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Gov. Nixon touts business community in State of the State address

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Gov. Jay Nixon delivered the State of the State address Jan. 19, and among a laundry list of ideas, issues and solutions were messages of the importance of Missouri businesses and its work force.

Unemployment claims are down 17 percent year over year, he said, due to state programs, worker tenacity and frugal government spending.

"We've kept our fiscal house in order with prudent financial controls, rigorous cost reductions, and smarter, more efficient government," Nixon said. "With the cuts included in my budget tonight, I will have reduced government spending by more than $1.8 billion since I took office."

Funding cuts and reducing state payroll by 3,300 positions have required the Missouri government to do more with less, but the saved funds have been used to invest in jobs, education, health care and law enforcement, he said.

Nixon noted the elimination of the franchise tax on 16,000 small businesses - which he called the "mighty engines of job growth" -  in 2009 and the creation of a small business loan fund that allowed investments and job growth.

"Make no mistake - the national recession hit Missouri hard," he said. "But after losing jobs back in 2008 and 2009, we turned the corner in 2010, and are poised for job growth this year."

He praised the recent decision by Ford Motor Co. to invest approximately $400 million into its Claycomo plant, securing more than 3,700 full-time jobs.

And Nixon noted the creation of thousands of jobs from large companies bringing extended operations to Missouri, including 500 jobs at Expedia in Springfield; 800 jobs at IBM in Columbia; 500 jobs at Jet Midwest in Kansas City; 400 jobs at Sabreliner in Perryville; and 300 jobs at Unisys in St. Louis.

"Missouri's work force is one of our greatest assets," he said. "But to be competitive, we constantly need to raise the level of our game."

To sustain and improve the state work force, Nixon laid out three forward-moving goals garnered from feedback from business experts in his Compete Missouri jobs initiative.

First, he wants to roll all state business incentives into one larger incentive program.

"To qualify for these incentives, companies will have to provide good-paying jobs, and give their employees access to health care," Nixon said. "For the first time, we'll give an extra bump to established Missouri companies, and offer added incentives to small business owners."

Second, Nixon laid out a similar initiative to snowball state training programs, aligning them into one program with Compete Missouri incentives.

"Worker training assistance will be available to businesses as small as Ardent Outdoors, which employs 15 people in Macon, and as large as Boeing, which employs thousands," he said.

His third goal also affects job training - the 2012 budget provides an additional $5 million for job training, which Nixon noted will maintain a skilled work force.

"That's good for business, good for our workers and great for our economy," he said.

In his proposed fiscal 2012 $23.1 million budget (see sidebar) - a decrease from the current $23.27 budget, Nixon has committed an extra $1 million toward economic development, an extra $9 million toward revenue and an additional $2 million toward real estate.

But getting started in the business world could become more difficult, as the 2012 proposed budget drops higher education from its current $1.23 billion allotment to $1.11 billion and K-12 education from its current $5.36 billion to $5.15 billion.

In the Republican response to State of the State address, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder called Nixon, a Democrat, out on showboating, requesting action instead to fix the budget situation.

"Sure, he loves the perks of the job - the ribbon cuttings, the prime seats at sporting events, the taxpayer-funded airplane - but the governor is nowhere to be found on the troubles facing our state," Kinder said in the response.

"Our state's unemployment rate is higher than the national average, too many Missourians can't find work and the state is facing yet another round of severe budget cuts and reductions in basic services.

"The time for fancy speeches is over," he said.

Despite the cuts, Missouri State University President James Cofer called the proposed budget "welcome news"

"On behalf of the entire campus, I want to thank Gov. Nixon and his staff for their hard work to minimize the reduction as much as possible," Cofer said in a news release. "Since the governor has done his best to limit the reduction in state appropriations, we will do our best to hold any tuition increase to a reasonable rate.

"Affordability and accessibility continue to be priorities at the state level, and we should embrace those goals as well."

The full transcript of the State of the State address is available online.
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