In just about every state ranking category available, Missouri falls about midway in the scale of things. Granted, we hold near the bottom of some lists and toward the top of others. But on the whole, Missouri ranks near the middle when states are judged in a million or so different ways.
A new report surfaced Monday that painted the portrait of Missouri's economic development issues. It's an interesting report from a number of standpoints. Unfortunately, I fear the report misses the mark.
In the irony of ironies, the report calls for more spending on education, transportation and others areas of state government that are currently under the budget axe. I'm not sure if Gov. Bob Holden will use the report to bolster his argument on state budget cuts or if the report will give pause to the legislature as they consider the inevitable cuts.
But here's where I think the report - as much of it as I have seen - wanders astray. The economic report calls for expansion of high-tech development and less emphasis on tourism, farming, banking and manufacturing. These final four categories today make-up the overwhelming bulk of business in Missouri. The report tends to indicate that those segments will not be our base in the future. I think that's wrong.
I firmly believe that state funds should be channeled into the categories that today drive the state economy. I do not share the vision that Missouri will attract high-tech jobs and I don't think that should be our direction. I would more readily favor spending those resources to grow our existing business base and let a dozen or so other states cut each other's throats for those high-tech jobs. California, after all, is the high tech leader in this nation and their state budget deficit is over $35 billion. That's billion with a "b."
Funnel more money - when the budget permits - into tourism and farming. Help those traditional manufacturers expand and upgrade their expertise. Give all of the freedom in the world to banking and finance and allow them to continue to fuel our state economy. And tailor education to the true character, wants and needs of our state. Maybe we need to quit chasing those high-tech rainbows and focus on what got us here in the first place.
Agriculture has changed and will surely change in the future. But through additional state assistance, perhaps we can become the premiere farming center of the nation. That is more likely that some expensive chase for high-tech revenue.
I would not want to be in the shoes of state economic developers. Their job is tough and made tougher by a tight state budget. But let's begin today to assist those existing jobs and perhaps grow that segment of the economy.