FROM: Sue Sterling, Daily Star Journal Staff
WARRENSBURG — A comprehensive jobs bill that passed the House and Senate in closing hours may provide the means needed to fill workforce gaps by improving workforce education and training programs.
Senate Bill 68 contains provisions for Fast Track, Missouri One Start, Missouri Works-Deal Closing Fund and Automotive Economic Development tools.
The Fast Track legislation provides financial aid to economically-challenged adults over the age of 25 who have no post-secondary education, those with some college but no degree and those with an associate degree who need additional credentials to get a better job.
The students have to be income-qualified, out of school for the last two years and over 25, Tracy Brantner, Johnson County Economic Development Corp. executive director, said.
“It’s very positive for our state,” she said, noting “a lot of surrounding states” already pay for people to return to school for certification or to finish a degree.
The legislation is expected potentially to help 17,000 students, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
Eligible academic programs include agriculture and related sciences, natural resources and conservation, architecture and related services, communications and journalism, computer and information services, personal and culinary services, education, engineering, and related field, family and consumer sciences, legal professions, mathematics, parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies; law enforcement, firefighting homeland security and other protective services, public administration and social services, construction trades, mechanic and repair technologies, precision production, transportation, health professions, business management and marketing.
The Missouri One Start consolidates the current customized job training package, Brantner said, adding, “Community colleges will be very much involved,” including The Learning Force at State Fair Community College.
The program is designed to recruit and train large numbers of job applicants during major expansions.
“It’s tackling the supply side of the equation and further educating the workforce,” Brantner said.
Consolidation of the programs under one roof provides more flexibility, she said.
“If we have an employer with a need, we should be able to fund a program to fit the need,” she said.
The Dollar Tree project benefited from the One Start program, she said.
“They received an allotment in their proposal when they selected Warrensburg as the location,” she said, which was to be used to train the workforce.
The money was administered by The Learning Force and the training plan had to be approved by State Fair Community College.
The money came to SFCC, she said, and was allocated to Dollar Tree on a reimbursement basis upon completion of the training.
The Deal Closing Fund is a first for Missouri, Brantner said.
The new legislation modifies an existing program to establish a closing fund that the Department of Economic Development can use to make agreements with companies to create new jobs in the state.
“Missouri is one of the few states that has never had a closing fund,” she said. “In the past, all Missouri’s incentives, first and foremost, gave the least assistance necessary to do a deal.”
Incentives were never given lightly for a project, she said.
“It was a negotiating process,” Brantner said.
Businesses have to meet job creation requirements, wage requirements, make a $750 million investment and provide health insurance.
The fund is performance based, and businesses are monitored to assure they comply, Brantner said.
“I think it will open the door to additional opportunities we haven’t had in the past,” she said.
The bill also includes tax credits to auto manufacturers that invest $500 million or more in plant upgrades and agree to retain jobs.
The bill, designed to incentivize General Motors to make a $750 million expansion to its plant in Wentzville, would provide $5 million annually in credits for five years. A company could qualify for tax credits for another five years if it makes an additional $250 million investment.
Brantner said two other workforce development bills that were watched closely in military communities were also passed by the legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.
The Community Reinvestment Program enacted in 2018 but never funded, allocated $300,000 to the Department of Economic Development in House Bill 7, the budget bill.
The allocation provides funding for regional organizations around military communities, such as the Whiteman Area Leadership Council, to do specific programs pertaining to growing and sustaining military installations, Brantner said.
The WALC is asking Parson to sign the 2020 FY appropriations for the DED that supports the Missouri Military Community Reinvestment Program.
A letter to Gov. Mike Parson states WALC works to support Whiteman Air Force Base in increasing awareness of and advocating for new and expanded missions, enhancing quality of life for military families and ensuring mission readiness across all the communities across the region.
WAFB is currently slated to receive the B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber in the mid-2020s, the letter states, making it “more critical than ever for WALC to unite vested partners to accomplish the critical elements of mission readiness while implementing components which enhance quality of life for the active military, veterans and their families.”
The Military Works bill provides tax credits that can be used by military installations to make infrastructure improvements.
“It allows private-public partnerships to do projects,” Brantner said.