Last Friday, the lieutenant governor’s office visited Springfield, making eight stops over the course of the day. Springfield is home to thousands of veterans and seniors, a thriving tourism and economic industry, and quality higher education facilities. We were glad to be in Springfield and have productive conversations on how we can help.
We started our day with a town hall on veteran issues at the Mid-Town Library. We gathered information directly from local veterans on what is going well, what is not going well, and how we can help. The Springfield veteran community is working on new initiatives to communicate information on veteran’s issues and benefits, and are glad to provide support.
CoxHealth: It is not every day I get to say thank you. With President/CEO Steve Edwards and other senior staff, I met and thanked members of the CoxHealth team who provided quality care to me while I had heart surgery over the Christmas holiday. CoxHealth is the second largest employer in Greene County and a great organization in Missouri with over 10,000 employees and nearly $600 million in payroll and benefits.
Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC): A skilled workforce is key to Missouri’s future, and I am pleased that OTC is leading the way in Southwest Missouri. With over 13,000 students, including 667 first generation college students and 851 veterans, OTC has been a pillar of the Springfield community since its founding in 1990. Chancellor Hal Higdon along with members of the Board of Trustees and senior staff showed us the technical education facilities, which was constructed with help from the 2015 state-bonding bill, which provided $3.3 million to OTC. We saw the industrial technology systems capstone class, diesel electrical facilities, automotive engine diagnosis shop, and the dyno automobile equipment. We are proud to support institutions like OTC and the work they do to train tomorrow’s skilled workforce.
Cherokee Middle School: Several years ago, a nine-year-old girl named Madison came to my office in the Missouri Senate where she shared with me her struggles with dyslexia. Madison’s presentation impressed me, and it led me to help pass a piece of legislation to require early test screenings for dyslexia in Missouri’s public schools. We visited Madison’s school on Friday, where we had a discussion with Madison, her parents, and school and district officials on the work we can do to help students with learning disabilities. It was a very special meeting, and I know Madison will one day become a leader in our state.
Harmony House: Having spent 22 years in law enforcement, I know firsthand how domestic violence can affect a family and a community. I helped to start a shelter in Polk County when I was sheriff, and have worked on the cause of domestic violence ever since. Our office toured Harmony House on Friday to highlight some of the programs making a difference in local communities. Harmony House began in 1976, and since that time, it has served nearly 9,000 women and 7,500 children in Southwest Missouri. It takes a tremendous amount of money to keep these services going, which the state can help with. Unfortunately, there is no system in place to distribute these funds effectively. Because of this, $30 million dollars was unspent last year with another $37 million on the way. I plan on working closely with the governor and the Department of Public Safety to enact a new system to distribute these funds effectively. There are lives dependent on these funds.
We also held two great roundtable discussions while in the Springfield area. Phil Melucian of Phoenix Home Care hosted a roundtable on senior issues, where area healthcare leaders as well as the new Director of the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services Dr. Randall Williams joined us. In Missouri, 22% of our population is over the age of 60, and with more baby boomers retiring, more measures will have to be taken on the state and local level to help maintain quality of life for Missouri’s seniors.
The Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted us at the Hotel Vandivort for a discussion on bringing more tourists into Missouri, as well as keeping Missourians in the state to take a vacation. Springfield has more than 3 million overnight visitors each year and countless day-trippers who spend more than $699 million on tourism-related expenditures. Nearly 22,000 people hold jobs in hospitality and leisure positions in Springfield. Springfield has more than 6,000 hotel rooms at nearly 70 hotels within the city limits that generated a record $100 million in room sales alone in 2015.
We ended the day speaking to the Greater Ozarks Pachyderms on the 2016 election, and the new challenges for elected officials in Jefferson City to keep Missouri thriving for the next generation. I know we are up for the challenge, and I encourage everyone to stay in contact and let us know your thoughts and ideas as we drive Missouri forward.
Missouri has a lot to offer, and we look forward to working with communities like Springfield on the challenge of making our state a premier destination to live, work, learn, and retire.