JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) - Senators questioned Monday whether Gov. Jay Nixon’s choice for the new Director of the Department of Economic Development is experienced enough to turn around the state’s decade-long economic struggle.
At a Gubernatorial Appointments Committee hearing nine senators delayed action to vote on Jason Hall’s approval to efficiently serve as Missouri’s Economic Development Director. Committee Chair and Senate President Pro Tem, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the committee will meet again Wednesday to further discuss Hall’s potential appointment.
Nixon announced Hall would begin serving as DED Director at the end of last year. Prior to the announcement Hall headed the Missouri Technology Corporation since 2009. He holds bachelor’s degree in economics from Bates College in Maine and a law degree from Vanderbilt University.
Hall replaces former DED director, David Kerr, who resigned shortly after the failed Mamtek project. The project fell through after the company defaulted on a $39 million bond payment to the city of Moberly. The company promised to create around 600 jobs by building an artificial sweetener plant in the community.
At the meeting, senators challenged Hall about his lack of experience and support of an economic development plan proposed earlier this year by Nixon. Mayer said the lack of experience concerns him and admitted the discussion on his appointment would be long and thorough.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said at the meeting the duty of the DED Director is to turn the state’s economic performance around. He explained Missouri’s GDP over the last decade ranked 48th out of all 50 states. He also said Missouri, in the past century, has been one of only two states in the nation to not have double-digit growth in at least one decade. Lager said such trends are “not good” and “unacceptable.”
“As a father I worry about the state we’re leaving our kids,” Lager said.
“I’m looking for someone who is going to be dynamic, who is going to challenge the status quo everyday, and unfortunately that means at times it will be uncomfortable,” Lager said.
Lager also added that he had more experience with former DED Director David Kerr, making his appointment in November 2009 easier, and his confidence and trust in Hall “isn’t there yet.”
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, showed frustration in the meeting after Hall told him he had no opinion on several legislative proposals. Crowell asked Hall his stance on the state’s prevailing wage law, right to work law and minimum wage law. Hall told Crowell he had not “had much experience” with those legislative proposals and had no opinion.
Throughout the meeting, Hall relied heavily on two “foundational principles” he plans to use as guidance for his five-year term as DED director: protecting tax payers and creating jobs.
“On the one hand we have to be aggressive in creating jobs, building stronger communities, and using the tools that we currently have,” Hall said. “But on the other hand, we have to protect the Missouri tax-payers as vigorously.”
At the conclusion of Lager’s questioning, Hall attempted to rid doubt from Senator’s minds, explaining support from mentors and family has helped him obtain beneficial independence.
“I can’t guarantee I’ll always make the right decision, but I do guarantee that I will always be fair and independent,” Hall said.
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