Incentives aimed at bringing businesses and companies to Missouri don't matter if those companies don't have the skilled labor to produce their products, broadband to market products or highways to ship them, candidates for the Missouri House of Representatives District 59 seat said.
The candidates — Rudy Veit, a Republican from Wardsville who is an attorney, and Linda Ellen Greeson, a Democrat from Eldon who is a retired teacher — are running for the seat currently held by state Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City. Bernskoetter is completing his fourth term in the House and is term-limited from running again for the seat.
The News Tribune posed questions to the candidates about their views concerning the state's business climate and its infrastructure, which is deeply tied to economic development.
Greeson said health care, education, infrastructure and the business community all overlap. And while the General Assembly has been trying to attract large industries with reductions to the corporate tax rate, it has overlooked small businesses.
If the state supported better health care for small businesses, that would help keep those small businesses' costs down. An example, she said, was a recent discussion she had with a small business owner whose employee had an accident in a company vehicle. The employee insisted they weren't injured. But, a little over a week later, the employer received a call from an attorney representing the employee.
If the employee had affordable health insurance, he would have been willing to go immediately to a doctor to be checked out. If the employer — much like large companies — had policies in place and could afford to require employees to be checked by a doctor or could afford to have an attorney, he may have avoided a potential legal fight with the employee, Greeson said.
"Small operations would deal with (situations) one tragedy at a time," she added.
Furthermore, there is no evidence lowering the corporate tax rate is going to attract industry to the state, Greeson said. It already had the 10th-lowest rate before the General Assembly cut the rate to the second-lowest in the nation.
"If we didn't get them at that rate, why is going to rock bottom getting them to come here?" Greeson asked.
Lowering taxes can create economic stimulus, Veit said. But, as the state has continued to lower taxes, it has also neglected responsibilities — maintaining and improving roads and bridges and improving cellphone service and broadband in rural areas.
Much of the 59th District is rural. It includes a portion of eastern Jefferson City, most of Cole County and a portion of northern Miller County.
Interstate 70 is not only crumbling but is overcrowded, Veit said. So some product distributors may be forced to take smaller, back roads. If they experience difficulties on those back roads, that increases costs.
Proposition D — if passed during the general election on Nov. 6 — would increase the state fuels tax by 10 cents a gallon over the next four years. Veit said that would be a step toward Missouri taking ownership of its personal responsibility to fix state roads. But the proposition is not nearly adequate to meet the state's needs.
A priority, Veit said, is to keep the Legislature from passing the conditions of roads and bridges down to the next generation.
Because the state must realize there's a problem and needs to keep its options open, it cannot rule out anything that might help it meet that responsibility, he said.
Both candidates said broadband in rural communities is a must.
"(Broadband) is necessary for all types of economic development. There are a lot of people who want to live in a rural area but can't because they don't have the broadband," Veit said. "It would be an immediate economic stimulus."
Rural broadband would open doors for development across the state, he added.
Access to rural broadband is becoming necessary for Missouri farmers who wish to use the most recent technologies to improve their businesses and compete with other states, Greeson said.
One local co-op in Central Missouri is providing access to rural broadband for its customers, she added, providing farmers and other businesses the tools to compete with neighboring states.
If the state were to provide incentives for existing utility companies to provide rural broadband, they would be able to offer those tools to their customers, she said.
Companies also need well-prepared employees, she said. Missouri has to have a well-educated and properly trained workforce before companies would even consider it. And if the Republican-led General Assembly has its way, companies may struggle to find them in Missouri, she said.
"There is a concerted effort to break up the unions," Greeson said. "They're trying to break up the workers and make them stand alone instead of unified."
Unions provide training programs for workers at no cost to the government, yet some politicians want unions to "go away," she said.
There is already a shortage of qualified, skilled workers for some positions, Veit said, whether in construction, truck driving, nursing, accounting or other industries.
"Government can encourage people to go into certain areas," he said. "We're doing part of that already, for instance, in the A+ program — students are getting into the game."
The program, which provides scholarship funds for eligible students graduating from high school to attend community colleges or vocational schools, encourages students to look at technical schools, Veit said.
There is no reason not to coordinate programs to encourage students to consider technical careers while they are in high school, he said.
"Some (positions) are being paid a better wage than others," Veit said. "That's the thing I want to stress in high school."