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Governor, Speaker of the House highlight manufacturing, economic growth in State of State speech and

Steps taken and supported by the state’s manufacturers are helping the State of Missouri’s economy recover from recession, but more must be and can be done.

That’s the main economic message taken from Governor Nixon’s State of the State speech and Speaker of the House John Diehl’s rebuttal Wednesday night.

Both Nixon and Diehl mentioned 2010’s Manufacturing Jobs Act, authored by Associated Industries of Missouri, as the kind of bipartisan legislation that can and has helped the automotive sector of the economy lead the state in its growth. Nixon and Diehl both sighted the 4,000 jobs and more than $1 billion investment by Ford in its manufacturing plant near Kansas City, while Nixon also mentioned the expansion at the General Motors plant in Wentzville and the nearly 60 other automotive suppliers that have taken up residence or expanded in Missouri since the Act was passed.

As Nixon and Diehl called for more legislation such as the Manufacturing Jobs Act, such bills were being crafted in both the House and Senate. Legislation drafted by Associated Industries of Missouri called the Missouri Infrastructure Investment Act has been filed by Senator Brian Munzlinger (R-18) as SB 284 in the Missouri Senate and by Representatives Nick King (R-17) and Nate Walker (R-03) in the Missouri House as HB 627. The legislation is designed to help manufacturers in other industries retain employment and attract new product lines, just as the Manufacturing Jobs Act of 2010 has helped the automotive industry.

But as Diehl and Nixon both called attention to the development of high tech industries in the state of Missouri such as the Cerner Project that can bring up to 16 thousand jobs to the State of Missouri, only Speaker Diehl touched upon the need to connect higher education with available jobs.

“Right now we have a disconnect between our job creators and our institutions of higher learning,” said Diehl. “There are thousands of jobs available right now in this state that go unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, especially in the areas of science and technology. At the same time, we see thousands of young people graduate from our colleges and universities who are unable to find employment.”

Diehl went on to urge the legislature to pass legislation that looks a lot like House Bill 253, sponsored by State Rep. T.J. Berry (R-Kearney) and supported by Associated Industries of Missouri. It’s designed to keep graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the state by helping them pay for at least a portion of their student debt, if they graduate with a certain grade point average.

Diehl also called for Missouri to become a state where more companies want to do business. He cited statistics that show that Missouri is the sixth most judicially unfriendly state.

“We must take steps as a state to strike that balance that protects the rights of individuals without creating an environment that forces job creators and professionals to flee the state,” said Diehl. “Second, Missouri has labor policies which more closely resemble the failed and antiquated economic models of the rust belt.”

In addition to judicial and workplace reform, the Speaker called for fewer and more streamlined business regulations.

“Moving forward, we must go down a path that keeps government out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs and stresses the importance of allowing businesses to do what they do best, create jobs and produce economic prosperity,” said Diehl.

An economic driver that manufacturers certainly are concerned with is the state’s transportation system, most notably the condition of the state’s roads. Governor Nixon told legislators that he favors either tolls or an increase in the state’s gas tax to prop up MoDOT’s dwindling budget.

“Missouri’s gas tax hasn’t gone up a penny in nearly 20 years,” said Nixon. “It’s the fifth lowest in the nation. With gas prices as low as they are now, this is worth a very close look.”

All in all, Diehl said the legislature’s guiding principle should be to do all it can to remove the barriers on productivity.

“That means investing in families and young people rather than an ever-growing bureaucracy,” said Diehl. “It means empowering businesses and workers rather than government. And it means empowering people, not politicians.”

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