Missouri’s economic development leader touts new companies, more jobs

(The Center Square) – After 11 months as interim director of Missouri’s Department of Economic Development, Maggie Kost is seeing positive outcomes and overseeing the distribution of millions in federal funds.

The August jobs report on Tuesday provided more positive evidence on the state’s economy. The unemployment rate remained at 2.5%, the same as July when it was the lowest recorded rate since the data series began in 1976. The rate was 1.6% lower than August 2021.

The national unemployment rate increased from 3.5% in July to 3.7% in August.

“There are a lot of reasons to be doing business in Missouri and the other part of economic development has to do with job creation,” Kost said in an interview last week with The Center Square after a groundbreaking in St. Louis for Ostara, a Canadian manufacturer of eco-friendly fertilizer. “We do the things that most people think just happen. But it’s not by chance that Ostara chose Missouri to locate here. Other states were competing for this project. These jobs could have gone somewhere else, but they chose Missouri because we made the case that we have the workforce here. We have a great transportation network here for them to support their future growth.”

Compared to last August, total payroll employment in Missouri increased by 55,600 jobs. The major private-sector industries with the largest increases were professional and business services (20,600 jobs), leisure and hospitality (11,100 jobs) and mining, logging and construction (7,800).

Missouri’s labor force participation rate was 62.4% in August, down one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous month and tied with the national rate. The employment-to-population ratio was 60.8% last month, down one-tenth of a percentage point from July and seven-tenths of a percentage point higher than the national rate of 60.1%

In addition to attracting businesses, Kost’s department will oversee the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), federal COVID-19 funding assistance. The department’s office of broadband expanded to approximately seven people as it allocates approximately $250 million in funding to expand broadband throughout the state.

“We’re just getting started,” Kost said. “When you’re reviewing applications and preventing fraud or misuse of funds, you can’t do that with one person to manage all of that money. It doesn’t make sense. So we want to make sure we’re spending those funds wisely.”

Kost said funding would improve both urban and rural areas and help the state recover better than the 2008 recession. She highlighted $100 million allocated for community revitalization and $30 million for workforce development.

“If you look back at the last recession and you look at how Missouri recovered compared to the rest of the country, or even the rest of the Midwest, Missouri lagged behind our peers,” Kost said. “We don’t want that to happen this time. We want to make sure we are investing wisely in in the future of our economy.”

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