Blow out the candles

By Dan MehanHappy 95th anniversary! The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded on April 6, 1923. To celebrate our anniversary, our staff in Jefferson City threw a small party on April 6. We ate the cake pictured on the cover of this magazine.

In truth, we could have used a much bigger cake.

That’s because this anniversary is dedicated to you — our thousands of members across our state. For 95 years, the Missouri business community has supported the Missouri Chamber. We are here today, and more relevant than ever, because of your support. Thank you!

And while we couldn’t invite all of you to our office on April 6, I do want you to know we are planning a much bigger party. You are invited. It will be in Kansas City on Nov. 15. Save the date. More details to come.

As we mark this anniversary, it’s interesting to look back at where we’ve been as an organization. Read a timeline we’ve put together here.

But even during anniversary years, we need to keep our sights set ahead. The successes we’ve achieved over the past 95 years have come because we are a forward-looking organization. That’s why we’ve dedicated most of this magazine to an important issue for our future: our state’s online economy.

This issue of Missouri Business highlights businesses that thrive online and the infrastructure that supports their success. It’s no secret that in Missouri, as in many states, there is an urban-rural divide in the availability of high-speed broadband internet. Read about the work being done to help bridge this gap — much of it by private industry — in our Sowing Speed feature story.

We also highlight Missouri-based companies like GigSalad and EquipmentShare that are seeing strong growth online.

For these companies and others like them to thrive, Missouri needs to do more to make computer science and STEM education a core part of the state’s educational experience. Project Lead The Way is one of the most promising programs in the state that teaches computer coding skills to K-12 students.

We traveled to the rural community of Adrian to see how this program is building interest in computer coding among students there. You will also see stories in this magazine about legislative efforts to bring more computer science options to Missouri classrooms and a look at how Missouri ranks in STEM education compared with other states.

The online infrastructure we highlight in this issue is critical to our state’s future. I also want to briefly touch on another type of infrastructure.

This year the Missouri Department of Transportation has roughly $825 million in unfunded high-priority transportation needs. We have the nation’s seventh-largest highway system, but we rank 46th in the nation in revenue per mile.

From my perspective, it’s never been clearer that our state needs to step up and invest in our future transportation system. The new tone in Washington, D.C. shows that the federal government is now looking to states to raise the lion’s share of transportation funding we will need going forward.

The most straightforward path is to raise our state’s fuel taxes, which haven’t seen an increase in more than 20 years. We all know that Missouri has some of the lowest-priced fuel in the nation. Simply raising our taxes to the average for the Midwest would give us the funding we need to put our transportation system back on solid pavement for the future.

Three years ago, our Missouri 2030 Gallup survey showed that only 37 percent of Missouri’s business leaders were satisfied with the state’s transportation infrastructure. The recent conversations I’ve had lead me to believe that business leaders are ready to stand behind an effort to fund improvements to our system.

We’re not at the end of this discussion. But with this new transportation funding clarity from the federal government, it’s up to Missouri to drive to its own destiny. Let’s make it a good one.

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