Similar to 2019, Gov. Mike Parson advocated for workforce development programs during his second State of the State address Jan. 15 in Jefferson City.
One of those initiatives, MoExcels, which develops employer-driven workforce education and training at colleges and universities, already has nearly $20 million in funding supported by Parson as part of his proposed $31 billion state budget for fiscal 2021. Created last year, the MoExcels program’s top funding expenditure of $4.75 million approved at the end of the 2019 legislative session belonged to Ozarks Technical Community College’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
OTC’s project is again atop the funding proposals for this year’s MoExcels program, as a continuation of the college’s original $10 million request for state support. However, the funds recommended for this year are only $2.5 million – an amount school and state officials say will extend the funding request into fiscal 2022.
Additionally, Parson recommended nearly $1.8 million for Missouri State University to launch a collaborative cybersecurity training program for students in the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. The funding proposals for OTC and MSU comprise nearly a quarter of the $19.6 million in approved fiscal 2021 requests made by higher education institutions via MoExcels. Parson’s recommended funding is an increase of the $18.9 million budget request by the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development.
A total of 27 submissions were submitted to the state, requesting a sum of $35.6 million.
“The focus of the proposals and the quality of the proposals was really fantastic,” said Missouri Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan.
Regarding Parson’s State of the State, Mulligan said the governor “articulated a very clear vision of higher education and its role in workforce development, which is a top priority of his.”
Parson boasted of the state’s workforce development programs during his Jan. 15 address at a joint session of the General Assembly.
“In just a single year, Missouri’s workforce development agenda has caught the attention of the rest of the country,” he said. “Other states are now watching us and taking notes.”
He pointed to the state’s unemployment rate, currently at 3.1% and below the national jobless rate for 40 consecutive months, as an example of Missouri’s strong position.
Regarding college-bound students, Parson said the state has secured a total of $5.3 million to increase Bright Flight and A Plus scholarship funding, in addition to the MoExcels program.
“We need to ensure our students understand the many opportunities out there, whether it be going into the workforce, the military, a community college, technical school or a four-year degree,” he said.
Although OTC will receive no more than $2.5 million this year for its manufacturing center, the lower requested amount was at the behest of the state, school officials say. The project’s budget, originally estimated at $20 million, will likely fall near $40 million, said OTC spokesman Mark Miller.
“We were always reticent to throw a number out there. Those were kind of guesses,” he said of the early $20 million budget projection. “Now that we have schematic designs, we can put more solid numbers out there.”
Dake Wells Architecture Inc., along with its national partner, Minneapolis-based Perkins & Will Inc., are project architects for the center. The design phase is expected to wrap up by the late spring or early summer, said Robert Randolph, executive director of OTC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Randolph said state funding conversations last year with the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development led OTC to reduce the total sought this year.
“That’s just due to the timeline of the project and will just extend the funding horizon,” he said, adding the project is still aiming for a 2022 opening, preceded by a groundbreaking this fall.
While tax levies also are helping support the project, the college is seeking additional funding through private and federal grants, private donations and corporate sponsorships. Randolph said there are no secured sponsors or donors at this time.
Miller said school officials aren’t concerned about securing the necessary funding, noting the schematic designs will provide the college with a more complete story to tell prospective donors.
The OTC project has been the top funding priority among MoExcels proposals the past two years, Mulligan said, which is indicative of how significant it could be for the state in workforce development.
“It’s a big one because it has the potential to be a game-changer for the region,” she said. “It’s a huge proposal that can make a huge potential impact, both for the number of people served and impact on the community.”
At MSU, a planned $14.4 million expansion of the university’s downtown Jordan Valley Innovation Center calls for 30,000 square feet developed to the existing property at 524 Boonville Ave. The expansion project is set to start this summer, said Allen Kunkel, MSU associate vice president for economic development and JVIC director. Work should be complete by June 2021.
Within the expansion, the university seeks to imbed a new training program dubbed the Missouri Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. Kunkel said the program is a collaboration between MSU, Drury University and Southwest Baptist University. The schools have added cybersecurity degrees within the past few years.
“It’s a brand new startup. It’s formally organized, but this is to get it up and running,” he said of the MoExcels funding. “It’s a workforce development application.”
At full implementation, the training program would generate 160 industry-recognized credentials each year to students, according to MSU’s state funding request.
“There’s such a shortage of cybersecurity professionals across the world,” Kunkel said. “Everybody’s touched by cybersecurity and it goes across a lot of industries.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for information security analysts is robust – projected to grow at a 32% rate between 2018 and 2028, significantly faster than the average for all occupations.
Kunkel added the $1.8 million recommended for approval by the governor was the same amount MSU sought in its request.
Legislators will vote on a final version of the state budget by end of session in May.
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