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Manufacturing Seen As Economic Opportunity For Rural Missouri

From left: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, state Rep. Don Mayhew and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt examine a laser-printed sample from S&T student Michelle Gegel’s machine.
Andrew Layton
Missouri S&T
From left: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, state Rep. Don Mayhew and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt examine a laser-printed sample from S&T student Michelle Gegel’s machine.

ROLLA — Manufacturing could be the key to economic growth in rural areas of Missouri.

That was part of the message from government and university leaders on Thursday as Missouri University of Science and Technology hosted its inaugural College of Engineering and Computing Research Symposium.

The main thrust of speeches and panel discussions, held mostly virtually with speakers live on campus, was the increasing manufacturing in rural areas.

“I’m feeling we haven’t spilled ourselves over into the community immediately near us,” said Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani.

He said state economic numbers show the area around Rolla lags behind the rest of the state in job creation and growth.

A Missouri S&T professor says remanufacturing could help change that. Remanufacturing is the process of taking used or outdated machines, fixing and updating them, and selling them.

“Rural areas can provide the needed space and workforce for remanufacturing,” said Frank Liou, a professor of mechanical engineering at S&T. “I have some students who are farm kids, and they are very hands-on. They can repair anything.”

Liou said college students starting remanufacturing businesses while still in school can be a big part of that growth. Liou and his team received a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the idea.

The university’s message was echoed by elected officials who also addressed the symposium.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said the state, and specifically rural areas, may not be the best match for the service economy.

“A society that grows things and makes things is really a society that we fit into very well,” Blunt said.

Gov. Mike Parson also said manufacturing is at the heart of the state’s economic growth opportunities.

He said companies will look to locate in Missouri, but only if the workforce is ready.

“If they don’t have the foundation of the education communities of our state, we’re kidding ourselves if we’re going to be a leader,” Parson said. “We will not be a leader if we don’t support K-12, our training centers, our community colleges and our universities.”

Missouri’s budget may not line up with that commitment.

Missouri ranks 46th among states in funding higher education. Parson said he is trying to restore cuts to higher ed made in the decade before he took office.

“We are funding higher education. We are starting to put more funding than they’ve had. They’ve been cut in years before, and we’re trying to build that up through workforce development,” Parson said.

Coronavirus-related economic troubles led to Parson cutting more than $75 million in higher education funding earlier this year.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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