Courtney Hesselbacher was part of a team of researchers and data experts who worked directly with the Missouri Chamber as Gallup conducted the Missouri 2030 survey of more than 1,000 Missouri business leaders.
Hesselbacher spoke with us to share results from the survey and reveal what stood out.
Missouri Business: The final study Gallup provided to the Missouri Chamber for Missouri 2030 has an incredible amount of data. Describe the process Gallup used.
Hesselbacher: We gathered a list of thousands of businesses in the state by pulling together lists from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Gallup-maintained lists, and lists from external providers, like Dun & Bradstreet. From this list, we were able to contact and conduct interviews with 1,008 businesses. We weren’t just looking to speak with an employee of the business, but we were aiming to talk to their leaders: their owners, a CEO, or someone else who is in a decision-making position. A Gallup-trained interviewer conducted all interviews via telephone, assuring respondents of the confidentiality of their answers.
MB: How was this process unique compared to work Gallup has done in other states?
Hesselbacher: The Missouri Chamber’s work is the first of its kind in depth and the thoroughness for capturing the opinions of business owners within a state. By getting to more than 1,000 businesses, we were able to do deep dives into geography, industry, and business size that gave us a more complex picture of what’s going on in Missouri. That’s really something unique and a differentiator from any other state or state-level organization that we’ve worked with.
MB: As the data came in, what results stood out the most to you?
Hesselbacher: What stood out to Gallup is the perception of Missouri being divided between two municipalities on either side of the state: Kansas City and St. Louis. However, we found much more similarity among business owners in the state than we expected. The same issues are galvanizing business owners east to west and north to south. That was a key finding for us and helped lead us to the unified plan that we wanted. Some of the other key findings were Missouri business owners’ faith in the education system and its ability to prepare workers to contribute in the workplace. We see real opportunities there. Then, once we have those trained workers, there is a need for some more work to retain them and keep them in the state. Business owners let us know that the competition for talent is tight and that there needs to be a focus on not only attracting new employees, but also retaining them.
MB: Expand on the education findings a little bit. What did the survey show about the state’s ability to produce enough skilled workers?
Hesselbacher: Producing skilled workers is a real need for Missouri business owners. We consistently heard that there were jobs available, but there was a misalignment of candidates’ skill sets. Various Missouri business owners, particularly among the industries that employ high school level graduates, strongly disagreed that students graduating from high schools in Missouri are well-
prepared for success in the workforce. About 15 percent of business owners overall strongly agreed that these students are well-prepared for the workforce. Agreement was higher when examining postsecondary education systems, with 42 percent of business owners saying they strongly agreed with the ability of colleges and universities in Missouri to prepare students for the workforce.
MB: How do our current business leaders feel about the business climate in Missouri?
Hesselbacher: We saw that business owners feel the regulatory climate, in particular, was one of the biggest obstacles to business growth, with less than a quarter of respondents (16 percent) saying that they were satisfied with the government regulations for operating a business in Missouri. When asked what their biggest obstacle to growth is, business owners cited regulation at twice the rate of any other factor asked, including taxes, education, infrastructure, health care costs, or access to key inputs like financing. Conversely, we saw high ratings on some of the other factors we asked, including access to affordable real estate or land as well as access to credit and financing, with more than half of businesses reporting satisfaction in these areas.
MB: Transportation has been a big issue in recent years. What did the data show about how business leaders feel about the state’s infrastructure?
Hesselbacher: Business owners considered the infrastructure across the state an area where more investment was needed. We asked about two kinds of infrastructure: technology-based infrastructure—such as the availability of high-speed Internet—and more traditional infrastructure—such as roads and bridges. Almost three times the amount of business owners report not being satisfied with traditional infrastructure compared with technology infrastructure in Missouri. What this is telling us is that it is crucial to maintain roads and some of the basic infrastructure at the same time, particularly in a state like Missouri that has connections to so many national water, rail, and trucking transportation hubs.
MB: The survey showed some stark results regarding our state’s business leaders’ feelings about Missouri’s political leadership. Can you explain what you found?
Hesselbacher: Twice as many respondents disagreed that political leadership in Missouri is committed to improving the business climate as those who agreed: 40 percent of respondents disagree and 20 percent agree, with the remaining respondents taking a neutral position. With only one in five business owners agreeing that political leaders advocate for these positions, we can expect these businesses to continue to look to sources outside of elected offices to gain support for their policies.