Missouri Minute: Bunge retreats from biofuel industry; UMB faces discrimination claims

Good morning, MBA readers,

With historic floods and a trade war, 2019 was a costly year for farmers across the Midwest, and those in Missouri were not immune to the downturn. Now, some of them believe their misfortunes may continue into 2020, with the Missouri Farm Bureau reporting that 14% of its members have a negative outlook for the year. Moreover, a growing number of farmers in Missouri and elsewhere are urging their children to seek another profession. But it’s not just small, family-owned ventures feeling the pinch at the moment; agricultural giant Bunge has sold its stake in an ethanol plant amid mounting difficulties for the biofuel industry. Read on to learn more about these and other top stories from around the state.

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Bunge retreats from struggling biofuel industry
The agriculture and food ingredients giant has sold its 25% stake in the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy ethanol plant due to thin margins and overproduction in the industry. Under a revised agreement, Bunge will continue to buy up to 140 million gallons of ethanol from SIRE and lease rail cars to the company. (Reuters)

Maryland Heights commission rejects $151 million subsidies for flood-prone area
The city’s Tax Increment Financing Commission voted 7-5 against recommending a plan to create a $151 million taxing district, which was proposed to pay for pumps and levees in a frequently flooded area near the Missouri River. Environmentalists opposed to the plan argued that development in the 2,409-acre area would ultimately worsen flooding in the St. Louis region. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Bi-State OKs new contract with Metro Transit union
The Bi-State Development Agency board has approved a new three-year contract with the main employee union for Metro Transit. The deal would increase transit workers’ wages by 2.25% in the first year and another 3% in the following two years. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

KC Star parent freezes pension payments amid cash struggles
California-based newspaper publisher The McClatchy Co. said it will not be releasing some pension benefits to a small number of participants as it struggles with cash flow and liquidity. The company, which owns The Kansas City Star, has been selling assets and cutting jobs as it continues to grapple with debt from its $4.5 billion acquisition of Knight Ridder in 2006. (Kansas City Business Journal)

UMB faces claims of discrimination, retaliation
Dana Abraham, former president of private wealth management at UMB Bank, claims she was fired in April 2019 after she complained about “an increasingly hostile environment toward women and older employees” at the Kansas City bank. (Kansas City Star)

Business leaders met with St. Louis officials to urge airport alternatives
New records show that leaders of Civic Progress and the Regional Business Council met with top city and county officials last month, urging them to slow the effort to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

With expanded space, Rx Savings Solutions eyes growth in 2020
The Overland Park, Kansas-based company, which provides pricing data for prescription drugs, projects its revenue and member base will grow 80% to 100% this year after a move that nearly doubled its office space. (Kansas City Business Journal)

After St. Louis hospital files for bankruptcy, employees wait for paychecks
St. Alexius Hospital employees were notified of a payroll delay via letter on Thursday as the hospital and its parent company Americore seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Fast-growing restaurant chain to debut in Springfield
Louisiana-based Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is expected to open a 3,500-square-foot location in Springfield this summer. The chain, which has 20 other locations in Kansas City and St. Louis, saw a 22.5% jump in sales in 2018 and is considered to be one of the fastest growing fast-casual brands in the nation. (Springfield Business Journal)

Say that again

“Hopefully this only reflects current frustrations and will not lead to fewer young people taking over the family farm.”

That’s Eric Bohl, director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, who remains hopeful for future generations of Missouri farmers despite increased negative sentiment in the sector, St. Louis Public Radio reports. A recent poll by the Farm Bureau found that 14% of the organization’s members have a negative outlook for 2020, up from just 6% in 2019 and 3% in 2018. The poll also showed more than 15% of farmers would not recommend their children follow in their footsteps. A similar study by Purdue University found similar sentiment across the Midwest, showing a growing number of farmers who plan to retire in the next five years without a plan to pass their farm to their children. That pessimism follows a year that brought destructive floods, dwindling crop prices and trade tensions with China.

Go figure

$10 million

That’s how much fundraising platform GiveCampus helped about 70 universities raise in its first year of operation, The Kansas City Star reports. The platform is one way colleges and professors are trying to make up for shrinking budgets for higher education programs and research in Missouri and elsewhere. Last year, online giving to universities was up 27% over 2017, according to GiveCampus. In the Midwest, Missouri State University was among the earliest adopters of the platform. Some professors at the University of Missouri have turned to crowdfunding after the school announced a 12% budget cut to every division in 2017. Last month, MU professor Phong Nguyen launched the first crowdsourcing campaign of his teaching career on Giving Tuesday to raise $15,000 to bring guest speakers for his creative writing classes.

Hello, my name is

SilverCloud Health

That’s the name of the mental health startup that received an endorsement from Express Scripts, and is now eyeing further expansion in St. Louis, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. The startup was included in Express Scripts’ digital health formulary, which is a list of more than 70 digital health products that are covered by its insurers’ membership plans. SilverCloud developed a platform that offers more than 30 programs with the goal of providing better access to mental health care.

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you this morning.


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