PORTAGEVILLE - Doing business in Southeast Missouri requires overcoming challenges and bringing about reform according to speakers at the annual Southeast Missouri Economic Development Alliance Conference.
"Growing up in rural Missouri, I know the trials and tribulations of rural life and rural America, and the challenges of the Delta. We question ourselves how we can improve the economic needs of Missouri," said Mike Mills, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, one of the main speakers for the Oct. 27 event.
"Let's look at a few things, personal income is growing now above the national average. That means Missourians are getting income, and that means more jobs. Missouri's economy has improved more aggressively than the national average," he said. "Quite simply, we have to beat our economic advisors.
Mills called for continued tort and workman's compensation reform. Also he urged incentives to attract new business.
"Tort reform has been a big blessing for the state and has allowed Missouri to get on the radar scene, when we were not on the business opportunity," he said. "Workman's comp solved a lot of issues."
Since last August, according to Mills, the Missouri Quality Jobs Act has been in place. He explained this is a $12 million cap with a five-year program.
"You get five years benefits of tax exemptions. It is now blocked. As of last month, we can no longer offer that program, on the tax credit side of that program," he said. "It is a problem, because it is a tool that has worked. There are 8,000 jobs that have been created in Missouri because of this program and have brought in over a million and half-dollars of investments with them."
He continued: "Missourians are working, employment is happening and that means business is good."
Mills pointed out the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Program was reimplemented and is starting to create enterprise zones. These are supposed to be special economic regions where the local community agrees to do a certain amount of tax incentives and the state will do others in these local economically depressed or challenged areas.
Currently the Missouri Department of Economic Development can no longer offer this type of program to others in process, because it is out of cash. "We are not out of business," he added. "But we just do not have the needed tools in place to get the job done."
Other speakers included Mike Seabaugh, Southeast regional manager of Missouri Division of Workforce Development, and Steve Duke, executive director of the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Commission.
Seabaugh discussed some the differences between the Workforce Development Commission and the Workforce Investment Board.
Duke shared briefly some of the 16 priorities that the BRPC is working on. One that he did touch on was the need to work with Kentucky on a new bridge, and to get Highway 25 much needed upgrades.
Making the opening remarks for the event was SMEDA Board Chairman Gordon Waller.
"Economic development is a choice. Economic development occurs when local and regional leaders choose to identify and invest in and develop their competitive advantages. That is when we can enable our firms and workers, our farms to better compete in our local economy," said Waller.
He also said community leaders need to be able to prepare for what the next day brings. "Tomorrow will bring new issues, new opportunities, and new problems. SMEDA is a partnership that can help all of us to be answer those kinds of questions," he said.
Waller introduced the new SMEDA Executive Director Buz Sutherland, who spoke briefly of the need for SMEDA to be branded.
"Many people are familiar with name brands like Harley-Davidson and Coke," he said. "By partnering with SMEDA, it is hopeful that many Bootheel businesses within the six -county area will know that SMEDA promotes a unified and can-do economic environment for growing our own in a entrepreneurial development, protecting our own in expansion by being able to attract, and create and provide a great process generating environment for new business that consider on locating," he said.
A panel discussion included Jerry Bagby of Global Fuels LLC of Dexter; Keith Gregston of Noranda Aluminum at Marston; Jay Nugent of Kontek Inc. at New Madrid; and Spencer Taylor of Construction Trailer Specialists Inc. of Sikeston. The moderator was Steve McPheeters.
The representatives gave a brief state of their business address including how many employees they have and the need for expansion. All agreed there is need for more workers especially welders, electricians and engineers.
The lunch was catered from The Daily Bread of Malden.