SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Less than two weeks after taking over as governor after the resignation of Eric Greitens, Mike Parson is going on a nine city tour around the state to get in touch with community leaders.
Billed as a "listening tour" to get input from others, the governor went to Springfield, Branson, Carthage, St. Joseph, and Kansas City on Tuesday. On Wednesday he'll head to Columbia, Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, and St. Louis.
The 62 year-old governor who's a native of Wheatland and resident of Bolivar got as close to home as he'll get on the tour when he came to Springfield at 8 o'clock Tuesday morning, receiving a warm welcome from the 60-plus business leaders at the area Chamber of Commerce.
"I think you've got a person of very high integrity," said Matt Morrow, the president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. "A person who really has that good Southwest Missouri common sense and who will implement it well in his leadership style."
"Mike Parson is exactly the right person at the right time," added Springfield mayor Ken McClure.
Taking over for embattled governor Eric Greitens with less than three days notice, Parson admitted to the crowd that the learning curve has been difficult.
"We've all heard the old expression drinking water from a fire hose," Parson said. "I know what that feels like now."
But the path that saw him initially run for governor , then change his mind and run for lieutenant governor, only to end up as governor has been a serendipitous experience.
"I'm a firm believer that there's a higher calling sometimes than most of us hear and do that," Parson said. "There's a purpose for everything and how that all unfolded there's a purpose for it so I'm gonna do the best I can."
Parson told business leaders that his top priorities start with improving the state's infrastructure and that the government has been dragging its feet on fixing the transportation system's roads and bridges.
"We cannot keep kickin' that can down the road," he said.
Parson's second major priority is workforce development. Specifically teaching the right skills for the jobs that are available. For instance, right now there are 600 openings for nurses in the area that can't be filled. And Parson said attracting job seekers to rural parts of the state is also important.
"I firmly believe, because I am one of those rural Missourians, if given the opportunity to come to rural Missouri I think they'll like it," Parson said. "So I hope they'll stay. But we've got to find incentives to get people there."
The governor also announced that the state's board of education, which had been on-hold during Greitens' tenure with members being forced out, is back on track with the selection of two new members including Silver Dollar City co-founder Pete Herschend, who was a former board president.
"I'm very proud of the picks we've made," Parson said. "And I think they'll do the right thing for the kids in the state and for education."