Budget plans include Missouri One Start investments

Missouri’s future as a dominant economic development force could hinge on two critical strategies: recruitment and cutting- edge technology.

Officials said the blueprint for achieving that future is Missouri One Start, which is designed to help businesses across the state keep up with their technology and recruitment needs.

One Start, a division of the Department of Economic Development (DED), provides free personalized recruitment services for eligible companies and a job board for other businesses that have hiring needs, opportunities that may be bolstered through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the state’s coffers if approved by lawmakers.

One Start offers its services to several of Missouri’s most prominent industries, including agricultural technology and food solutions, aerospace, automotive and advanced manufacturing, and distribution and logistics. Scholastic and Unilever in Jefferson City are among several participants in the Mid-Missouri area.

The state’s ARPA funding plan would earmark $30 million for training infrastructure, enhancing worker skill for new job positions, and assisting employers directly with recruitment efforts. Additionally, Gov. Mike Parson’s budget encouraged the Legislature to appropriate $11 million for the program out of state funds to enhance business competition and employee recruitment and retention.

One Start Director Kristie Davis and Communications Director Peggy Smith said the division was still in the early stages of planning for the ARPA proposal and working to align its vision with federal guidelines.

Though it was too early for them to have specific initiatives or projects in mind for the influx of federal funds, they said the division would prioritize keeping pace with the ever-evolving technological landscape and maintaining a steady flow of skilled workers in the coming years.

“As we go forward, keeping up with technology will be vital,” they said. “The governor is focused on workforce development, skilling up the pipeline so it has the tech skills to be competitive against workers in other states. As businesses grow, and their worlds become more digital and more complex, we have to be ready to meet their needs.”

While One Start’s focus has largely been on training, recruitment has recently headlined the conversation amid a competitive market and widespread staffing issues. One Start has received less than $10 million in funding for training initiatives during the past two years despite receiving $30 million in training requests a year, according to the Office of Administration (OA), a number that was used to determine the ARPA request amount.

“The past few years have been extremely unprecedented and in terms of needs expressed by the businesses we serve, the dominant request across the board is for help with recruitment,” they said. “It’s a full-court process.”

Smith and Davis said the division coordinated with community colleges, local chambers and job centers to seek out prospective recruits for its members.

DED had pushed similar training and recruitment efforts since the 1980s, they said, though the division was not formally established until 2019. Missouri One Start came to be through the Best in the Midwest/Talent for Tomorrow initiative, which allowed the state to examine similar efforts across the country before the Legislature officially established One Start as the state’s training and recruitment division in 2019.

Gov. Mike Parson praised One Start during his State of the State address last week, touting its ranking among programs in other states and the benefits it brought to the table.

“In 2019, we also revamped Missouri One Start through the Talent for Tomorrow initiative and today that program is ranked ninth in the United States,” Parson said. “In just three years, Missouri One Start has assisted companies locating or expanding in Missouri with more than 700 programs aimed at recruiting and training new employees. More than 76,000 workers have received training through this successful program.”

Parson’s ARPA plan and budget proposals include investments in several initiatives, including a $94.9 million small business capital funding pot, $4 million in resources for new and emerging technology companies and $500,000 in challenge grants designed to provide underserved youth job skills and management training through native habitat restoration projects.