We compete in a variety of ways: by recruiting new businesses to our state, by helping our existing businesses and by encouraging small businesses and entrepreneurs to start and grow here. Supporting all of these activities is the need for a strong business climate that makes it easy to operate and that encourages our citizens to gain productive employment. It is about putting our citizens first.
This is exactly what Gov. Eric Greitens means when he says our mission is to help Missouri businesses create more jobs and to help Missourians earn higher pay, and we are already making progress towards that goal.
According to the most recent jobs report, our statewide unemployment rate is an impressive 3.8 percent, and Missouri’s rate of job-growth outpaced the national average since the governor took office. We now have 2,903,100 jobs in Missouri – a record high.
Despite this positive momentum, though, we know there is much work to do. The governor and his entire team are working together with the private sector to grow our economy. In order to do that, we must address some key issues.
The first is the skills gap. For example, last year, we had about 107,000 job seekers registered with Missouri’s workforce system. During the same time span, employers registered more than 386,000 jobs. This is just one slice of the data, and the picture is even more dire when we consider trends in population growth, workforce productivity and education attainment. In a nutshell, the total picture indicates a gap between labor supply and demand.
Missouri’s employers experience this every day, and we need to listen to their concerns. In a recent study, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Gallup found that Missouri businesses believe that only 15 percent of high school graduates and only 42 percent of college grads are ready for the workforce. Taken together, we have a quality and a quantity issue in our workforce.
Talent and workforce development is a national economic concern, and it certainly is for Missouri as well. How we address this issue – both in the short term and the long term – will largely determine the trajectory of our economy over the next generation.
On another front, Gov. Greitens recently commissioned an Innovation Task Force to consider policies and other ideas that can help improve our climate for startups and entrepreneurs. He gave this group the bold charge of making Missouri the leading center of innovation and entrepreneurship between the East and West Coasts.
In a world of limited resources and an ever-changing economy, the task force is asking a fundamental question: “What is the unique role of the state to help entrepreneurs and innovators deliver results that positively impact the citizens of Missouri?” This is not a rhetorical question, and the answer will help shape the future of our economy.
Another strategy we are employing is to improve the business climate, which is especially important for our existing businesses.
Most business people agree that it is easier to keep existing customers than it is to attract new ones. The same is true in economic development. Economic developers know that more than 75 percent of new jobs are created by the businesses that are already here – the businesses that have already invested in Missouri and employ Missourians every day.
These are our customers, and they are asking for help in removing barriers – burdensome regulations – that are preventing them from growing. Because of this, one of the governor’s first executive orders was to freeze new regulations and to review all 7,500,000 words of the current regulations to determine if they are still necessary or if they are burdening our economy.
Each state agency, including the Department of Economic Development, is looking to cut red tape right now. This process works best, though, if we hear directly from Missouri citizens and Missouri businesses. That is why we created NoMoRedTape.com, where you can easily submit your thoughts on what is working and what is not so that we can fix it.
These are just a few of the many items we need to address in order to move our economy forward. As I mentioned, despite the positive momentum since the beginning of this year, we know there is much work still to do.
This month, the governor will host his statewide conference on economic development, where he will outline his vision and strategies to help businesses create more jobs and help Missourians earn higher pay. The bottom line is that in economic development, prepared communities and prepared states win. Together, we can be prepared by tackling these important issues.
Rob Dixon is the acting director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.