State government will continue to focus on business incentives and workforce development, a top official told local business leaders Thursday.

State government will continue to focus on business incentives and workforce development, a top official told local business leaders Thursday.

“Missouri has a pretty good set of economic development tools,” said David Kerr, the state’s new director of the Department of Economic Development.

Kerr was the keynote speaker at the quarterly luncheon of the Independence Council for Economic Development. The event also included presentation of the ICED’s third annual Impact Awards, presented to local businesses that add people or capital investments.

Kerr said his department has five main areas of focus:

 Retaining businesses and helping them grow, even giving that priority over attracting out-of-state businesses. For example, the state allows greater incentives to businesses that have been in the state for a long time. Developing a workforce to keep up with the changing demands of industry. Before the recession, he said, some areas of the Midwest were experiencing worker shortages, adding that the state needs to be positioned to have workers ready when the economy picks up again.


“And I really do believe this is going to be an issue for all states and businesses as we move forward,” he said.

He pointed to the “Training for Tomorrow” program under which community colleges and vo-tech schools get people ready for high-tech, high-demand jobs.

High technology, including the animal-sciences corridor envisioned along Interstate 70 from Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan, Kan.


“We’re in a prime position here in the animal-health corridor,” he said.

Kerr said Kansas – where he was state commerce director until last fall – went basically from scratch to being ranked ninth nationally in animal sciences in just five years. He said Missouri can make similar progress.

Taking advantage of travel and tourism.


“We have a tremendous amount of natural resources that other states don’t have,” Kerr said.

Community development.


“The new generation is trying to decide where to live based on lifestyles” as opposed to moving to where the jobs are, he said.

Kerr’s department is asking the General Assembly for a change in law that would allow the state to award business incentives upfront instead of having businesses recoup that money over several years. That, he said, would put Missouri on an even footing with other states.

“We’re not asking for more dollars,” he said.