Most Missouri businesses are bullish on their own companies for 2023 – but are extremely wary about societal trends in crime, workforce shortages and inflation, according to a new poll.
Stunningly, the poll of 600 business leaders for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry finds two-thirds of employers see crime hurting the state’s economic competitiveness – with 60% calling crime a “growing concern” and a full 24% calling it their top overall concern.
“To see public safety as a top ten concern of our business community is alarming,” chamber President and CEO Daniel P. Mehan said in a statement Tuesday. “The time for action is now.”
Ninety percent or more of the business leaders polled urge more money for law enforcement; special funding for crime hot-spots; more job training for prison inmates; and more funding for mental health and substance abuse.
Nearly 90% also call for “increasing prosecutorial consistency and transparency” across the state.
Among other things, the Missouri Chamber’s public safety report “Safer Missouri, Stronger Missouri” recommends steps to improve even the public perception of law enforcement. It calls the “stigma” surrounding law enforcement work a hindrance to staffing and “a major public safety issue in Missouri.”
“As one stakeholder said, it is crucial that young people’s first interaction with police is positive,” the report reads, adding that school resource officers can provide such a trust-building presence. Governments and businesses also need to partner with nonprofits that offer anti-crime and pro-family initiatives, the report says.
The chamber public safety report notes there are 115 elected prosecutors in the state’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis, and that justice is remarkably inconsistent among them.
“Confrontational relationships between prosecutors and police departments is another concern in certain communities,” the report warns. “Dysfunction is especially high in Missouri metros, where vastly different practices and outcomes occur within border jurisdictions.”
The report suggests a statewide review of prosecutors’ varying practices, policies and prosecutions, as well publication of the results on a public website.
Meanwhile, the chamber poll shows the current worker shortage “remains the top concern of Missouri employers, with 38% citing it as their top concern.”
“When meeting with businesses,” Mehan says, “I hear over and over, we have the jobs but we just can’t find the people to fill them. Ramping up programs that can quickly and efficiently train workers for high-demand fields is a must.”
Aside from crime, worker shortages and inflation, the state’s 2023 business outlook is bright, the chamber’s news release says.
“According to the poll, nearly half of all businesses surveyed plan to increase their workforce and more than 80% plan on making business investments in the upcoming year.”