ST. LOUIS – The Missouri General Assembly has always been strongly represented in the chamber by senators and representatives with strong ties and connections to the business communities in the St. Louis area, but with the departure of political stalwarts like Sen. Eric Schmitt, Sen. Tom Dempsey, or even former House Speaker Jon Diehl, many have been left asking the question: who will be their voice now?
The greater St. Louis area is still represented in the Senate by several strong Democrats, but the Senate majority belongs to Republicans like Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles County and Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County. They will now be joined by Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, and Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles County.
But more than a few people have singled out Eigel as the next person to take up that mantle. Eigel is quick to respond, saying that if it does indeed fall to him, he would embrace it.
“I would embrace that role because the things that are good for St. Louis are good for the state as a whole,” Eigel said. “If there’s anything I can do to speak on behalf for the St. Louis area, I intend to do it.”
A small business owner, Eigel has the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce feeling like they’ll have another advocate in Jefferson City come January. His background and record as a businessman have convinced a number of folks that Eigel is poised to become a major ally for the region’s business community.
“He wants to make economic development and job creation in Missouri a priority when he goes to the Senate,” Austin Walker, the chamber’s manager of government relations, said. “For us, we’re an economic development association so those are the folks that we want to work within the legislature, who really want to focus on economic development and job creation.”
Eigel’s career as a businessman began when he bought a small business after leaving the Air Force. Since then, he has built the company, St. Louis Skylights, to become one of the fastest growing skylight installation companies in the nation. The Eigels also now own National Sky Light Solutions, the parent company of their St. Louis location as well as branches in Chicago. As the company grew and new branch offices opened, Eigel recruited retired Air Force veterans to fill the newly-created positions.
On the campaign trail, Eigel touted his ability to grow the skylight installation company despite buying it at the outset of the recession. That business acumen will likely be an asset to the chamber, as will having a senator in the majority party.
“Being a vet, being a business guy, he talked about a lot of things, but he brought things back to focus on economic development,” Walker said. “You know, there are so many things that end up popping up during session that are distractions. Economic development and jobs are what everyone seems to agree on and hopefully after the election we can kind of regroup and focus on that.”
Walker said he hadn’t discussed specific bills or legislation with Eigel yet, but he said they could identify some areas that would be good for the region and the state.
“We keep our eyes open to see what’s out there to make sure that we’re weighing in on things that are good for the region and trying to make sure we keep an eye on things that might be harmful for jobs and talent attraction into the state and the region,” he said. “Our big things are talent attraction, inclusion, entrepreneurship and innovation and, of course, economic development.”
Eigel has been a strong supporter of the controversial right to work movement, like most Republicans, and believes that labor reform will be one of the first issues tackled by the next state legislature.
But what may be more interesting to businesses in Missouri is his stance on the economy. He says the responsibilities for growing the economy lies with entrepreneurs, not politicians, and that businesses need less oversight from the government and more freedom.
Eigel met with members of the St. Louis Regional Chamber last week, where he discussed tort reforms and how Missouri can improve the legal environment for businesses in the state.
“That was one of the big items on their minds,” Eigel said. “And I think we’re going to see those reforms happen sooner, rather than later.”
Eigel has also called for tax reform in Missouri, saying lawmakers need to make changes to the state’s tax code, and supports the idea of gradually getting rid of Missouri’s income tax. In fact, when it comes to the matter of taxes, Eigel is against them, having signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose any and all tax increases in the state.
“We have a tax structure that doesn’t really set up an environment that encourages a lot of businesses to come here to Missouri, and I think there’s a lot of room improvement,” he said. “Right now, our income tax is so out of date, that you can make below the federal poverty line and pay the highest rate of tax in the state of Missouri.”
Eigel says addressing those issues will attract businesses from around the country, as well as make Missouri more economically competitive. And with Republicans holding the majorities in both the Senate and House, it seems like Missouri is poised for major changes in tort and labor reform.
“I think we can accomplish all of that,” Eigel said. “I’m looking for new ideas and solutions to solve the problems in our state that don’t require more government or more taxes or force spending. So, my door is always open.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.