Missouri Minute: WellCare plans divestment for Centene merger; AI startup Balto raises $3 million

Good morning, MBA readers,

Before you log off for the weekend, we have a corporate M&A update. Florida’s WellCare has agreed to divest its health plans in Missouri in an effort to convince regulators to sign off on its $15 billion marriage to Clayton-based Centene. Across the state, Kansas City’s outgoing city manager isn’t wasting any time in giving advice to his successor: Build on our existing momentum. And for your listening pleasure, we have a new episode of the Speaking Startup podcast that’s jam-packed with entrepreneurial insights. Scroll onward for more on these stories and other business news from around the state.

Want Missouri’s top business news in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Now hear this

A new effort to connect KC entrepreneurs to capital
This week’s episode of the Speaking Startup podcast features a blend of entrepreneurial endeavors new and old. First, we hear from RJ Pahura, co-founder of FUND Conferences. The company runs events to connect entrepreneurs with venture capitalists, and it’s hosting its first Kansas City conference next month. Then, we catch up with Gary White, the CEO of Kansas City-based Water.org.

Stay alert

WellCare to divest Missouri health plans before Centene merger
WellCare Health Plans has agreed to sell its Medicaid health plans in Missouri and Nebraska to Anthem as it looks to close its $15.3 billion merger with St. Louis-based Centene. The two insurers said Thursday that they expect the deal to be completed by the first half of 2020. (Reuters)

Developers: New Strafford project could bring $200 million in manufacturing
A group of developers said Thursday that they are moving forward with a business park plan that could potentially bring $200 million in manufacturing facilities to a 220-acre site in Strafford. On Wednesday night, the Strafford Board of Aldermen voted in favor of a $13.7 million tax increment financing plan. (Springfield News-Leader)

Greensfelder law firm names new leader
The St. Louis law firm of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale has named Kevin McLaughlin, who leads the firm’s employment and labor practice, as its new president and CEO effective Feb. 1. The firm’s previous leader, Tim Thoronton, died in a car accident in June, leaving John Dillane to serve as interim CEO since. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Springfield drug tester elevates exec to president
Tomo Drug Testing has promoted Angela Garrison, formerly the company’s vice president of operations, to become its new president. Garrison succeeds Alex Haliman, who has transitioned into a role developing and expanding internal software systems at the company. (Springfield Business Journal)

St. Louis transportation service wins $2.8 million VA contract
Axel Transportation has been awarded a five-year, $2.8 million contract by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide assisted wheelchair van transportation for VA beneficiaries at St. Louis hospitals. The new business will create 12 jobs, company officials said. (St. Louis Business Journal)

HGTV renovator sets up shop in KC
Tamara Day, a Kansas City home renovator and star of HGTV’s “Bargain Mansions,” is opening a new home decor store in Prairie Village, Kansas, called Growing Days Home by Tamara Day. The store will feature items Day uses to stage her makeover mansions for sale on the show. (Kansas City Star)

Springfield lawyers partner on new firm
Three Springfield-area attorneys — Scott Pierson and Bert and Branden Twibell — have partnered to form Twibell Pierson, a new practice focused on high-end criminal defense as well as assault, drug, federal and municipal charges. (Springfield Business Journal)

Feds sue Missouri oil company over alleged job discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Barnhart-based Home Service Oil on Thursday, alleging employment discrimination at one of its gas station convenience stores. The lawsuit claims that a store manager refused to hire a job applicant because of a facial tick caused by Tourette’s syndrome and made a “derogatory comment” about the man’s condition. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

BioGenerator, ITEN win federal grants
The Small Business Administration has awarded $50,000 grants to BioGenerator and ITEN for their efforts to support St. Louis entrepreneurs. The grants, which are part of the SBA’s growth accelerator fund competition, are to be used to help in company formation and education of entrepreneurs about government grant opportunities. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Say that again

“We have to fight the temptation to declare victory. To look at our history in Kansas City, there’s been a burst of activity followed by a decade or a generation where there’s not much going on. Cities are either moving forward, or they’re falling behind. They can’t just stand still.”

That’s Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte, who will retire when his contract expires in February. In an interview with the Kansas City Business Journal, Schulte stressed that the city must continue to be proactive about development even after his departure. He said projects like the city’s $800 million infrastructure improvement bond are “a nice way for the public sector to leverage the private sector by investing in the basics.”

Go figure

That’s the number of complaints made to the Missouri Gaming Commission about the spread of legally ambiguous gambling terminals in stores across the state, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Several complaints target machines owned by Torch Electronics, a politically connected firm based in Glencoe. Torch has hired former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley as a lobbyist and donated tens of thousands of dollars to a political action committee that supports Gov. Mike Parson. The complaints, which are currently not enforceable by any state law or precedent, will be the focus of an Oct. 10 public hearing.

Hello, my name is

Balto Software
This St. Louis artificial intelligence startup has raised $3 million in additional seed funding less than a year after its earlier $1.2 million investment round, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. New investors include St. Louis-based Cultivation Capital and Jump Capital of Chicago, among several others. The startup will use the funds to double its staff to 50 by the year’s end. Founded in 2017, Balto has developed AI that analyzes customer service calls and gives live feedback to call center employees. Balto co-founder and CEO Marc Bernstein boasts that the company has doubled its customer count every five months.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning. Make it a fantastic weekend.


Leave a Reply

Have you heard?

Missouri Business Alert is participating in CoMoGives2019!

Find out how we plan to use your gift to enhance training and programming for our students