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Parson touts eco devo, infrastructure aid

Governor returns to city to deliver a State of the State at chamber event

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After recently concluding the final bill signings for the 2019 legislative session, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was back in Springfield on July 31 to point to state successes over the past several months, including passage of a comprehensive economic development strategy.

Parson was in town for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of the State event, speaking before a sellout crowd of around 450 people at the White River Conference Center. The turnout was larger than Parson’s first State of the State in Springfield, when the governor appeared before 400 attendees in July 2018 at the inaugural event. At the time, it was his 60th day in office following the resignation of Eric Greitens. Parson in January delivered his first official State of the State address in Jefferson City.

For the session that ended May 17, state legislators approved a $30 billion budget that contains Senate Bill 68, workforce development legislation sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield. Parson touted the bill as meeting a key priority for his administration. It includes $10 million in funding for a workforce incentive program. Fast Track is aimed at individuals ages 25 and older with an average household income of $80,000 or less.

“Missouri asked and the legislature delivered with the unprecedented legislation that will impact citizens in every corner of the state,” he told the Springfield crowd.

The bill also modifies the state Department of Economic Development’s Missouri Works training program, renaming it Missouri One Start, and provides incentives to General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) for an expansion of its Wentzville plant.

“These tools will help us skill up our workforce and provide businesses with the resources to create and retain jobs in Missouri,” Parson said.

Investments talk
During his speech, Parson also highlighted education, noting the education foundation formula for K-12 was fully funded. Also, the state budget provided a $10 million boost to core funding for Missouri State University and nearly $5 million for Ozarks Technical Community College’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology.

Luncheon attendee Jennifer Wilson, principal of nForm Architecture LLC, said the state’s investment in southwest Missouri education institutions could pay dividends for local employers.

“In our office, we really struggle to hire enough architects, just like everybody else,” she said, citing Drury University’s Hammons School of Architecture as a local resource in her industry. “The fact that they’ve made such an investment in our public schools system, OTC and Missouri State, it’s going to help us all.”

Parson also noted state infrastructure – another administration priority – received a boost last month as Missouri received an $81.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a new Interstate 70 Missouri River Bridge at Rocheport. Receipt of the grant also will trigger $301 million in state bonding, authorized by legislators during the 2019 session. Parson said bonds would be repaid out of state general revenue over a seven-year period to fund repairs or replacement of around 215 bridges.

“In the next five years, with the work that was done in the legislature this year, we will invest over $1 billion in our infrastructure system in the state of Missouri,” he said.

The infrastructure investment caught the attention of Mary Beth Hartman, owner and president of Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. Disappointed by the failed gas tax on the November 2018 ballot, she’s been encouraged by Parson’s continued commitment to infrastructure improvements.

“The citizens spoke and they didn’t want it,” she said. “The governor has stepped up to find a different solution. I still think there’s a lot of work to do on infrastructure in Missouri.”

Looking ahead
Parson said the state is in no position to be complacent. The state and cities, such as Springfield, need to be proactive in self-promotion to attract investment from businesses and families, he said.

“We have to do a better job of marketing who we are,” Parson said. “As successful as we’ve been, we can’t stop there. For you here in Springfield, you’ve got to do a better job of marketing your city and this part of the state. If you’re not, these other cities across the state will.”

One topic Parson didn’t address during his presentation was whether he’d seek to retain the governor’s seat in 2020. After the event, the 63-year-old Bolivar native said a decision likely would be made in the coming weeks.

“September is going to be a good month,” he said, adding he has a birthday at that time. “I feel really good where I’m at as the governor of the state of Missouri, so I think in September you’ll probably get an answer to that question.”

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