Missouri economic task force urges child care boosts, support for minority-owned businesses

JEFFERSON CITY — A task force commissioned by Gov. Mike Parson to study the pandemic's impact on Missouri's small businesses recommended the state improve child care, take steps to support minority-owned employers and launch a grant program.

The final report from the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force, made public Sunday, comes days before Parson's State of the State address, in which he will outline his legislative and budget priorities for 2022. Parson formed the 10-person task force, made up of state workers and business owners alike, in March 2021.

Among its top recommendations was to "ease the workforce shortage by improving childcare availability and affordability" in the state. Businesses around Missouri and the country have struggled in recent months to retain workers as they seek higher wages and benefits. The report did not detail which methods the task force thought best to improve child care in the state.

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Parson has championed workforce development during his tenure as governor, pushing for programs such as the Fast Track Incentive Grant Program to send residents to college with financial aid and fill areas where workers are needed.

The task force recommended the state "update and promote" that program; legislation filed by Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican, would repeal the part of the law ending the program in August 2022 as currently scheduled.

The task force also recommended the state launch a grant program for businesses targeting those owned by women and people of color, which were hit especially hard during the pandemic. It also asked for Missouri to ensure those employers can access the state's tax credit initiative program and other resources, including a recommended online "One-Stop Shop" for businesses to more easily interact with government agencies.

Broadband expansion was also vital to help businesses overcome the pandemic hump, the task force said, asking the state to establish several programs to expand internet access, as well as a digital literacy program. Parson has budgeted $400 million in federal stimulus dollars to expand broadband in the state, especially in rural areas where access remains inconsistent.

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A survey of 294 employers with less than 50 workers found that minority-owned businesses faced greater obstacles to stable financing prior to the pandemic, which "likely impacted pandemic outcomes." Of white-owned businesses, 53 percent said they "had no difficulty accessing capital" prior to COVID-19; only 25 percent of minority-owned businesses said the same.

That survey also found that the labor shortage was the largest concern of employers who have struggled throughout the last year; 90 percent of those that cited the shortage as a concern said they have increased wages. Six in 10 of those surveyed said they would like financial assistance, such as loans or grants.

The task force also pointed to supply chain issues as playing a role in businesses' struggles; it urged Missouri to "develop workforce strategies" for areas such as manufacturing and commercial trucking. A separate task force focused on supply chain issues meets for the first time Thursday.

Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at gbacharier@news-leader.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri task force recommends support for minority-owned businesses