POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KAIT) – The newly elected President Protem of the Missouri State Senate Tuesday held a jobs summit at the Black River Coliseum in Poplar Bluff.
Senator Rob Mayer, who is entering his seventh year in the Missouri Legislature, asked business owners and managers what should be done to increase the number of jobs in the state.
"They're concerned about jobs and concerned that we take the money that they send up and spend it wisely and submit a balanced budget," said Mayer. "Education is a key tool in economic development and we as a legislature understand that, however it is a challenge under this difficult economic time."
Mayer said education was the key to success in getting jobs of the 21st century to southeast Missouri. He said Poplar Bluff has a strong services sector of the economy, and feels industry can also gain strength.
"For us to have a sound economy here in Missouri, we need to make something. We need to manufacture something to really have a vibrant and viable economy," said Mayer. "Each state that surrounds the state of Missouri has a right to work policy, with the exception of Illinois and Kentucky. I think most all of those states will tell you that it's been a valuable economic tool in attracting manufacturers to their state."
Regarding education, Devin Stephenson, President of Three Rivers Community College, told Mayer that state officials should remember public universities when the economy rebounds. Stephenson cited drastic reductions in state funding to both two and four year universities.
"We've had to look at right sizing for revenue, and that is providing the best service we can with the least amount of overhead and the challenges are greater because community colleges in Missouri are experiencing enrollment at an all time record," said Stephenson.
Stephenson said Three Rivers Community College has experienced a 19% increase in enrollment over the last two years. He said many of those students are looking to gain the skills necessary to obtain technical jobs and careers.
"When they leave the state, we lose their resources, their innovation, their creativity, so what we want to do is create a robust economy that can provide jobs and all of the cultural aspects, beyond necessity that would keep an individual here," said Stephenson. "I think community colleges in Missouri are a key factor in economic and workforce development. I wanted to make sure he understood that for us to keep that work going to be at the forefront of industry recruiting and educating a trainable workforce; the resources have to be there for us to be able to do that."
"We can continue to meet the mission of those higher education institutions and still balance Missouri's budget. it's going to be a challenge and it's going to take some out of the box thinking, but I think it can be done," said Mayer.
Another topic of discussion at the summit was that of minimum wage. The wage in Missouri can vary based on several variables.
"Sometimes it doesn't work how we believed how it would work when we're discussing it on a legislative floor, whether it's the senate or the house, so that's why these types of forums are important that we hear from people," said Mayer.
Mayer said the state should work to get a minimum wage law constructed much like the federal law. Currently, he said Missouri's law contains stipulations that wages could increase, possibly impacting job creation.
"Probably 70 percent of new job creation throughout the united states comes from small businesses," said Jeffrey Shawan, a small business owner. "I think the risk for small business owners that are really close to their chest, small amounts of total revenues, is that we hire this person and they're not productive or they're not trainable, and we spend a lot of money that's significant in a small corporation only to find that it ended up being a waste. You have to start all over or not hire that person."
"My concern is that through the indexing that has occurred with minimum wage in Missouri, the minimum wage has continually gone up and I feel it provides a situation where small business owners are kind of in a crunch to where they have to decide whether or not to avoid hiring someone entirely versus taking the risk of taking someone with very little or no skill," said Shawan.
Mayer said it was his task to take many of the comments and suggestions with him to Jefferson City when the legislature convenes in January.