Gov. Mike Parson (left) toured a virtual reality lab on Wednesday during his visit to MU as part of a "statewide listening tour." | Annika Merrilees/Missouri Business Alert

Parson, MU leaders discuss workforce, future of education during ‘listening tour’ stop

Less than two weeks into his term, Gov. Mike Parson met with community and university leaders at the University of Missouri on Wednesday to discuss the future of higher education, economic development and technology.

His stop at MU kicked off the second day of a two-day “statewide listening tour,” for which he was scheduled to hold meetings in nine cities around Missouri. Parson took office on June 1, following the resignation of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

At Wednesday’s meeting in Columbia, Parson said that in his tour around the state, he’s heard the call to improve workforce development.

“I heard that theme everywhere I went. People are looking for good employees,” Parson said. “The only way we’re going to do that is with partnering with universities such as MU.”

“You can’t go out here and say we’re going to cut the education and all of a sudden say we want skilled workers,” Parson said.

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi voiced his desire to implement partnerships between the university and businesses.

Parson echoed Choi’s message, stating, “the business world is going to have to be part of the education of our students.”

Following presentations from MU leaders, the governor was led upstairs to don virtual reality goggles and experience some of the university’s foremost technology.

In Mizzou’s Immersive Visualization Lab, the governor looked at molecules using virtual reality. He reached out his hands toward one of the molecules and rotated it around.

MU officials also spoke about the proposed Translational Precision Medicine Complex, a biomedical research facility that the university is seeking a public-private partnership to develop.

Choi mentioned a drug that was developed at MU, but the drug targeting agent was developed at an outside company.

“With the right industry partners here in this state, that success story could have happened here,” Choi said. “It was invented here, but it wasn’t fully realized in mid-Missouri.”

In terms of the financial plan for the complex, Choi said the university is seeking a partner that will “give us some advice on what the right path should be.”

Parson has continuously cited infrastructure as a priority for his administration, and during his stop at MU he reiterated his desire to address it.

“We cannot keep kicking that can down the road,” Parson said. “We’re going to have to face the fact that we have to do something.”

After the session, the governor answered questions from the media, addressing issues beyond the future of MU.

The Missouri Constitution is unclear about the process for appointing a new lieutenant governor, the position Parson vacated in order to take over for Greitens. The new governor said he had not yet finalized a strategy for doing so.

“We’re still trying to decide how we’re gonna handle that situation,” Parson said.

The House investigative committee that spent the spring looking into allegations against Greitens recently withdrew its subpoenas for information about the former governor’s nonprofit, A New Missouri, and his campaign committee. The subpoenas could still be refiled at a later date. Parson said that the decision to continue looking into A New Missouri is “up to the House of Representatives.”

In 2017, the Missouri Housing Development Commission voted to end a low income housing credit. At Wednesday’s event, Parson did not say he would reinstate the credit, but indicated that there may be hope for it, with some changes.

“I’ve always been supportive of low-income housing, that’s not been a secret,” Parson said. “But there does need to be reform.”

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