Springfield, MO

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Sarah Kerner, Springfield’s economic development director, discusses preserving wage growth at the July 10 Talent for Tomorrow workshop.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
Sarah Kerner, Springfield’s economic development director, discusses preserving wage growth at the July 10 Talent for Tomorrow workshop.

Workforce needs discussed at workshop

Low economic development ranks must be improved, state officials say

Posted online

Springfield hosted a regional meeting July 10 that is part of a statewide initiative to reshape workforce development.

Held at DoubleTree by Hilton, more than 160 were in attendance at the Talent for Tomorrow workshop, which was presided over by three state officials.

Rob Dixon, Missouri Department of Economic Development director, presented findings that show Missouri’s low ranks in the Midwest in a number of economic development areas. Two key stats were in workforce productivity, in which the Show-Me State is 12th of 14 peer states, and jobs growth, where the state ranks 11th out of 14.

He said part of the initiative process is to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses for the state with the aspiration of being the best in the Midwest in economic and workforce development.

“Just to be really candid about it, we’re not the best right now,” he told the audience. It was a similar message shared by officials June 27 at a kick-off summit in St. Louis.

Numerous roundtable breakout discussions were held, with the Springfield attendees writing down opinions on workforce development topics, such as retaining talent and increasing educational opportunities. The informational gathering process has been part of each of five workshops, Dixon said, starting in Cape Girardeau on June 26. Others were in Kansas City and St. Charles, and the final regional workshop was July 11 in Columbia. Information gathered from the meetings will be compiled and presented in Kansas City at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development, Sept. 5-7.

“This partnership has both been a lot of fun and really uplifting,” said Zora Mulligan, Department of Higher Education commissioner. “We have loved hearing from people around Missouri and getting their different perspectives and the challenges that we face together.”

Matt Morrow, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce president, was among those in attendance at the July 10 event, as well as the Best of the Midwest summit in St. Louis. He said the DED and DHE are reporting to chambers of commerce and other stakeholders about job creation, business investment and workforce development.

“There are areas where we’re just not very good, not very competitive,” Morrow said.

He said he’s visited multiple times with Dixon and Mulligan.

“They’re very committed to serious reform that makes us much more competitive as a state. Now, what that looks like is still anybody’s guess,” Morrow said. “There’s almost certainly going to be very difficult decisions ahead, particularly within state government. But if they want to align with the business and workforce needs of the 21st century, they’ll need to go about it differently.

“It’s important to them not to miss anybody’s voice, so that’s why, I think, they’re doing kind of a road show around the state to make sure that happens.”

Mulligan referred to the regional workshops as a systematic outreach to make sure they connect with people in all areas of the state. Officials say more than 1,000 people have attended them.

“The stakeholder engagement has been really, really important,” she said, adding the initiative is looking at the labor market now with supply and demand to identify any gaps.

She also said future changes the state might see in the market over the next 5-15 years also need to be studied.

Dixon said feedback collected would be compiled and analyzed over the next several weeks with the help of volunteer committees working with state officials on economic and workforce development strategies.

“We will over the next couple of months sit down and actually put these plans together and take this feedback, take this research, and build some recommendations and reports around that,” he said. “This is not a preordained deal.”

The DED, DHE and the nonpartisan economic development organization Hawthorn Foundation launched the Talent for Tomorrow initiative in May.

A separate initiative, Best in the Midwest, was started by the DED at the beginning of the year to create a new statewide economic development strategy. Its intent is to focus extensively on helping businesses grow and create jobs, while also helping workers access training and acquire employable skills. For both initiatives, advisory councils of stakeholders statewide began analyzing performance indicators for economic development and workforce quality. In some of those indicators, Missouri ranks near the bottom of 14 Midwest states, Dixon noted.

No strategic planning around economic development has been tackled at the state level for about 10 years, Dixon said, right around the time the recession was hitting. He said the discussion at the time was driven solely by Jefferson City and not through input by citizens and businesses.

“The way that we’re doing this is a completely different approach. The response has been tremendous,” he said.


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