Economic developer for state plugs jobs

Saturday, March 6, 2004

When Gov. Bob Holden appointed Kelvin Simmons director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development in December, Simmons said he had one priority that was threefold: jobs, jobs and jobs.

Simmons emphasized that Friday as he spoke to area business people at the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce's monthly First Friday Coffee at the Show Me Center. In the speech, Simmons outlined and pushed the program known as Jobs Now, an initiative that, if passed by the legislature, would offer grants and low-interest loans to help create new jobs through improvements in Missouri's infrastructure.

"Good things are happening in Missouri," Simmons said. "But we can't rest on our laurels."

He pointed to Missouri's low unemployment rate -- 5.2 percent, compared to the national average of 5.6 percent -- and an increase in median income as two signs that Missouri is on its way out of recession.

"We've created more new jobs than 42 other states," Simmons told the group. "But we can no longer settle for being in the middle. We've got to move out of that middle state of mind and shoot for the top."

As a means to do this, Simmons gave an overview of the Jobs Now program, which would be funded by money reallocated from the elimination of several tax credits.

"It is completely cost-neutral," Simmons said. "It simply redirects existing fund sources by repealing outdated and inefficient tax credit programs."

The credits under the knife would be for the research and development, transportation development and business facilities programs within the Department of Economic Development. Combined, Simmons said, that would free up $12 million to $15 million annually, which could then be used as bond payments producing $150 million to $200 million in immediate resources.

"We feel we can better utilize that money in other areas to create infrastructure," Simmons explained.

What Jobs Now does

The program would be three-pronged. Sixty percent of the funds would be allocated for direct grants and loans for public infrastructure projects. Twenty percent would go to public entities for grants and loans to be used to leverage federal and non-state dollars. The other 20 percent would go to public colleges and universities that show an investment that will create future jobs.

Specifically, Simmons emphasized universities and cities dedicated to the development of the life sciences industry, in which Missouri is an emerging leader. He said Cape Girardeau County is among the state's leaders in that industry, which includes everything from medicine to agriculture.

The county's status is based on the city of Cape Girardeau with its two major hospitals, Southeast Missouri State University and its other life science industries like Procter & Gamble. The Department of Economic Development estimates 5,000 people are employed in that industry in the county.

Simmons said Cape Girardeau County and Cape Girardeau would fit the mold of entities that could receive some of the Jobs Now money.

He also said he believes Missouri has all the necessary elements to bring businesses and jobs to the state, the same factors that have kept many businesses here.

He said State Farm Insurance was ready to move from Columbia. Monroe, La., offered the company $33 million in tax incentives, and Tulsa, Okla., offered incentives too, he said. Missouri offered the company nothing to stay.

"But not only did they keep those 700 jobs in Columbia, they decided to bring 300 more jobs from Monroe.

"Why? Because of our work force, education, quality of life and cost of living. Because of these, Missouri is the place businesses want to be."

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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