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PANELS TO POLICY: Caleb Arthur, CEO of Sun Solar LLC, will run for Sen. Bob Dixon’s open seat.
SBJ file photo
PANELS TO POLICY: Caleb Arthur, CEO of Sun Solar LLC, will run for Sen. Bob Dixon’s open seat.

Sun Solar CEO pivots toward politics

Caleb Arthur doesn’t want to juggle his fast-growing firm and a possible post in Jefferson City

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Sun Solar LLC CEO Caleb Arthur is stepping back from the day-to-day operations of his rapidly growing business to run for the Missouri Senate.

Arthur announced his campaign for Springfield’s 30th District seat at a July 22 Greene County Republican Party event. On the same day, he promoted his sales and marketing vice president, Gary Blanchard, to president of the fast-growing solar company.

“Whenever I set out to do something, I just need to focus 100 percent on it, if I’m going to be successful with it,” Arthur said.

Sen. Bob Dixon, who was first elected in 2010, has hit his term limit. And Arthur already may have some competition: Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, and Rep. Charlie Norr, D-Springfield, also have expressed interest in running.

Balancing business
A native of Missouri, Arthur founded Sun Solar in May 2012 in Houston and moved 90 miles west to Springfield two years ago, setting up headquarters at 1900 W. Sunset St., Ste. C-120. Solar panel installation business is the fastest-growing company in southwest Missouri after recording 888 percent revenue growth between 2014 and 2016, according to Springfield Business Journal’s 2017 Dynamic Dozen awards in May. Sun Solar reported $23.8 million in revenue last year, and Arthur said it now reaches the Kansas City market with 130 people employed.

“Now we’re not going to have 1,000 percent growth every three years, because we need to stabilize to become that long-term company,” he said, projecting $30-$35 million in 2017 revenue.

The Missouri Senate has seemed like a slow and inefficient organization to him, but he said the 2016 election of Gov. Eric Greitens and other Jefferson City politicians had an energizing effect.

“I was just encouraged by everything I’ve seen,” said Arthur, who’s running on the Republican ticket in the August primary. “So I thought ‘Is there a way that I could make a bigger difference than what I’ve been able to do with Sun Solar?’”

During an exploratory campaign, Arthur met with business leaders and residents. He has yet to have any official endorsements as those typically come closer to the primaries.

“I was tired of politicians who were trying to manage and regulate things that they didn’t know anything about – with my company and other companies that I was meeting with,” he said. “I figured it was time for Springfield to elect someone who will embrace freedom, understands innovation and will fight to make government work better.”

The Senate seat has a history with the Republicans, he said, noting Dixon won by 65 percent in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014.

Arthur has begun fundraising and expects to need at least $500,000.

“I want to have skin in the game with them also. So I’m doing a dollar-for-dollar match up to the first $100,000 that anybody – businesses or just average folks – are going to donate and invest in me to go sit in the Senate seat,” he said.

Part time vs. full time
If elected, it’ll be quite a shift for the entrepreneur.

Arthur would commute to Jefferson City each week during session, while his wife and children live in Springfield. When the legislature is not in session, he would spend the majority of his time with residents and not in the Sun Solar office.

Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, understands Arthur’s concern about splitting time between a traditional job and the legislature. The District 132 representative just completed her first session in Jefferson City and then returned to her job as director of chapter services at nonprofit Care to Learn.

“Per the constitution, we are referred to as citizen legislators. That essentially means we’re supposed to be part time,” she said.

The main legislative session runs January through the first half of May, with government business handled Monday through Thursday. There is also a short veto session in the fall.

“But this year the governor called two special sessions,” Quade said. “The level of commitment has definitely increased based on the special sessions.”

The state Senate can require more time, she said, since filibustering is allowed in that chamber.

Following her first session, Quade opted to go back part time at Care to Learn working on grants.

“For my colleagues who go back to their regular jobs working full time, it is difficult for them to be able to really spend the off-session time diving into policy, and doing research and meeting with their constituents at a consistent level,” she said.

Most legislators have jobs in their home districts, Quade said, and many are the breadwinners of their families. The legislators’ salary – $35,915 plus an estimated $109 per diem for each day of session – attracts a lot of retirees, she said, but deters a lot of younger people and those raising families. The governor makes $133,821 per year.

Dixon also works as an adjunct instructor at Drury University and as a licensed Realtor, according to his Linkedin profile.

“If it was full time, we would have a lot more time to sit down and have personal conversations with our constituents. A lot of us do already. I had a town hall. I go and have coffee with my constituents,” Quade said. “But I could spend more time knocking doors, and going to them and having more personal conversations throughout the entire year. You see us doing that during election seasons.

“I would love to be able to do that all the time so that it’s not just about elections it’s about getting to know our people.”

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