Missouri Gov. Mike Parson used his annual State of the State address to tout workforce development accomplishments and plans for historic investment.
Looking beyond the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Parson's State of the State speech announced investment after investment. Workforce development programs will see a significant portion of Missouri's thriving general revenue collections and the one-time federal COVID-19 relief dollars flowing down into the state.
The state will receive $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, nearly $400 million of which would go to workforce and economic development initiatives.
Parson wants $250 million set aside to match local funds in supporting community-led economic development projects that promote growth, as well as $25 million for industrial site development, and $10 million or less for agricultural innovation education, Missouri Job centers and workforce outreach.
Parson is also committing $30 million in ARPA funds for the Missouri One Start program, which assists employers directly with recruiting, training and upskilling workers, and $20 million to expand programming and improve equipment at Missouri's 57 career centers.
Cody Elliot, a welding student at Nichols Career Center, was one of Parson's special guests for the State of the State.
Parson said the $20 million investment will offer a path for students like Elliot to obtain "high-demand, good-paying jobs."
"And we must continue to support them in this state," he continued.
Parson also suggested using $25 million in ARPA funds to provide grants to small businesses, $20 million to provide grants to nonprofits, and $10 million to expand the MoExcels program to private colleges and universities with programs in high-demand fields.
Parson would also use some regular state funds to advance workforce initiatives.
He proposed almost $95 million for small-business investments, $31.5 million for MoExcels (bringing total investment to $41.5 million), $11 million for the One Start program (bringing total investment to $41 million), and $4 million for the Missouri Technology Corporation, which helps foster growth of emerging high-tech companies.
Parson also wants to increase core funding for Missouri's four-year public colleges and universities, community colleges and the State Technical College of Missouri, which would cost $51.6 million. He also proposed using some ARPA funds to tackle the top capital improvement project at public institutions of higher education, which would be $468.9 million.
Some of Parson's announcements echo the recommendations of the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force, which was created in March 2021 to study how the state can support small business -- particularly minority-owned businesses -- amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The task force recommended the state improve child care availability and affordability to ease workforce shortages, increase access to on-the-job training opportunities for small businesses, expand hospitality industry apprenticeships, and update and promote the Fast Track program.
Parson announced at the State of the State he wants to use $722 million to strengthen the state's childcare network, develop the childcare workforce and boost the quality of childcare in the state.
"The investments across the board are going to be historic and transformational, but even more so in higher education and workforce development because this is setting a new record," said Mardy Leathers, state director of workforce development.
Leathers said the state has largely bounced back from the massive unemployment spike caused by the pandemic, but there's still work to be done to cultivate the workforce in Missouri.
"Workforce development and higher education are two key areas where we know that we can make a difference in the long-term history of Missouri," Leathers said. "These investments, while you may not see the impact tomorrow, you'll see it long term."
Parson has made workforce development a priority since assuming the governor's office in 2018, supporting several grant and initiative programs that seek to upskill Missouri workers.
In 2019, he reorganized Missouri's Department of Economic Development to create regional engagement offices throughout the state and move the Division of Workforce Development to the Department of Higher Education.
The same year, he announced support for MoExcels, which provides money to colleges and universities to expand academic programs that are in high demand, and the Fast Track Workforce Incentive program, which provides financial aid to adults going back to school or joining qualified apprenticeships. He also created the state Office of Apprenticeships.