Missouri Governor Mike Parson has signed three executive orders to bring a sweeping reorganization of several state agencies. The governor held a news conference Thursday in Jefferson City with the heads of four departments to announce his actions.
The agency most affected by the changes will be the Department of Economic Development (DED), which will have its number of employees reduced from 865-to-165 with the transfer of three of its divisions to other agencies.
Governor Parson said the move will allow the Department to run more efficiently and adjust its size to be in line with similar operations in other states. “Most of the states that we’re competing with every day have less than 200 employees in their economic development branches,” said Parson. “They are strictly focused on economic development, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
One of Parson’s three executive orders will transfer the Office of Public Counsel and the Public Service Commission from DED to the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Professional Registration. That agency will then be renamed the Department of Commerce and Insurance. The move means the agency in charge of promoting commerce in the state will have oversight of the Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s large investor-owned utilities. 200 employees will be working under a different agency with the change.
The other big move involves Parson’s executive order to transfer the Division of Workforce Development and the Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) from DED to the Department of Higher Education.
Zora Mulligan, the Commissioner of Higher Education, says the change will let her agency help high school graduates with employment preparation with or without a college degree. “We have individuals, many, many, many of whom are adults who don’t have the time to earn a four-year degree or even a two-year degree,” said Mulligan. “Having an option for them and financial support for them that will allow them to get into the workforce quickly is important.”
The Division of Workforce Development helps individuals acquire marketable skills for employment and provides businesses with recruitment assistance. The move to place the division under the Department of Higher Education means the agency that oversees state colleges and universities will now be focused on trade and vocational schools as well.
Under the governor’s plan, the Higher Education Department will also supervise the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) that analyses labor markets and various industries.
A third executive order signed by Parson transfers the Division of Energy from the Department of Economic Development (DED) to the Department of Natural Resources.
DED Director Rob Dixon said the transfer of numerous divisions out of his agency will allow it to more efficiently concentrate on economic growth across the state. “We should approach economic development differently in the Bootheel than we do in St. Louis, differently in Kansas City than we do in Hannibal and everywhere in between,” said Dixon. “And it should be driven and led by those local communities and those business leaders.”
Dixon declined to say if the staff reduction was part of an effort to reduce tax credits offered to businesses through the Economic Development Department. He did say Missouri would have to have tax credits to stay competitive with other states that provide such incentives.
Parson acknowledged the vast reorganization he intends to make within state agencies will need the approval of the state legislature. He said he doesn’t want to be the governor who just talked about making change, but to actually follow through. “I really want to make substantial changes to the state government, so we can be more efficient and really deliver for the people of Missouri,” said Parson.
The governor is getting vocal support for his plan from fellow Republican leaders in the legislature.
Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr said it’s important for Missouri to match economic growth efforts in other states. “Missouri’s growth depends on our workforce,” Haahr said. “Other states aren’t waiting for us to catch up. They’re moving forward, and the state’s that figure these problems out are going to win more jobs and more business for their citizens.”
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said the state must address the issue throughout Missouri. “Now is the time to take a hard look at economic and workforce development,” said Schatz. “We have businesses across our state who are looking to us for solutions on these critical needs. We need to deliver.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce all released statements strongly supporting Parson’s executive orders.