways for students. This event gives students who commit to a STEM field in college or technical school the same recognition that athletes who commit to a school receive. The program offers $1,000 scholarships funded by The Boeing Company and the Missouri business community.
“STEM fields are the future of business, and we want Missourians to be prepared,” Gov. Parson said.
Parson also has made upgrading physical infrastructure a top priority; Missouri’s governor is not just upgrading hundreds of roads and bridges; his administration is facilitating the expansion of intermodal shipping facilities.
“Upgrading roads and bridges is very important, but we also can’t forget about our facilities on the Mississippi River,” Parson told BF. “We are currently engaged in projects to improve and expand intermodal facilities on the Mississippi River. One of our highest priorities is installing and upgrading railway access to facilities on the river. We know that our waterway transportation plays a critical role in our economy because so many industries rely on it to receive raw materials and move goods to market.”
As a centrally located state, Missouri is well positioned to be a logistics leader, Parson said. “Most parts of the country can be reached [from Missouri] in a two day’s drive or less. Not only is our location convenient, but our roads, U.S. Class 1 railway system, international airports and Missouri River facilities give us a wide variety of transportation options to ship all across the globe,” he said.
Under Missouri’s new transportation cost-share program, Parson said, 20 high-priority road and bridge projects will receive $50 million in state funding in partnership with local communities.
Missouri is investing $5 million to bring access to high-speed broadband to all parts of the state. Parson said he expects this investment to yield economic development dividends in rural parts of the state.
“Many rural Missourians don’t have access to high-speed internet, and we are working hard to change that,” he said. “Providing broadband to these underserved areas will undoubtedly spur economic development. Not only will it serve as a stabilization force for existing businesses, farms and citizens, but it will also be a foundation for new business opportunities in the future.”
One of the collateral benefits to improving broadband service to all parts of the state will be in assisting farmers in connecting to a global agricultural market that increasingly relies on electronic communications.
“There is a global demand for Missouri’s agricultural products, and connecting farms to the internet will help farmers better utilize ag-tech and open the door to more markets. By incorporating ag-tech and precision agriculture, farms can experience an up to 6 percent increase in farm revenue. If each farm that receives broadband from this grant experiences this increase, there will be $95 million dollars in new economic benefit,” the MO governor explained.
Parson estimated that bringing high-speed broadband to rural parts of MO can spur the creation of 8,000 jobs. Connecting all areas of the state also will help lift the quality of life for all, he added, by supporting health care and education.
DIVERSITY OF INDUSTRY IS KEY TO MAXIMIZING MO’S GROWTH POTENTIAL
Business Facilities named Missouri a top-10 state for Economic Growth Potential in our 2019 State Rankings Report because of its diverse range of growth sectors, from traditional manufacturing to the emerging Gig Economy in Kansas City, MO.
“Missouri is a very diverse state,” Parson told BF. “We have a thriving manufacturing industry, a growing aerospace and defense sector, and a strong agricultural industry.”
Parson has deployed a deal-closing fund to make sure MO can contend for big-ticket projects. “Our deal closing fund ensures that highly-competitive expansion projects are profitable right from the start. This tool requires that employees are provided adequate wages and health insurance with at least 50 percent coverage of premiums,” he said. “Our 4 percent corporate tax rate, one of the lowest in the country, is very attractive to businesses considering Missouri as a place to grow. Also, only income earned in Missouri is taxed, which is a huge benefit to international businesses.”
International businesses have noticed, and Missouri is positioning itself as a prime destination for foreign direct investment. Last year, Missouri secured a $164-millon FDI project from Bayer to expand Bayer Crop Science in Missouri, a project that will retain 4,400 workers while adding 500 new jobs.
Parson has led several overseas trade missions touting MO’s exports and its attraction as an FDI destination, including recent trips to Europe and Australia.
“I believe the pipelines generated from these trade missions help boost FDI in Missouri. The relationships [we] developed make international exporters aware of our strategic location and the benefits we bring to several regions of the world,” Parson told BF. “And we learn from our international partners. In Australia, I was able to learn more about their infrastructure asset recycling and evaluate the possibility of implementing a similar program in Missouri.”
Low industrial electricity rates also are a magnet for new business in Missouri. Parson said utilities like Ameren, rural co-ops and other investor-owned utilities play an important role in Missouri’s economic development.
“Our state’s utilities are a huge draw for businesses. Missouri’s commercial electricity costs are already 14 percent lower than the national average, but our utilities are still working with companies to provide customized energy solutions.”
Missouri was rated the seventh best state in the country for energy regulatory index by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Developing a thriving network of startups is an important component of our state’s economic development strategy,” Parson said.
Gov. Parson’s recent State of the State Address was delivered before Missouri’s 100th General Assembly. We asked him what he would like them to say about his tenure as governor when the 200th General Assembly convenes.
“Here in the Show Me State, we value actions, and I have worked hard to showcase my dedication to the state with a disciplined approach to working for the people of Missouri. Our administration has a laser focus on infrastructure and workforce development because we know that the progress we make in these sectors will provide more opportunities for our citizens to better themselves and provide for their families,” Parson said. “My hope is that when future generations reflect on my administration, they recognize that [dedication] in each and every decision that I have made.”
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