In my role as 2019 chairman of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, I had a front-row seat for the state legislative process this year. I learned so much, and now the session is over, here are four observations from a business standpoint.
1. Regional representation in leadership matters.
Our region benefits from incredible local leadership. Gov. Mike Parson hails from Bolivar and has maintained strong ties with this part of the state. We’re lucky to have a thoughtful leader who is laser-focused on workforce development and transportation serving as the state’s top executive.
House Speaker Elijah Haahr brought his Springfield roots to Jefferson City as the first elected speaker from Greene County, leading one of the most successful sessions for the business community. I also witnessed Sen. Lincoln Hough’s work on behalf of our community, listening to the needs of citizens and translating that into legislative priorities.
I saw southwest Missouri leaders take their knowledge and experience and do great things with it. Former chamber employee Rob Dixon now leads the Department of Economic Development, using his business knowledge to develop the Best in Midwest economic development strategy. It aims to make us more competitive and bring higher-paying jobs to the state. Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan, a West Plains native, is leading a department newly focused on how best to connect college students – traditional and nontraditional – with career and training opportunities.
2. We must grasp the return on investing in educational attainment.
Removing barriers to education and training fuels economic growth. I’m proud Missouri is taking steps to address shortcomings in these areas, with the passage of workforce development proposals that will benefit the state for years to come. Fast Track will help adults get training they need to access jobs in high-demand fields, and Missouri One Start will better utilize existing funds for the customized training needs of employers facing workforce shortages.
This session reinforced to me that the state believes the best path to better opportunities for individuals and families is through education and training. It was incredible to see $10 million in equity funding added for Missouri State University – which previously received the lowest per-student funding of any four-year institution in the state. Ozarks Technical Community College also received critical funding for the development of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing. Along with higher ed, the state budget prioritized K-12 – the beginning of our workforce pipeline – by once again fully funding the foundation formula.
3. Don’t let failure deter our focus on priorities.
I learned that when our state faces a challenge, the right leaders pivot and ask, “What’s next?” For years, addressing insufficient transportation infrastructure funding has been a top chamber priority. When Proposition D failed at the 2018 ballot, the need for investment did not disappear, so legislators passed a bonding package to fund work on over 200 critical bridges statewide. Transportation can be one of our greatest assets, if we take care of it.
4. Policymakers need to hear from you.
I witnessed the impact of an engaged business community on public policy. The governor’s workforce development proposals were data-driven and developed in response to the fact that the most critical issue facing employers is the need for skilled workers. Although these proposals seemed like a common-sense approach, they received significant pushback from some lawmakers.
Concerned they wouldn’t get across the finish line, business leaders stepped up. From chamber board leaders, to young professionals and regional stakeholders, members of the business community headed to Jefferson City and made their voices heard in person. We talked about the tough choices we face daily in business and discussed the fact Missouri is falling behind in the competition for jobs and economic investment. We used our perspective and insight to remind lawmakers they had the opportunity to help change the trajectory of our state if they moved forward on these proposals. Ultimately, they did.
We live in a country that encourages dialogue on tough issues, that supports the exchange of ideas and that calls for – even requires – its citizens to have a voice in that process. It is an honor and privilege to have a role in the legislative process.
Jeff Childs is a senior adviser with SVN/Rankin Co. and the 2019 board chairman for Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Springfield Business Journal’s 2023 Trusted Advisers event honors 20 businesspeople.