Missouri simply isn’t keeping up with the neighbors.

The state ranks near the back of the pack in one economic measure after another when compared with 13 other middle-of-the-country states from Oklahoma to Tennessee and Nebraska to Michigan, according to speakers at a Talent for Tomorrow event in Kansas City recently. Talent for Tomorrow is another statewide effort to assess the state’s economic standing – specifically its workforce development efforts – and offer ideas to the governor, the General Assembly and others.

“We should be outperforming them,” said Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

But then he walked through the numbers, drawn from Census Bureau measures and elsewhere – 12th in gross domestic product growth for the last five years, ninth in “top states for business,” 13th in quality and availability of workforce, 12th in worker productivity, eight in the number of people with at least a two-year college degree.

“So we need to figure out how to address these problems,” DIxon said.

And leaders have to factor in larger trends, he said, including a rising worldwide demand for food and people here and around the world continuing to concentrate in big cities. Missouri lags in manufacturing automation and in exports – and those are connected. Exports account for 12 percent of the U.S economy but just 5 percent of Missouri’s.

“For our state to succeed, we’re going to have to increase exports,” Dixon said.

That means adaptable workers committed to lifelong learning.

“Jobs aren’t going to go away,” he said. “They’re just doing to change dramatically because of technology.”

Home-buyer help

Wells Fargo & Co. has announced that it’s putting $5.7 million into the metro area to help people buy their first homes and to revitalize neighborhoods.

“I understand home ownership, and I know what it does to the psyche of those who call a bit of the Earth theirs,” Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II said Monday during a brief announcement at an east Kansas City neighborhood – a few blocks south of the old Municipal Stadium, if you’re old enough to remember – dotted with new homes.

Wells Fargo’s program, NeighborhoodLIFT, is open to people in Jackson, Cass and Clay counties, and the $5.7 million should help about 300 families. That means up to $15,000 to match a downpayment for a family of up to four with an income up to $64,000 and up to $17,500 for military, veterans, first responders and teachers who make their area’s median income or less. You don’t have to borrow through Wells Fargo; some other lenders meet the program’s criteria.

Participants have to take some home-buyer education, and there are two days of a learn-more event later this month in Kansas City. Go to wellsfargo.com/lift.

-- Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or jeff.fox@examiner.net. He’s on Twitter at @FoxEJC.