Gov. Mike Parson focused on two key topics during his speech at the 2019 Ozark State of the Community dinner: “workforce development and infrastructure.”

Parson spoke to a crowd of Christian County business officials Oct. 3, at First Baptist Church in Ozark. The State of the Community night is put on annually by the Ozark Chamber of Commerce. The event sold out just days after Parson was announced as its keynote speaker in September.

Parson said that when he first became governor in 2018, he spent time talking to mayors, county commissioners and private sector business leaders wherever he traveled.

“I said, ‘What is it as the governor of the state of Missouri I can do to make your life better? What is it you see as the biggest need of the state of Missouri above all else?’ Everybody, everybody without exception to anyone: workforce development and infrastructure,” Parson said.

Parson said he wanted to have a short list of priorities in his first year as governor.

“If you make too many things a priority, nothing is a priority,” Parson said.

When most people think of the word “infrastructure,” they tend to think of potholes in roads or widening highways, as many in Ozark tend to do with the recent widening of U.S. Highway 65 and the major project happening right now on South Street. The topic, Parson said, includes roads, but goes beyond highway driving.

“Infrastructure is the bloodline of the future of our state,” Parson said. “I’m not just talking about highways. I’m talking about airports, I’m talking about rail, I’m talking about rivers and I’m talking about broadband. All of those things—we have to have in place for us to be competitive.”

When it comes to companies being able to find the right people for the right jobs, Parson said Missouri comes up short sometimes. He sees it happening in Ozark.

“I guarantee you if I went around to a lot of your companies in this city and I said, ‘Hey, how’s it going hiring people for your workforce?’ Some of you would say, ‘It’s a little tough. It’s a little hard to get people in here. It’s a little hard to get people with the skills they need to go to work,’” Parson said.

Parson points out that 28 percent of Missourians have college degrees, while 72 percent—Parson included—do not.

“That 72 percent is your workforce,” Parson said. “You have to work hard. You have to give them the ability to get those skills. Those are the people we need to make sure are prepared for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Parson spoke on legislation on economic development voted into law in 2018.

“We immediately started seeing results out of that when the legislators passed that language,” Parson said. “People around the state, people around the United States, and all these companies abroad started seeing that Missouri was serious about really doing something about preparing our workforce for the future and doing infrastructure in our state.”

The governor highlighted the Missouri Fast Track program, which was created by Missouri Senate Bill 68 in the 2018 session of the Missouri General Assembly.

Missouri Fast Track is a new grant program designed to allow Missourians to receive advanced training in high-demand fields, opening the doors for thousands of Missouri workers to gain new skills and job training to better support their families. A complimentary program, Missouri One Start will help new and expanding businesses upgrade workers’ skills to meet their workforce demands. 

“I’ve been working on the phone a lot today trying to put together a package for General Motors,” Parson said. “We’re working on a contract agreement with them for them to do $1 billion worth of investment in the state of Missouri. A billion dollars, that’s never been done by the private sector in Missouri before.”

Parson encouraged the business leaders of Ozark that they could compete to land the move-in businesses going into places like suburban Kansas City and St. Louis.

“Everybody else wants these businesses just like you do, but you’ve got to work at it and you’ve got to think outside the box,” Parson said.

Parson delivered some final words of encouragement to the guests gathered in Ozark.

“It’s our time. It’s our time to make sure we work a little harder, we make these communities a little better, we make our school system a little better, we make sure these young men and women coming out of school are prepared for the workforce, we make sure Missourians are prepared to compete in the United States of America and globally,” Parson said.

Parson mentioned that speaking the Ozark event afforded he and Missouri First Lady Teresa Parson the opportunity to spend the night at their home in Bolivar. Before traveling north, the Parsons planned to stop to have ice cream with their granddaughter, who lives in Sparta.

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