Gov. Mike Parson held a roundtable discussion to discuss workforce development with area politicians and educators during a visit to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau Thursday.
“You’re going to have the opportunity of a lifetime over the next three years for sure, while I’m governor,” Parson said. “Financially, we’re going to be able to do more and invest more in the state than we’ve ever had the opportunity to do before.”
Part of the funds the state will invest comes from the federal government. Part of the funding is made available because Missouri’s economy is strong. “Even during COVID-19, we were able to do a balanced approach and kept businesses going. We kept the economy going all during the pandemic. And I firmly believe now, looking back on it, we did the right thing. By doing that, our economy in November and December is up double digits.”
Unemployment has dropped significantly, he added. At the peak of the pandemic, Missouri had 385,000 people on unemployment. In 2021, the number dropped to just over 120,000 and is down to 20,000 today. “We’re on the right track,” Parson said.
The problem now is that there are 119,000 job openings in the state. “How do we build a workforce?” he asked. His answer is that it starts with children. They need to be educated to prepare them to enter the workforce.
To do that, the governor has increased funding to educational institutions and promised to fund needed capital improvement projects. For example, Parson said the State will invest an additional $20 million in career and technology centers.
“Your job is to put more people in the workforce,” Parson told those gathered before him. Attendees included Debbie Colyott from U.S. Rep. Jason Smith’s office; Cape Mayor Bob Fox; Cape County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy; Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs; Jackson R-2 Assistant Superintendent Dr. Matt Lacy; Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University; First Lady Teresa Parson; Commissioner Zora Mulligan from Dept. of Higher Education and Workforce Development; Mardy Leathers, executive director of the Missouri Workforce Development Board; Cape Girardeau Public Schools Superintendent Neil Glass; and representatives from the Worforce Development Board of SE Missouri, Cape and Sikeston Career & Technology Centers, Three Rivers College and Mineral Area College.
Parson sees a need to increase teacher pay. Currently, the average teacher base salary in Missouri is $25,000, which is lowest among all 50 states. “Half the teachers leave the profession in the first five years,” he said. He wants to see the teacher base pay raised to $38,000 in order to attract and retain teachers. At $38,000, Missouri would move up closer to the middle of the pack and rank about 30th among the 50 states.
“We’re going to make a huge investment ($722 million) in childcare,” Parson added. As parents enter the workforce, more childcare will be needed.
Parson promised to make an increased investment in education at the state level. This is just the first year of a three-year plan, he added. So not every project has to be funded this year.
Parson said funds will be increased to improve infra-structure, because workforce development and infrastructure are connected issues. “You have to have both,” he said. Students need safe roads to get to school and workers need safe roads to get to work. The state plans to invest $75 million in new money to match local funds for buildings and bridges. The state plans to spend $100 million to take care of low-volume roads that are not MoDOT’s responsibility.
Funds are also being set aside to provide clean drinking water and to take care of wastewater.
The State will spend $400 million — the largest amount in the state’s history — on increasing broadband (high-speed Internet access) in the state. It’s important for at-home learning and for businesses to operate efficiently.
The governor shared some statistics about Missouri that show this state is a good place to live and work. Missouri is:
- 1st in the U.S. for on-the-job training.
- 3rd in the U.S. for apprenticeships.
- 3rd in the U.S. for pandemic-proof small businesses.
- 4th in the U.S. for new manufacturing facilities.
- 4th in the U.S. for best place to retire.
- 5th in the U.S. for low cost of doing business.
- 7th in the U.S. for people relocating to our state.
- 7th in the U.S. for tech manufacturing growth.
- 8th in the U.S. for best place to work for nurses.
- 8th in the U.S. for economic recovery.
- 9th in the U.S. for military retirees.
- 10th in the U.S. for the automotive and aerospace industries.
- 10th in the U.S. for new business expansion.
- 10th in the U.S. for women in tech.
- 10th in the U.S. for site selection.
Zora Mulligan, commissioner of Higher Education and Workforce Development, echoed the governor’s comments. “There’s money on the table. Not just the federal money that the governor talked about, but our state economical performance is absolutely stellar right now. And that has given us the opportunities to make investments that we didn’t dream of five years ago.
Another big plus is a spirit of collaboration across the state to improve workforce development, she added. That includes collaboration between businesses, schools and government.
Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, listed many recent accomplishments of the university that help prepare students for the workforce. Recently, the university hired John Mehner (formerly with MAGNET and the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce) to be the first assistant vice president of economic and workforce development.
Several participants shared additional brief comments before the hour-long meeting came to a close. The governor then toured the SEMO Law Enforcement Academy.