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story.lead_photo.caption Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks Thursday in Versailles as Morgan County celebrates its certification as a Work Ready Community. Morgan County is the 87th of Missouri's 114 counties to be certified. Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

VERSAILLES, Mo. — A multi-year process culminated Thursday as Morgan County's school district superintendents, local elected officials and Chamber of Commerce members, and special guest Gov. Mike Parson celebrated the county's new Certified Work Ready Community status at Morgan County R-2's Performing Arts Center.

Morgan County is the 87th of Missouri's 114 counties to receive the certification. Counties nationwide can be certified by helping those in the local workforce to obtain the ACT program's National Career Readiness Certificate, which serves as a credential to predict work readiness and job performance. The certificate focuses on three essential skills, per ACT's Work Ready Communities website: applied math, workplace documents and graphic literacy.

A total of 199 members of the emerging workforce — primarily juniors and seniors from Stover High School and Versailles High School — have successfully completed the NCRC exam process, in addition to 145 current and transitioning members of the county's workforce who have completed their exams. Morgan County's WRC certification was official as of April.

Missouri leads the nation in fully-certified Work Ready Communities, according to a release from the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development, and there are 4,500 employers that recognize the certificate throughout the state. Of that group, 40 employers are located in newly certified Morgan County.

"We applaud Morgan County for earning Work Ready certification," Parson said in the release. "In making such a strong commitment to its local businesses and workforce, Morgan County has taken a major step toward securing an economic future in which all of its community members are equipped to succeed."

At the event, newly elected Versailles mayor Jamie Morrow described the process of achieving this goal, dating back a few years ago to when she and other members of the Versailles Area Chamber of Commerce decided to make a concentrated effort to spur economic growth in the county. Morrow described one conversation with then-Lt. Gov. Parson as having especially impacted her.

"The one thing (Parson) told me that really stuck with me was 'I visit all these other states, and they always have these "Made in Vermont" tags,' and he goes 'Why can't we?'" Morrow said Thursday. "These three words stuck with me more than anything else; why can't we? And I thought, you know, why can't Morgan County be more than what we had been?"

Throughout Thursday's event, Morgan County students and the others in attendance heard from Morgan County R-2 superintendent Steven Barnes, Morgan County R-1 superintendent Matt Unger, Chamber vice-president Brice Lake and Morrow at the local level. That group was joined by Brian Crouse, Vice President of Education for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry; Mardy Leathers, Director of the Missouri Department of Higher Education's Office of Workforce Development; and Gov. Parson.

Parson, for his part, congratulated the community on its efforts and voiced the importance of the program for Missouri's rural communities as he spoke Thursday.

"It's just important for me to be here as St. Louis or Kansas City," Parson said. "Because you young men and women are the workforce of tomorrow, and I don't care where you come from."

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