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Kerr stepping down as head of Missouri Department of Economic Development

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 16, 2011 - Gov. Jay Nixon says he plans to move swiftly to find a replacement for Missouri Economic Development Director David Kerr, who will be leaving his post as of Dec. 31.

Kerr has headed the department since November 2009. According to Kerr's statement, he wants to spend more time with his family "after well over 35 years in the public and private sectors."

The governor's office said in a statement that Kerr will continue to work with Nixon "as an unpaid consultant who will assist with ongoing implementation of the Missouri Strategic Initiative for Economic Growth." The initiative was developed in mid-2010.

Said Nixon in a statement:

"David Kerr and I have worked closely together to create jobs and move our economy forward, and he has been a trusted and valuable member of my team. Because of David's leadership, Missouri now has a comprehensive strategic plan to guide our economic growth for the next five years, and he has been deeply involved in the rebirth of the automotive industry in our state. I thank David for his commitment to public service and his leadership for Missouri. Georganne and I wish David and Mary all the best in the years to come."

The announcement came on the same day that the Missouri Department of Economic Development reported that "employers added approximately 1,100 new jobs in the state in October," which brings Missouri's unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent. That's below the national figure of 9 percent.

Nixon gave Kerr credit for his involvement in a number of economic projects that created thousands of new jobs, "including IBM in Columbia, Unisys in St. Louis and Expedia in Springfield."

The two "also traveled to Detroit to meet personally with the chief executives of Ford and GM; passed and implemented the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act; and recently announced historic investments in Missouri by both of these manufacturers," Nixon noted.

Kerr most recently accompanied Nixon to China as part of a trade delegation which resulted in $4.6 billion in export agreements.

But Kerr's announcement prompted criticism from the Missouri Republican Party, which on Wednesday cited several less-than-satisfactory economic ventures -- most recently, the controversy in Moberly, Mo. over the demise of a proposed artificial-sweetener production plant proposed by Mamtek Corp., a Chinese-American firm. Kerr has noted that his department, which had offered tax breaks for the project, didn't pay out any tax credits since the jobs were not created as promised. But critics have continued to hammer his department over the matter.

"For three years, Jay Nixon's Department of Economic Development has been in disarray -- and Nixon-Kerr ineptitude has led to a series of failures and embarrassments," said Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. "The Nixon administration has failed to vet the recipients of state money, failed to stop the flow of companies crossing the border, and most importantly, failed to create jobs for Missouri families."