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Paul Mueller Co. President and CEO David Moore greets Gov. Jay Nixon at an October news conference, during which the company announced it would add nearly 300 jobs within three years.
Paul Mueller Co. President and CEO David Moore greets Gov. Jay Nixon at an October news conference, during which the company announced it would add nearly 300 jobs within three years.

When Nixon Knocks

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Since Gov. Jay Nixon was elected in 2008, his top stated priority has been job creation, and his extensive visits to businesses statewide back it up.

Nixon’s travels have brought him to the Springfield area as many as 12 times in the last year, according to Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Jim Anderson. Recent visits to discuss job creation included stops at Paul Mueller Co., John Deere Reman and Expedia.

Ozarks Technical Community College Chancellor Hal Higdon said Nixon has visited the school at least five times during the Democratic governor’s four years in office to discuss the importance of job training programs.

“It always brings attention to the college, which we welcome,” Higdon said.

Such attention comes at a cost for taxpayers, however, and Nixon has collected criticism for his travel expenditures.

According to the state Office of Administration, Nixon spent nearly $400,000 on flights around the state, dipping into the budgets of various state agencies during his first two years as governor. Lawmakers from both parties last year worked together to enact budget rules that prohibit state agencies, including the Department of Economic Development, from paying for travel or staffing costs of the governor’s office or for other statewide officials.

In fiscal 2012, ending June 30, the governor’s office budget includes estimated travel expenses of $220,000, according to Nixon spokesman Sam Murphy. The proposed budget for fiscal 2013 pins travel expenses at $132,000.

In 2010, as Nixon was proposing to cut $1 billion from the state’s budget and slash the per diem on travel for state employees, he traveled to Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis to announce the cutbacks.

“From Day 1, Gov. Nixon’s top priorities have been to create jobs and move our economy forward. To do that, it’s critical to meet with small-business owners, workers and local leaders in every corner of our state,” Murphy said via e-mail. “Getting out and hearing directly from businesses across Missouri is an important part of the governor’s strategy to keep our economy growing.”

Top of mind
Republican strategist and political consultant David Barklage of St. Louis-based The Barklage Co. said he understands why Nixon would want to tie his name to job creation. In his 20 years of political polling experience, Barklage has never seen voters more focused on jobs.

“It is the top-of-the-mind issue,” he said, noting that in the last two years, between 41 percent and 47 percent of voters have consistently identified job creation as the No. 1 priority.

Barklage – who operates offices in Springfield, Cape Giradeau, Jefferson City and St. Louis, and is a consultant for Republican governor hopeful David Spence – said criticism about the local and national job situations should have incumbents such as Nixon worried about whether they have done enough to create jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri had 5.6 percent fewer nonfarm jobs at the end of 2011 than it did in February 2008. However, the state’s unemployment rate improved to 8 percent in December – its lowest rate since January 2009, according to the state DED.

“You saw in 2008, a huge shift to Obama out of voter frustration. You saw in 2010, a huge shift to anti-Obama and pro-Republicans, and I think you’ll see another huge shift in 2012 that will be anti-incumbent,” Barklage said. “As an incumbent, you would definitely want to prioritize jobs. You would want to go out and capture those.”

The problem for Nixon, according to Barklage, is that while he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on travel, the state actually has roughly 100,000 fewer jobs than when he took office.

“Voters are paying a lot more attention these days, and they’re looking past press releases,” Barklage said.

Well-oiled machine
As a host of the governor, Higdon said Nixon has been respectful of the college’s operations, and he has developed a reputation with OTC’s staff for being on schedule.

“He’s always on time. We know when he’s going to get here. We know when he’s landed if he’s flying in, and five or 10 minutes out, we’ll know he’s coming on campus,” Higdon said. “He does his announcement, and then he’s always really good about visiting with faculty, staff and students. Then he’s on his way.”

Denise McIntosh, co-owner of Custom Powder Systems LLC and host of a Jan. 10 news conference with the governor at the company’s Springfield manufacturing facility, agreed with Higdon that the governor’s team was proficient and timely. Seven-year-old Custom Powder builds systems to contain, blend and transport materials for the pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries. Nixon visited the company ahead of his Jan. 17 State of the State address to underscore the importance of job training; Custom Powder in 2011 received $31,000 in training assistance through the Missouri Customized Training Program.

“I can tell you that his team was extremely professional. I had a few questions and they were immediately answered,” she said. “They did exactly what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it. It couldn’t have gone any better, in my opinion.”

McIntosh said the governor was on hand for one hour, during which he toured the facilities and seemed genuinely interested in the manufacturing process.

Production stopped for 30 minutes while the governor spoke, but McIntosh said she didn’t feel used by the experience or that it was a hindrance to the company.

“My view of him is that he was pretty much right down the middle, that he is a consensus builder, and that did not change with that visit. In fact, I remarked to somebody that if you didn’t know what flavor he was when he came, you wouldn’t have known when he left,” McIntosh said, describing herself as an independent voter.

Don Flatau, general manager of Springfield’s John Deere Reman, which processes and remanufactures parts for John Deere dealers throughout the U.S., said the company, with help from the Springfield chamber, requested Nixon attend the Nov. 21 groundbreaking ceremony for the 275,000-square-foot facility under construction in Strafford. The company plans to create 55 jobs and bring $14 million in capital investment to the area with the help of more than $500,000 in the state’s enhanced enterprise zone tax credits.

“When we got word that we could get our chairman of Deere & Co. to come here for our groundbreaking, we thought it would be very fitting to have the governor here,” Flatau said. “The governor responded favorably, and we had a great event.”

Chamber President Anderson said the governor had to rearrange his schedule for the groundbreaking in Strafford.

“He is here on a very regular and frequent basis, and frankly, on our invitation,” Anderson said. “Obviously, he has a lot of demands on that schedule, but he is a firm believer in job creation and business development. And he puts his money where his mouth is in that sense.”

Higdon said he thinks one of the reasons the governor likes visiting OTC is that his staff knows what to expect.

“(Nixon) is probably the record holder for number of visits,” Higdon said. “Prior to him being governor, we didn’t get visits from the governors very often.”[[In-content Ad]]

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