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Partnerships with retailers, more funding and more branding for items are some of the goals of the program kicking into high gear again this week that highlights Missouri-made products.

This week, through Oct. 19, is the second "Buy Missouri Week" — an annual event designated by state law "to support the men and women who create, produce, grow, manufacture, distribute, promote and sell goods in Missouri."

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who was then a state senator, sponsored the Buy Missouri bill that was signed into law in June 2018, and his office is in charge of the Buy Missouri program — which is more than just a commemorative week and a website the program uses as a directory of member businesses that make at least 51 percent of a product in-state and pay state taxes.

Kehoe said in a news release last week he's working to recruit and highlight more businesses and is working with manufacturers, distributors and retailers to make Missouri products more visible in stores.

Casey Adrian, director of Buy Missouri and tourism within the lieutenant governor's office, said "that's a very new process that we are starting, but as of right now, they're all fairly local," when asked whether making Missouri-made products more visible in stores involves large retail chains such as Walmart or Target.

"We are working closely with the Missouri Grocers Association. They are one of our Buy Missouri partners, and they are a great help to the program. We have started working together on creating tags and inserts that will go into grocery stores," so if products are a part of the Buy Missouri program, shoppers in stores will see products tagged with a Buy Missouri logo, and "maybe they'll be more apt to purchase that product, knowing that's it made in the state," Adrian said.

"That's one of our biggest projects we're working on. We're hoping the next step that we take for the program, hopefully in the next few months, is actually working on a retail partnership for the program, where retail locations can reach out and apply to be a partner, and we will feature them on our website," she said.

That's important, "because, number one, people want to know what is made here, but their second question is always 'OK, well, where can I go buy that?' So that's what we're hoping to try to feature next to help citizens out a little bit more," Adrian said.

She said that work does not yet involve large online retailers such as Amazon, either.

Success of the Buy Missouri program over time is so far mostly being measured in terms of its website, which featured 255 members as of last week and has had more than 20,000 hits, Adrian said.

"The lieutenant governor is really adamant about steering not only our members, but citizens around the state to the website, because that is the sole purpose of the Buy Missouri program, to promote those businesses and let people around the state know what is made here," she said.

"One of my favorite things is having a company reach out and say, 'Because of the Buy Missouri program, my product is now being (sold) here,'" she said.

She cited a recent example of being contacted by a company "that sells beef sticks and different meat snacks, and they're from a farther corner of the state" — a company that was contacted by a historical society in Columbia via the Buy Missouri program, and now has its products offered through the historical society.

"It's more contacts like that with our businesses, where through interaction with each other, they have created more business for each other, and promotion throughout the state," Adrian said.

"That is something I think we would love to work on finding out," she said when asked if there's any way for the Buy Missouri program to keep track of money steered toward Missouri businesses through its efforts.

What Adrian did know and shared is the 255 members in the program — a number that has almost doubled since Kehoe came into office — and the program is hoping to grow that number "significantly," hopefully with representation from every county in the state, compared to the current count of 78 counties represented.

Becoming a member is free, and the 51 percent of a product that's manufactured or produced in the state does not have to include the raw materials that go into it — meaning assembly alone is enough to count for membership.

Adrian said there's no particular type of product or specific businesses or industries being promoted through the program. "We want anybody and everybody, because our main goal of the Buy Missouri program is to promote the businesses that are here in our state, let the citizens here know what's made here, and hopefully they will spend their dollars here."

She said the program did not have funding when it was initially established, but money has since been appropriated through the lieutenant governor's office budget "to help out with different marketing and promotional items," such as trial runs of tags and stickers to let people in stores know that products are made in-state.

"We currently don't have a whole lot of funding, but we are working on getting there. We did just get some funding into the lieutenant governor's office's budget," so they're hoping that's a step forward, Adrian said.

There's no specific line item for the Buy Missouri program in the budget of the lieutenant governor's office — the program is specifically listed among the responsibilities of the lieutenant governor's office — but Gov. Mike Parson did approve an increase to the office's budget of more than $74,000 for personnel and equipment in the 2020 fiscal year, not including much larger increases for arts and cultural development work.

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