Governor Mike Parson kicked off his statewide listening tour by visiting the Ozarks Tuesday, hitting several familiar places in the region he calls “home.”
Parson told community leaders at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce that his two main statewide priorities were improving infrastructure and workforce development.
But he stressed that rural Missouri will take an equal seat at the table going forward under his administration.
One issue Parson said he’s committed to is making sure Missourians in more remote parts of the state have broadband internet access.
“For people in the state of Missouri not to be able to have access to that is huge. And that even goes for your kids, for your families, family businesses, family farms.”
According to a Federal Communications Commission report, 61% of rural Missourians did not have access to high-speed internet in 2016—that’s compared to 5% of Missourians living in urban areas.
Parson also stressed recruiting medical professionals to work in rural hospitals and clinics, as well as improving access to mental health services.
Rural Missouri currently faces a severe shortage of mental health workers; you can see KSMU's in-depth reporting on that shortage here. Recruitment and retention are two of the main challenges facing hospitals and clinics in less populated areas.
"You know, I firmly believe—because I am one of those rural Missourians, you know—if, given the opportunity to come to rural Missouri, I think they'll like it," Parson said in response to a question about the shortage of health care professionals.
A report released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is significantly higher in rural areas, and that access to mental health care is one of the main risk factors in those suicide rates.
Parson also mentioned agribusiness and said there’s no reason why Missouri can't do better in expanding that industry.
Parson was sworn in as governor Friday after his predecessor, Eric Greitens, resigned amid allegations of political and personal misconduct.