Missouri officials are taking a look at how to make the state’s economy more vibrant, and Gov. Mike Parson – now in office less than four months – has said his top two priorities are workforce development and improved infrastructure.

That’s a welcome shift in focus. Improvements in both areas would yield long-term benefits.

Members of Parson’s cabinet spoke about those and related issues last week in Kansas City at the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development, and they mentioned specific concerns that could be addressed for immediate improvements.

Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman talked about one key issue – small businesses’ access to the capital they need to grow.

“Most of job creation is driven by small business,” she said.

Rob Dixon, director of the Department of Economic Development, also pointed to some specific challenges: regular direct flights to Asia and Europe, utility issues, and the fact that 1.25 million Missourians – about one in five of us – still lack access to broadband service. That fix alone would make a difference.

“Think about what that would do in rural Missouri, Dixon said. “Think about what that would do in urban Missouri. Think about what that would do for students’ opportunity to learn.”

Plus this: Carol Comer, director of the Department of Natural Resources, talked about the quality-of-life value of parks, trails and greenways.

“And our workforce of today – they demand a quality of life,” she said.

This isn’t a new idea. Younger Americans are more inclined to pick location first, then worry about landing a job or starting a business. States like ours that have scrimped on roads, parks, schools – you name it – for generations have a lot of ground to make up.

Trade partner

Talks to rearrange the North American Free Trade Agreement have gotten a deadline extension for a reason. Canada is the top export market for dozens of American states, including Missouri, and senators from those states have told the administration they won’t go along with major disruptions that don’t take Canada into account.

Missouri companies exported $14.17 billion in goods last year – chemicals, food, machinery and transportation equipment chief among them – and more than one-third of that was to Canada, according to the Missouri Economic and Research Center, a state office. Put another way, those companies sold more to that one country than to the next five biggest markets – Mexico, China, Belgium, Japan and Germany – combined.

Cha-ching

The Kansas City area is the priciest place to live in Missouri – but is still below the national average, according to figures released by the MERIC.

Missouri had the sixth-lowest cost of living among the 50 states in the first quarter of 2018. The cost of living is lowest in Midwestern and Southern states and, as you might guess, highest on the coasts – everything from Baltimore to Bangor plus the five states that touch the Pacific.

Setting the national composite at 100, Missouri’s cost of living is 88.9, thanks in large part to housing. Groceries, utilities, health and transportation all came in close to the national numbers. Still, compare Missouri’s 88.9 with 186.3 in Hawaii and 141 in California. Only Mississippi, Oklahoma, Michigan, Arkansas and Alabama are cheaper places to live. Eighth-cheapest Kansas is at 89.5.

It’s pricier in some of the state’s larger cities – the Kansas City area (95.3), Columbia (93.1) and Jefferson (89). But St. Louis, Springfield and Joplin all came in below the statewide figure.

And here’s a kicker: Median household income in Jackson County in 2016 was $50,822, compared with $51,713 statewide and $57,617 nationwide, according to MERIC.

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