EXCLUSIVE – Gov. Mike Parson sat down with The Heartlander on Wednesday to discuss workforce development, the improvement of Missouri’s economy and ongoing efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Compared to many states, Missouri’s economy is doing quite well after the initial hit of COVID-19. The Show-Me State ranks second in the U.S. for apprenticeships, seventh in state migration and 11th for site selection, while retaining a 4.2% unemployment rate and recovering 70% of jobs lost due to the pandemic.
Parson credits proper preparation for the state’s success in bouncing back economically.
“There was never panic mode,” he began. “I brought the staff in here and said to everybody, ‘Look, I don’t care what’s going on in New York, I don’t care what the feds are saying about everything. I want to take a look at Missouri and stay inside the borders to see what’s happening here. I want to develop a dashboard that only deals with Missouri.’
“When we did that, we really started seeing a footprint of how this whole thing was going, who it was affecting, how it was spreading, and what we needed to do for resources,” he continued. “But it was when we stopped all the clutter, all of the misinformation out there and said ‘Okay, let’s deal with a crisis here. We have to deal with real facts, not with what somebody thinks is going to happen.’”
After the initial preparations, the next step for the Governor was to ensure Missouri’s workforce and economy stayed strong.
“Pushing to make sure you get people back to work, you keep businesses open, you kept the training going in the schools,” Parson said when asked how he was able to keep the workforce healthy.
“We were able to keep every infrastructure project on schedule that we had, even during COVID-19. It didn’t stop outside workers because there was no need to do that.
“When we needed healthcare and nurses during the pandemic, we could’ve said ‘We don’t have them’ but we went out and expanded the nursing programs at Missouri Western and St. Louis Community College during this whole pandemic.
“All together there were about 10,000 new jobs last year during the pandemic. Not the ones we lost – brand new jobs and over $1 billion worth of investment.”
Parson also put effort toward routinely speaking with leaders around the state to make sure they were well informed and staying calm through such a precarious time.
“We were talking with county commissioners across the state, mayors across the state, clergy across the state, civic leaders,” Parson told The Heartlander. “We were on phone calls every week trying to get them updated, trying to give them the confidence that we’re going to be alright, we’re going to get through this. We’ve been through tough times before but don’t go into panic mode.”
A large portion of the Governor’s effort to strengthen the workforce in 2020 was based around kids and technical training programs in schools across the state.
“To go into a high school now and see kids learning about healthcare, learning how to be a nurse and trying to get their certificates while they’re in there,” Parson said. “When you look at the cybersecurity that they’re doing in school – when you look at the mechanical side of it, the welding side of it, the IT side of it – even one school is doing airplane repair.
“Does a kid in rural Missouri know what the opportunities are across the state? Do they know they may have a shot to go work for AT&T, Boeing, all of these companies in the state? One thing we’ve really been trying to do is make sure those companies do outreach to rural Missouri. They’ve got thousands of jobs that people from this state are qualified for but sometimes we just have to do a better job of marketing the jobs.
“The more the kids are exposed to the real workforce, I think the better they’re going to understand it. So, they don’t necessarily have to get out of high school to understand whether they’re going to like what they’re doing.”
In addition to improving work training programs in schools for the future, Parson placed emphasis on Missouri’s existing workforce and its potential.
“Missouri has a great opportunity with the location of where we are in the United States,” he noted. “If you look at the riverways, if you look at the rail system, if you look at the highway systems – what is it you always want in business? Location, location, location. We are right square in the middle of the United States. The fastest growing business right now is distribution. What better place to be taking advantage of that?
“It’s a workers’ market right now, people are looking for good workers,” he said. “We just have to get government out of the way.”
The Governor intends to continue his efforts in keeping Missourians safe and the economy strong during the pandemic – but he also stressed the importance of not violating citizens’ rights while doing so. According to Parson, there was one main thing he learned throughout his experiences.
“Stay the course,” he said. “Keep focused on your faith, keep focused on what the Constitution says, and make sure you’re protecting people’s freedoms – the rest of it has to take its course.”