JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's main business incentives are getting a makeover.
Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Thursday that consolidates four of the state's current incentives into a new program dubbed "Missouri Works" that, in some cases, will have easier qualifications for businesses.
The measure had been among the priorities that the Democratic governor outlined earlier this year in his State of the State address to the Republican-led legislature.
"Streamlining and strengthening our economic development tools will help employers in the Show-Me State create more jobs and ensure that our workforce has the skills they need to compete and win in a global economy," Nixon said in a written statement announcing the bill signing.
The newly reconfigured program will be modeled after the current "Quality Jobs" program, which offers tax breaks to businesses that add a certain number of jobs meeting minimum requirements for wage levels and health benefits.
But the new program lowers the number of jobs and the level of wages necessary to qualify for aid. For example, companies in rural or economically distressed areas could qualify for state aid by adding as few as two jobs with wages slightly below the local average, as long as they commit to making a capital investment of at least $100,000 within two years.
Under the current Quality Jobs program, businesses in rural areas need to add at least 20 new jobs to qualify — and businesses in high-tech fields can qualify with as few as 10 new jobs— as long as they pay at least average wages.
The newly revamped program gives greater discretion to the Department of Economic Development to determine how much money businesses should get. It also consolidates Missouri's current job-training programs.
The tax credits offered under Missouri Works will be capped at $106 million during the 2013 fiscal year and gradually rise to $116 million in 2016 and thereafter. That's slightly lower than the combined cap of $128 million annually under the four current incentives being eliminated.
Nixon said the new program will have a streamlined application process and enable more small businesses and rural companies to benefit than the state's current mixture of incentives.
The Missouri chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business did not take an active role on the bill but does support it, state director Brad Jones said.
Other business groups also backed the measure.
"Ultimately, the bill will make Missouri more competitive by maximizing our investment," said Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, adding that "the money directly helps Missouri workers improve their skills and advance in their careers."
The current incentive programs phased out by the legislation are the Quality Jobs, Development Tax Credit, Rebuilding Communities and Enhanced Enterprise Zone programs.