An annual Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey says the greatest concern of the state’s business leaders surveyed is finding employees with professional skills. Dan Mehan, the Chamber’s president and CEO, said more than 500 business leaders, from every region of the state and business size, filled out the survey.

“Where do employers find the talented workers they need and having soft skills that are needed, such as showing up on time, dressing appropriately, verbal skills, and the ability to collaborate with others,” Mehan told Missourinet.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education worked this year to develop standards for social emotional learning, to help students with interpersonal and future employability skills. Due to a political backlash, the Missouri Board of Education ultimately chose to create optional guidelines for Missouri’s K-12 public schools to decide for themselves whether to use.

Mehan said finding enough workers is the number one obstacle in growing the state’s economy.

“We need more people is the bottom line,” said Mehan.

He touts a new state law to upskill workers and advanced them in the jobs. The Chamber plans to ask for about $6 million to fully fund that effort.

About 80% of business leaders surveyed think the expense and difficulty of finding childcare keep many Missourians out of the workforce. Roughly 64% said tax incentives would make their company more likely to offer some type of childcare benefits to employees.

Mehan said the childcare industry was “decimated” during the pandemic. Many childcare centers have not reopened since the earlier days of the pandemic.

He said a tax credit package to help expand access to childcare in Missouri is in the works for next year’s legislative session. It would provide tax credits for childcare providers, donors to daycare centers, and businesses who help to cover the childcare costs of their employees.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the guts intact,” said Mehan. “If the elected officials have ways to improve it, that’s obviously fine with us. But we’ve got to address what the market is telling us in this and we need to have better incentives for people to get into the industry and also for employers to help out with their employees that need it. We’re very pleased that the governor has made this a priority. We know we have the votes to get this done.”

Mehan hopes lawmakers will tackle the legislation early on. Next year is a major election year, with several elected leaders running for higher office.

“The election is a definite factor,” he said. “The Capitol is going to be rife with politics. That’s going to be a definite hurdle that we’ll have to cross.”

The survey says 90% of the state’s business leaders surveyed think public safety and crime is a top or growing concern. Roughly seven out of 10 business leaders surveyed say the rising crime rate is impacting Missouri’s economic competitiveness.

“We took a step in the right direction last year, the General Assembly did,” said Mehan. “But we’re going to return to that as well and try to address some things such as retail theft, and also to get some tougher sentencing for people that commit violent crimes. On the other hand, we’ve got to make sure we are vibrant in second chance hiring when appropriate.”

Mehan said the safety of the workers is paramount.

“These retailers are making site decisions, like where to locate or where to pull out. And if you look at some of the places where that are most vulnerable, they’re there. It’s tougher to find options to go to a Walgreens if the Walgreens is moving away from these dangerous areas. And let’s face it, the crime is following the migration out of these areas. You don’t want to have people getting in harm’s way. But we’ve got to find a way to make it less attractive to smash and grab and to try to make money off it on the back end,” he said.

The Chamber also wants incentives to help recruit additional law enforcement officers.

When asked what role, if any, the Missouri Legislature should play in requiring or prohibiting various workplace policies, 8 out of 10 business leaders said the legislature should stay out of the business of private businesses and let each company decide for itself.

As for the positives noted in the survey, Mehan said Missouri’s gross domestic product, per capita income, and job growth continue in a positive direction.

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