Some time ago, as the economy was tanking, a focus group paid for by a political consultant must have reacted to the word "jobs" like children on Christmas morning.
And the 2012 campaign season was born.
These days, you can't run for elected office without being a "job creator," a coinage of the brilliant Republican spin doctor Frank Luntz.
So it is in Missouri, where every politician is talking about jobs, but few are seriously tackling the root causes of joblessness.
Take gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence, a St. Louis businessman seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Spence recently put up his first television ad touting his job-creator status.
There is no questioning the success of Spence's company, St. Louis-based Alpha Packaging. It has grown by leaps and bounds since Spence bought it in 1985 with a government loan. But how the company grew is key to understanding Mr. Spence's job-creation credentials.
Alpha's strategy has been to attract investment from venture capitalists to help it buy other plastics manufacturers across the country and around the world. It has been a profitable strategy, one that Spence has said was tied to an "aggressive" and even, at times, "risky" business model.
Spence's success is a walking advertisement for the quality of the business environment in St. Louis and Missouri. So why would he want to change it?
Well, that's the political theme of the day in the Republican Party. Why let a few facts get in the way?
The key fact for Missouri is this: Our business climate is pretty darn rosy. The conservative Tax Foundation says Missouri has the 15th-best business climate in the country, better than every surrounding state except for Tennessee, which comes in one place better. One reason Missouri fares well in such rankings is because its corporate taxes are among the lowest in the nation (eighth-lowest, according to the Tax Foundation).
Another reason is that lawmakers fill the corporate Christmas stockings with tax-credit goodies. That's one of the reasons Kiplinger's business magazine this week ranked St. Louis as one of the top 10 cities for starting a business.
What Missouri really needs to improve business in the state is not more corporate giveaways, but a renewed plan to invest in our state's future. That means, for instance, no more cuts to higher education, which provides the workforce that growing companies need.
Spence has been critical of Gov. Nixon (as have we) for the governor's proposed cuts to higher education, for which Missouri spends less per capita than all but five other states.
Both Gov. Nixon and Spence graduated from MU. It's time for one or both of them to stand up for the future of their alma mater.
We suggest applying the Alpha Packaging business strategy to Missouri. It's time to seek some new sources of revenue (for starters, by increasing the state's lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax) and to invest in a key sector of our state's business model (an educated workforce).
That's a jobs plan rooted in reality.
If there's no gubernatorial candidate in Missouri willing to take that risk, all the job-creator talk is just focus-group-driven mumbo-jumbo.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.