By Marion During, Marketing Communications Manager, the Missouri Partnership
One little buzzword is thrown around so much in business that sometimes it becomes cliché to even talk about: workforce. But it holds true, a strong workforce is vitally important to the future of any business. Part of the problem with all this talk about workforce is that for years there was no reliable tool for measuring what constituted for a “strong workforce.” People touting their local workforce had to fall back on the practically impossible to prove “work ethic” argument to describe what they considered to be an above average labor pool.
At last, that has started to change. In 2012 ACT introduced Work Ready Communities, a program aimed at closing the skills gap in America for the purpose of making the country more competitive as a whole. Communities participate in the program by linking workforce development to education through the National Career Readiness Certificate, thus addressing economic development at the local level.
But what is really telling about the program is not just what it proves about the participating community, but what it spawns: a measurable work ethic. The WRC program—while intended to make the United States more competitive overall—is also making certain states more competitive as well. And several are leading the pack in participation and certification.
Take Missouri for example, which became the first state to participate when Jasper County in southwest Missouri became the nation’s first certified work ready community in 2013. Currently Missouri has 45 percent of its counties participating in the program, with 13 counties officially certified. This puts Missouri ahead of all its Midwestern neighbors combined for WRC participation, coming in third nationally behind only two other states, South Carolina and Oregon.
What’s driving Missouri to prove it has a strong, nationally competitive workforce? Is it just that classic Midwestern work ethic that people talk about so much? Perhaps. But if so, why aren’t more Midwestern states participating in the WRC program? Maybe there’s something else about Missouri. Maybe it’s those two little words: SHOW ME.
Missouri’s “show-me” moniker is an albatross for some of the state’s residents. The very idea that the world views them as constantly needing proof is not the way they would choose to be known. And yet, these same people will grudgingly admit that it is true.
And so the WRC program plays nicely into Missouri’s hands—and into the hands of any community that finds itself in the same boat. “This is a priority for us,” Missouri communities seem to be saying. “This is the place to prove what we are made of.”
A Large, Well-trained Team
Many site consultants say that workforce issues are among the top considerations in expansion and relocation projects. Naturally, companies want a workforce that’s “educated”, but that means different things in different industries. Missouri has one of the best high school graduation rates in the country, meaning there is a greater likelihood that employers will be able to find candidates with basic abilities needed for today’s manufacturing careers.
For the bio and IT sectors, where a higher level of educational attainment is required, Missouri’s colleges and universities have hundreds of degree programs to train and retrain workers. Nerdwallet recently named Missouri’s two major metros—Kansas City and St. Louis—as two of the best places for tech jobs in the country. The report looked at the number of jobs available in each city, as well as the average salary for tech jobs compared to the median rent as a cost-of-living metric to determine how far incomes go.
Missouri is a stronghold for talent in the bio arena as well. The Animal Health Corridor, which is centered in Kansas City, Missouri, is home to a third of the entire global animal health industry, bringing with it a tremendous amount of bio talent. On the eastern side the state, St. Louis has the largest concentration of plant scientists in the world.
To businesses considering new facilities, these stats may seem a little daunting. When you have that kind of focus, there has to be a price, right? The answer is yes. Missouri’s workforce does come at a price, but that price is manageable. Like many Midwest states, Missouri has a very affordable business climate with wages eight percent below the U.S. average.
Now, if you’re playing devil’s advocate, you’ve got to be questioning the scalability of a new operation, regardless of quality and cost. Because, as the economy continues to improve, staffing worries may become your company’s biggest nail biter.
And this is where Missouri has a decided edge in the Midwest. With more than three million educated workers, Missouri has a greater talent pool than 20 other states, including most of its neighbors. The sheer number of qualified workers throughout the state makes Missouri a safe long-term investment for companies planning for growth.
But what if those three million workers aren’t enough? No worries. Missouri’s major metros once again come into play: Kansas City and St. Louis both spill over into neighboring Kansas and Illinois, respectively, growing the potential workforce by a sizeable margin.
While a great workforce is vital, it is not the only draw for businesses looking to relocate. Missouri’s low taxes and business costs continue to attract new investment and expansion opportunities. The state also offers valuable incentives for qualifying companies considering an expansion or a new location through the Missouri Works program, which includes multiple job creation categories and a mix of automatic and discretionary benefits. Show me, companies say when they tour the state for new locations. And that’s exactly what Missouri does.
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