Dixon on Missouri, Best in Midwest

This story is included in a multi-part series

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Missouri is working to address its negative trends and be a stronger economic force in the Midwest.

Rob Dixon, director of Missouri Department of Economic Development, attended the final event of the Missouri Energy Initiative 2018 Midwest Policy Series on Wednesday to share the report on the state of Missouri, Best in Midwest; Talent for Tomorrow.

Dixon said that when working with the economic development of the state, it is important to start with understanding the data and understanding where the state stands with its competitors, which, in the case of Missouri, is other states.

“The Best in Midwest and Talent for Tomorrow initiatives, are really addressing those negative trends that we’re facing,” Dixon said.

Per the request of Missouri Governor Mike Parson, the organization formed two committees – workforce and infrastructure – which has brought the entire administration together to work on addressing the issues.

“Bottom line is our economy is growing in Missouri and we’re extremely excited about that,” Dixon said. “But there’s more to that story than meets the eye.”

In terms of rank in the midwest, Missouri is at the bottom of the line for GDP growth compared to Minnesota, Arkansas, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Ohio. Historically, politically, economically and culturally these 14 states are similar.

When looking at data from 2015 and 2016, Dixon explained that Missouri is ranked 8th for wage growth, 9th for job growth overall, 11th for per-capita income growth and 12th for labor productivity.

“There’s no reason why Missouri should not be at the top of the list than at the bottom of the list,” Dixon said.

The talent pipeline in Missouri is “leaking”, according to Dixon. The state is losing people from the workforce because of the “disconnect” between K-12 and college-workforce. Missouri is one of the top states in terms of high school retainment rates, but that rate falls at the college and workforce level.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) works on federal money, rules and regulations. According to Dixon, 61 percent of people who come through Missouri’s workforce program end up with a good paying job.

Projected job growth is found in the industries of aerospace and defense, agribusiness, automotive and transportation, energy solutions, entertainment and media, financial services, life sciences and cross-sector manufacturing.

Rob Dixon, director of Missouri Department of Economic Development speaks at Midwest Energy Policy Series: Energy Economic Development (DANIELLE MAE FRANKLIN/CLAYTON TIMES)

“These jobs of the future are coming from in our state. This is where the economic growth is coming from in our state,” Dixon said. “It’s something that we really have to dial in on. I would say for the discussion today, it was in the eye for energy solutions. The entire energy industry is going to be a key driver of economic growth. That is not just the production of it, but also in terms of how it reacts with the rest of the economy.”

Cross-cluster priorities identified were IT, health care and education. Education shows to be an important cluster in the future of jobs, but that is because of the teaching workforce and making sure the teachers in Missouri have the knowledge to teach the people in other industries.

“How are you going to have the workforce development strategy when you don’t have the workforce to teach them workforce stuff?” Dixon asked.

Missouri has underperforming economic and workforce development policies which are embedded within an underperforming economy overall.

“We are the largest economic development agency in the Midwest,” Dixon said. “We also know that we are actually spending more on incentives for jobs than many of our competitors. We do a lot of different things in economic development beyond the core cautions of working with businesses every single day to help them grow and stay.”

In addition to the workforce and infrastructure issue of attracting families to relocate, there is an education and training issue. There cannot be 21st-century workforce if the workers cannot use 21st-century technology.

Over the last few months, all 16 agencies in the Executive Branch have been sitting down and working on the visions of the state in a collaborative manner. Within Dixon’s department, they focus on the key principles of being regionally targeted, data-driven, customer-centric and laser focused.

There are also workforce training and education programs such as MO Excels Funding; Fast Track Financial; Missouri Onestar and Office of Apprenticeship. In terms of infrastructure, Dixon said the department is working on Broadband Internet; Deal Closing Fund; Site Ready, Job Ready and Focus Funds on Workforce and Infrastructure.

“We in the state government really want to look at how we are utilizing our own spending authority, our own programs, targeting the dollars that have been appropriated by legislators and entrusted by you,” Dixon said. “We’re going to target all of these towards infrastructure and workforce development because that’s what the Governor has prioritized. This is a way for us to really do that.”