Gov. Mike Parson's plan to reorganize part of state government — especially intended to improve economic and workforce development — is moving well toward the Aug. 28 goal of being implemented fully, he told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in the Capitol.
"A couple of months ago, during my first State of the State address, I committed to the General Assembly and to all Missourians, that my administration would fundamentally restructure state government," Parson noted, "demand greater efficiency and accountability, and improve customer service for all Missourians."
Part of that restructuring, he said, involved the combining of two prison operations into one in the Cameron area, "allowing us to improve employee pay and better-staff our facilities — and a savings of over $20 million."
However, Parson's main focus is economic development, and improving the state's workforce to improve Missouri businesses' and industries' competitiveness.
"Among our 13 Midwest peers," Parson said, "we've been 14th in GDP (gross domestic product), ninth for job growth and eighth for wage growth."
He said part of the problem has been a lack of long-term strategy — and his plans intend to change that.
When he issued three executive orders in January to start the reorganization process, lawmakers had 60 days to block them. However, that deadline passed Monday, and Parson thanked lawmakers "for their support of this plan."
State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said the changes "are showing what it truly means to serve the people."
She especially likes one of the changes that moves the state's workforce development work from the Economic Development Department to the Higher Education Department, which, she said, "will be better able to meet the needs of an evolving workforce and our future workforce demands."
Riddle added: "As a former teacher, I've seen first-hand how a student's education can shape and mold their future.
"I've also seen how education and a thriving economy are not separate issues. Rather, they are directly connected; without a trained workforce, Missouri's economy will never reach its full potential."
The changes are needed to improve Missouri's future, the governor said.
Economic Development Director Rob Dixon said his staff "spent months — really, the better part of 2018 — doing research on the broader economy, other agencies for economic development, (and) other states and how they're organized for economic development."
Even with the state's statistical lack of competitiveness with others in the region, Dixon said, Missouri "has the seventh most diverse economy in the country."
The streamlined Economic Development Department under Parson's plan will work with the state's different regions to help each with unique economic improvement plans.
"Right now, DED approaches economic development in the Bootheel the same way that we do in St. Louis, the same way in Kansas City as we do in Hannibal, the same way in Columbia as we do in Joplin — and everywhere in between," Dixon explained.
"We know there are different opportunities challenges (and) barriers standing in the way of business growth, depending on the part of the state you're in."
He also said the state will do more to measure Missouri's successes in the state and in comparison with other states and regions.
"We're going to be data driven," Dixon said. "We're going to be using economic data and economic research every single day, to guide and shape the decisions that we're going to be making."
Some of the criteria still are being determined, he said, but will include job creation, capital investment and wage growth.
And the outreach will focus not only on bringing new businesses to the state, but on "how are we helping the existing businesses in our state grow?"
State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, repeated administrators' concerns the Economic Development Department is much larger than its counterparts in surrounding states, and its current organization has too many duties directly unrelated to improving the state's economy.
Fitzwater told reporters: "For us to compete, that department has to be incredibly effective. It has to be efficient.
"And that can be done with fewer employees (and) a focus on specific issues."
Parson said Missouri's poor showing compared with neighboring states "is not (because of) our state workforce. I have found, overwhelmingly, that we have a remarkable and dedicated state workforce."
Still, the governor said, Missouri government "must do a better job clearly identifying expectations and priorities and ensure our agencies are structured in the best way to meet those goals."
Ultimately, Parson said, his reorganization plan aims at increasing overall wages and employment opportunities, "and employment for thousands of Missouri families."