Missouri Minute: Legislature to weigh health care, gambling; theaters invest in upgrades

Good morning, MBA readers,

Let’s face it: Going to the movies isn’t the most convenient entertainment option these days. The activity fell to 42% of entertainment spending in 2018 due to steadily rising costs and disruption from all sides. The average price of a movie ticket in the U.S. increased to $9.11 in 2018. And when you already expect to be disappointed by “The Rise of Skywalker,” why not just wait at home until it comes out on Disney Plus? The result of all this: Theater attendance in the U.S. and Canada has dropped more than 8% over a decade, to 1.3 billion in 2018 from 1.42 billion in 2009.

Most theater operators, like Leawood, Kansas-based AMC, have been fortifying themselves in the face of this threat. Many cinema chains have made splashy upgrades to remain relevant — IMAX screens, reclining seats and even gourmet menu items delivered during the movie. AMC’s A-List subscription program was a hit, with over 860,000 members in its first year. Now, another local company is ready to compete with an extreme cinema makeover of its own.

Des Peres-based Wehrenberg Theatres has begun offering heated seats, new sound and video technologies and in-seat food service. The changes started taking shape three years ago, when the family-owned chain was acquired by Milwaukee-based Marcus Theatres. Since then, Marcus has invested more than $55 million into Wehrenberg properties, which its chief executive said is money well spent. “You’re in competition for the entertainment dollar,” Marcus Chairman, President and CEO Rolando Rodriguez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The idea, he said, is to go beyond showing movies and try to provide a one-stop entertainment destination.

Grab your popcorn, choose your seat and scroll down for more on this story and other top business news from around the state.


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Legislature to weigh health care, gambling, taxes this session
Missouri lawmakers are back for the new year with several legislative priorities, including online sales tax and gambling expansion. They may also consider the prospect of Medicaid expansion, an issue that could be on the November ballot. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Major DFA client files for bankruptcy
Texas-based Borden Dairy Co., which has an outstanding balance of $2.7 million with Kansas City’s Dairy Farmers of America, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. DFA, which was listed in the filing as Borden’s fourth-largest creditor, said it will experience “minimal to no disruption” as a result of the reorganization. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Haahr noncommittal on Parson’s call for more road funding
Gov. Mike Parson has made clear he wants to fund a program to repair the state’s roads and bridges for another year. However, House Speaker Elijah Haahr said lawmakers want more details. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis County Council names new chairwoman
The council voted unanimously to elect Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, as its new chairwoman. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, was selected as vice chair. (St. Louis Public Radio)

International law firm adds two new partners in St. Louis
Norton Rose Fulbright has named Purvi Maniar of its health care transactions team and Luke Maher of its construction, project development and dispute resolution team as new partners. (St. Louis Business Journal)

AMC names new development and international head
The Leawood, Kansas-based theater operator has promoted Dan Ellis to senior vice president in charge of its development and international department. Ellis, who previously oversaw AMC’s domestic development, succeeds Mark McDonald, who will retire at the end of February after 41 years with the company. (Kansas City Business Journal)

KC lawsuit against gun trafficker includes licensed local gun dealers
The city’s lawsuit against former Kansas City firefighter James Samuels, who allegedly illegally trafficked dozens of handguns, includes three local firearms dealers. At a news conference this week, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city’s argument stands on “very strong legal footing.” (KCUR)

Petsway files for bankruptcy
The Springfield-based pet store chain has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and plans to close or sell three stores — two in the St. Louis market and one in Poplar Bluff. The company plans to maintain operations at five other locations. (Springfield Business Journal)

St. Louis-area packaging facility to close, cut 68 jobs
Atlanta-based packaging firm WestRock is closing a facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, that makes merchandising displays, a move that will eliminate 68 jobs. WestRock has five other facilities in the St. Louis area. (Edwardsville Intelligencer)

Ferguson faces dissolution amid financial woes
Interim City Manager Jeffrey Blume told a federal judge that the city of Ferguson could face dissolution unless serious financial threats can be resolved. (Associated Press)

Clay County landscaping firm took money but didn’t do work, lawsuit says
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a lawsuit against Four Seasons Lawn & Landscape and its owner, John Cazzell. The attorney general’s office filed the suit after investigating complaints from multiple customers. (Kansas City Star)

In fight to stay relevant, Wehrenberg Theatres gets makeover
Since acquiring Des Peres-based Wehrenberg Theatres three years ago, Marcus Theatres of Milwaukee has invested over $55 million in new technologies and amenities. In the St. Louis market alone, the company spent $35 million upgrading six of nine area theaters. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Cannabis telemedicine firm expands to Missouri
Ninjatech, a Los Angeles-based telemedicine platform, will expand its services to Missouri to capitalize on the state’s more than 22,000 licensed medical marijuana patients. The platform connects patients with physicians to get recommendations through online video chat evaluations. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Century-old golf course to close, look for new operator
The Normandie Golf Course in St. Louis County will close next week after the course’s operator announced that it could no longer continue its agreement with the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the club’s owner. The club has been operating for 118 years. UMSL is seeking a new operator to manage the course. (St. Louis Public Radio)


Say that again

“There still is a stigma about medical marijuana and marijuana in general, but this is something that’s going to be legal in the state of Missouri.”

That’s Robbie Guard, who runs the Cape Girardeau office for MRV Banks, on why he’s so bullish on the future of Missouri’s newest industry, St. Louis Public Radio reports. MRV is currently one of a few banks in the state willing to provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses. Since marijuana is still federally illegal and Missouri banks are federally insured, taking on such clientele can be a risk. But for MRV, which is just 13 years old, Missouri’s new medical marijuana industry brings the hopes of new business.


Go figure

$271,230

That’s the average annual pay for pediatricians in St. Louis — about $100,000 more than the national median — the St. Louis Business Journal reports. That’s only outpaced by four other U.S. metros: $285,070 in Montgomery, Alabama; $283,960 in Jackson, Mississippi; $275,000 in Killeen, Texas; and $274,720 in Madison, Wisconsin, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, the profession was ranked No. 22 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 list of the top 25 jobs.


Hello, my name is

Stenovate

This Kansas City-based legal tech startup is the second company to receive investment from the Fountain Innovation Fund, Startland News reports. Stenovate, expected to formally launch in February, is an online platform designed to help simplify organization and collaboration for professionals who work with legal transcripts. Financial details of the investment were not released, but the fund, announced in June 2018, was designed to invest $50,000 to $100,000 apiece in up to 10 early-stage firms per year.


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