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Opinion: Workforce policy matters emerge from session

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Our region benefits when business and community volunteers work to educate elected officials about policy issues.

In addition to Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce staff being in the Capitol each week of session, we also were joined in Jefferson City on seven occasions by our members and The Network’s young professionals to talk about policy impacting our business climate, workforce, transportation and education. The Missouri General Assembly had numerous successes in these strategic areas in 2018.

Missouri Works
Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, has been at the forefront of asking employers about how to unleash their potential to add jobs to the economy by providing them a growing, skilled workforce. Workforce is the top consideration for companies looking at locating or expanding in Missouri, and investing in workforce programs is the best way to increase opportunity for those who need the skills to attain high-demand, higher-paying jobs.

One success was the reauthorization of the Missouri Works tax credit and Missouri Works Customized Training program. We’re grateful for Wasson’s leadership in sponsoring and working to pass this legislation. Missouri Works encourages companies to bring higher wage jobs to Missouri without overextending the state; for every dollar awarded through the program, $4 come back to Missouri.

But Missouri Works isn’t just about attracting new companies. Three-fourths of all jobs created in our region come from existing businesses. This was recently demonstrated by 3M’s $43 million investment to bring over 100 new jobs to Springfield. Our partnership team worked for more than eight years lining up the necessary components, and Missouri Works incentives helped bring the project to fruition.

Wasson also sponsored legislation to make access to tax-increment financing in the state more equitable, which likely will be a critical element of a significant development project in the IDEA Commons area. This new project will have tremendous potential as an economic catalyst downtown and in efforts to daylight Jordan Creek.

Education innovation
Legislation passed this session focused on education innovation, which will help us show site selectors and employers we are equipped to develop and attract skilled professionals now and for the future.

Several pieces of legislation that passed this year will do just that:

• visiting scholars – business professionals and industry leaders can now receive a one-year visiting scholar certificate, allowing them to teach in classrooms without obtaining a teaching degree; this will boost the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) programs and technical training programs statewide;

• teacher externships – teachers can count hours in externships with local businesses as professional development;

• degree programs – state higher education institutions can offer doctoral and professional degree programs, after approval by the Coordinating Board of Higher Education; and

• computer science education – allows computer science courses to count toward graduation as a math, science or elective requirement and creates a certification for computer science teachers.

The final budget did not contain cuts to higher education originally proposed by the governor.

As has been reported, House Budget Chairman Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, worked with the state’s colleges and universities to limit tuition increases if the proposed budget cuts of $68 million were restored.

He also worked to fund collaborative higher education programs, such as the Springfield Clinical Campus partnership with CoxHealth, Mercy and the University of Missouri, and the mechanical engineering partnership between Missouri State University and Missouri University of Science and Technology.

To support the new early childhood eligibility across the state of Missouri, the legislature allocated $50 million.

In Springfield, that means over the next few years, an additional 600 4-year-olds, who meet certain income criteria, will have access to early childhood programs through Springfield Public Schools, setting them on a trajectory for greater success in school. Related to infrastructure, voters will have an opportunity in November to increase state transportation funding to a level, which will keep us competitive and build on the natural asset of our central location.

Majority and minority leadership worked together in a disciplined and respectful way to accomplish a great deal that will help Missouri’s economy grow. 

Sandy Howard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at sandy@springfieldchamber.com.

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