Senator Mike Cunningham Report

Here at the Capitol, we get used to people shading the truth, so we take notice when somebody lays out facts without much spin. That’s what happened when Rob Dixon, the director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, briefed senators on the reorganization of his department.

The director didn’t mince words when he recently spoke at a hearing of the Missouri Senate’s Economic Development Committee. Compared to 14 Midwestern states, all somewhat similar in size, he said Missouri ranked dead last in economic growth. We came in ninth place for job growth and did only slightly better at growing wages.

It was not a very good report card for the Department of Economic Development, an agency that’s had seven directors in the past 10 years.

To make matters worse, Missouri’s DED had the largest staff of any economic development agency in the 14 comparable states. Missouri’s department had more than 800 employees. Most of the other states got by with less than 300 people.

To be fair, there were a lot of employees working for DED whose jobs had nothing to do with creating jobs. It made sense for the governor to restructure the department and move some of its divisions to other state agencies.

The Division of Energy is moving to the Department of Natural Resources. The Public Service Commission and the Office of Public Counsel will be under the newly renamed Department of Commerce and Insurance. The lieutenant governor’s office will take the Missouri Arts Council. The Division of Workforce Development, which deals primarily with job training, will fall under the Department of Higher Education. 

The director laid out the governor’s vision for a new, leaner Department of Economic Development, one he said would be “laser-focused” on business development.

As vice chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, I was encouraged by the commitment to concentrate on job creation. I’m convinced the best way to improve the lives of Missourians is to bring more good jobs to the state. That’s the only sure way to increase prosperity in Missouri and empower people to provide for their families.

Under the governor’s reorganization plan, DED will have four new divisions, each focusing on a different aspect of business development. There will be regional offices to assist businesses and communities one-on-one in their own backyards. One division would provide expertise and resources to address problems businesses face. Another would offer training to help businesses attract and hire employees. The department would also offer data analysis and strategic planning.

That all sounds good, and I’m glad to see Missouri focus on growing jobs. By the director’s own admission, Missouri has underperformed as compared to its neighbors in recent years. It’s time to do better. Some of what the governor has proposed will require action from the Legislature. The rest will be up to the Department of Economic Development to follow through on its promises. Like all Missourians, I hope they can.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.