Last edited 4:33 p.m., Aug. 2, 2021
Gov. Mike Parson returned to Springfield July 27 to tout state wins this past legislative session while also noting Missouri’s ongoing economic rebound amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor spoke at Missouri State University’s JQH Arena for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual State of the State event. Chamber officials kept attendance capped, filling the arena’s floor with over 40 tables of business and community leaders among the roughly 400 people at the luncheon.
At the gathering, Parson acknowledged challenges from the last year as well as accomplishments – such as job growth and a lower unemployment rate. The governor also presented last year at the chamber event.
“When we last spoke, our state was still reeling from the economic consequences of COVID-19 and facing double-digit unemployment,” he said about the state’s 12.5% jobless rate in April 2020. “Today, Missouri’s unemployment rate stands at 4.3%, one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. We have recovered the vast majority of jobs lost to the pandemic.”
Missouri’s unemployment rate is ranked in a tie for 17th nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national unemployment rate for June is 5.9%.
Parson cited the June jobs report from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center as a sign of the state’s workforce recovery. Missouri saw an increase of 130,000 jobs in June from a year prior, according to the report. While the state unemployment rate has ticked up slightly from its April mark of 4.1%, the MERIC report pointed to a temporary shortage in the supply of semiconductor chips causing production slowdowns among some manufacturers.
Job growth will result from some economic development wins announced earlier this year in and around Springfield, Parson said. Those include a $7.2 million expansion project for manufacturer John Deere Reman in Springfield that is expected to add 130 jobs and a $5 million investment by Lebanon-based Durham Co. to build a new manufacturing facility in Buffalo, bringing 50 jobs to town.
Parson said the projects are part of roughly $780 million announced this year in statewide business investments that are adding thousands of jobs to Missouri.
“That is all since the beginning of this year, and I’m telling you, Missouri is on the right track,” he said.
Several pieces of priority legislation that have struggled to make it across the finish line in past sessions did so this year, Parson said. Those include an online sales tax, a 12.5-cent fuel tax increase to be phased in over the next five years and implementation of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program.
Dee King, chief of staff at Burrell Behavioral Health, was among those in attendance at the chamber event. She said the passage of Senate Bill 63, which allows health care professionals to better monitor prescribed controlled substances, is another step to help address the opioid crisis.
“Initiatives like Senate Bill 63 better equip our essential health care workers as they fight to end this crisis and save the lives of friends and families across our state,” she said.
For Sara Fields, executive director of Ozarks Transportation Organization, passage of the fuel tax hike, which was last increased 25 years ago, “is monumental for the state’s continued success in the region.”
Parson said the tax is expected to boost state funding by around $450 million per year to address the transportation system.
“It not only funds the state-owned roads and bridges but also the locally owned roads,” Fields said, noting it gives cities and counties enhanced ability to match federal grants.
The tax will go up 2.5 cents per year beginning in October and has a rebate mechanism, according to state officials. Missouri drivers can save their receipts and apply for a refund of the increased portion of the tax once a year with the Department of Revenue, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Fields said OTO plans to go through a prioritization process this fall to rank 120 road projects it wants the Missouri Department of Transportation to consider. She said some of the biggest unfunded road projects locally include intersection improvements at Kansas Expressway and Interstate 44 and expanding I-44 to six lanes.
Parson’s appearance in Springfield comes as the Ozarks is amid a COVID-19 delta variant outbreak. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department reported as of July 27 that 32 Greene County residents had died in the month due to COVID-19. The rate for fully vaccinated residents in the county is roughly 41.6%, as of July 28, just slightly above the state’s 41%.
The governor said he advocates a “common sense” approach to pandemic-related decision making, and that doesn’t include supporting masking mandates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance on July 27 to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19. According to CDC data, that includes Greene County and the vast majority of the state.
“You know your communities and employees best, and we trust you to make decisions that best serve the people you care about,” Parson said to event attendees.
Parson said he does recommend vaccinations. To help boost the vaccination rate, the state launched a vaccine incentive program July 22 that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners. Over 100,000 Missourians signed up for the program in its first day, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
“We must encourage all eligible Missourians to get a vaccine,” Parson said.
A project that is now hitting its stride on the west side of Bolivar includes a retail strip and storage units.