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In many ways, Missouri’s economy is measured against what happened in 2020.

That year will always be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic contraction — which left hundreds of thousands of Missourians out of work.

What came next was a year that saw the economic cycle steady and point toward recovery. Businesses began to regain normalcy. By late 2021, Missouri had recouped more than 80 percent of the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Our state’s success has been helped tremendously by a number of timely policies championed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and passed into law by our pro-jobs governor and Missouri General Assembly. We passed a vital investment in our transportation infrastructure. We leveled the sales tax playing field for our local Missouri retail businesses, finally giving them fair competition against online giants. We stopped a wave of opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits that threatened our reopening — growing our momentum for upcoming legal climate reforms this session, including a much-needed update to Missouri’s statute of limitations.

Thanks to this work and the individual efforts of thousands of employers across our state, we can say that today, by and large, our economy has recovered.

Moving ahead, 2022 must then be a year that charts a path for where our economy goes next. Toward that goal, the Missouri Chamber has released an aggressive legislative agenda to help Missouri flourish as the economy moves beyond recovery and into growth.

Any discussion about our economy must lead with workforce. For years, preparing Missouri’s workforce has been a major undertaking at the Missouri Chamber, as expressed in our Missouri 2030 strategic initiative. We believe Missouri needs to make the most of the workforce we have — dedicating resources to giving Missourians the skills they need to thrive in both the economy of today and the future.

This year, we are asking the legislature to reauthorize the Fast Track program, which provides scholarships to adult Missourians who decide to pursue degrees, credentials, or certificates in in-demand fields. We believe the program can help even more people if lawmakers decide to make Fast Track compatible with the apprenticeship revolution happening in our state today — allowing students to use these resources for apprenticeship expenses.

Retention is also crucial to Missouri businesses. We will ask lawmakers to give employers more tools to invest in upskilling and retaining their current workers through short-term credentialing programs.

Furthermore, we must ensure Missouri students are prepared for college or job training programs. We will be advocating for placing a greater focus on helping high school students access all available training and financial aid opportunities. This will empower students to enhance their employability as they seek to enter the workforce.

The Missouri Chamber also has big plans to advocate for tech and innovation industry growth in our state. Just this fall, we published a newly-updated Technology 2030 Report showing that Missouri is a leading state for growth in energy tech and IT. We are also primed for fast growth in tech manufacturing — this means Missouri has a key opportunity to help address the global computer chip shortage.

Missouri also has one of the nation’s most inclusive tech economies, with our state near the top for women and diversity among our tech workforce.

Today, technology is utilized in every business, and the Missouri Chamber is taking steps to position Missouri to lead in tech growth.

We have united many of Missouri’s leading companies in technology and innovation by forming a new Missouri Chamber Technology Alliance. Nearly every industry is represented in the alliance, including health care, education, utilities, and manufacturing. The Technology Alliance is building out strategies to maximize Missouri’s position as an emerging tech hub.

This year, our focus on tech involves policy to help Missouri businesses enhance their cybersecurity protection in response to the growing number of disruptive and financially devastating cyberattacks. The Missouri Chamber will also look to develop policy to build our state’s research and development capacities — so that the seed for new innovations can start in Missouri and lead to job creation right here.

We believe these policies, and many others in our 2022 agenda, will find much support in the Missouri General Assembly. We have high hopes.

As always, the Missouri Chamber will also remain vigilant against proposals that seek to legislate how private businesses should operate — and we expect to have a fight on our hands in 2022.

At the federal level, the Missouri Chamber is pushing back hard against the Biden administration’s heavy-handed, overreaching vaccination mandate which stands to impact more than 3,700 Missouri employers.

Likewise, we will also stand against legislation already filed in Jefferson City that seeks to forbid employers from exercising their right to require that their workers are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Our stance on this is simple — let businesses decide.

Every employer is different. Some employers have decided that COVID-19 vaccinations are needed to keep employees and customers safe, or that a vaccinated workforce is essential to minimize work interruptions due to outbreaks of the virus. In other workplaces, employers have decided it’s not essential to be vaccinated. Still others are encouraging vaccination rather than requiring it.

In every case, it is never appropriate for politicians to legislate how businesses should be run.

Long before COVID-19, employers have had a firmly-established legal right to make their own decisions on vaccinations. And that right should remain — let businesses decide.

To all employers in our state, I want you to know that the Missouri Chamber will be standing up for you this legislative session. We are in the Capitol every day working on your behalf. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know.

We are optimistic about where Missouri is headed and the 2022 legislative session is a critical opportunity to help move Missouri forward.

Let’s make the most of it.

This piece originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2022 edition of The Missouri Times newspaper.

Daniel P. Mehan is the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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