By John Haughey
Missouri’s emphasis on job creation and economic development was gaining steam when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last year to temper momentum.
But, as Gov. Mike Parson detailed Wednesday in his State of the State address, the state’s increasingly favorable business climate is paving the way for post-pandemic economic recovery.
“Missouri is among the top tier of states for total economic recovery with 71 percent of jobs recovered,” he told a joint session of the state Legislature in Jefferson City. “We are among the lowest unemployment rates in the country and have again reached number two in the United States for apprenticeships.”
Parson, 65, took office in 2018 following the resignation of former Gov. Eric Greitens. It was is this third annual State of the State address after being elected in November to serve four more years.
In 2021, the state must “sustain key investments in workforce development and infrastructure,” he said, and “continue finding ways to strengthen public safety, improve healthcare and make state government more accountable.”
Before COVID-19 emerged in 2020, Parson said he dealt with a record drought, historic flooding, tornadoes and “escalating violent crime in our metro areas” while pushing his job creation and economic development agenda.
“When the first COVID-19 case was identified in Missouri in March, our administration was fully engaged and immediately on the ground in St. Louis,” he said. “Since that time, we have worked nonstop to take a balanced approach, fight the virus, and keep Missourians as safe as possible.”
Parson said he has waived nearly 600 statutes and regulations, launched the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan and dispersed $520 million in federal assistance to local jurisdictions within 10 days of receipt.
“We helped secure over $11 billion in low-interest loans for Missouri small businesses,” he said, adding he’s mobilized the Missouri National Guard, ordered Remdesivir delivered to hospitals, authorized hiring additional healthcare professionals and ensured 22 million gowns, 18 million gloves, 8 million surgical masks, 5 million N95 masks and 1 million face shields were shipped to healthcare providers statewide.
“We were one of the first states in the nation to submit our COVID-19 vaccine plan (for federal approval) and have now administered nearly 400,000 doses to Missourians,” Parson said. “The bottom line is we have been working day-in and day-out to fight COVID-19 while also dealing with civil unrest, violent crime and a difficult budget.”
The state is facing a projected 4.1 percent decline in tax revenues over this and next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Over the same time span, state lawmakers must expand Medicaid after voters approved Amendment 2 in August.
“Like I have said many times, I will always uphold the will of the voters, and we will move forward with expanding Medicaid coverage to approximately 275,000 Missourians,” Parson said. “However, it is important to remember the costs of this expansion will be significant – hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact.”
Indeed, how lawmakers choose to do so could be the difference between costing the state $200 million or saving it $1 billion annually within a decade, according to an analysis by State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat who Parson defeated in their Nov. 5 gubernatorial race.
“This will have a major impact on other areas of our budget, and we must plan accordingly,” Parson said, “which means staying vigilant in maintaining the program’s integrity by protecting against fraud and waste.”
Among Missouri’s “great accomplishments” in 2020 was drawing more than $1 billion in investments from businesses, such as Amazon in Republic, Kawasaki in Maryville, Boeing in St. Charles, and Ford in Claycomo, to create 10,000 new jobs.
“This is thanks, in large part, to the success of our workforce development programs,” Parson said, citing Missouri One Start for providing nearly 100,000 Missourians training with 400 companies that have “invested approximately $2.5 billion in Missouri.”
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.