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Photo courtesy of KC Streetcar

Missouri Minute: Jackson County to hike minimum wage; KC streetcar plan earns high federal marks



Good morning, MBA readers,

After years of demonstrations and calls for action, low-wage workers in Missouri have seen some recent progress in the fight for a $15 minimum wage. The last few weeks have brought multiple wins for groups of workers in the state’s two biggest metropolitan areas. This week, Jackson County Executive Frank White announced his county legislature would gradually increase its minimum wage to $15 by 2020. That will boost wages for more than 500 public workers in the Kansas City area, according to the county. “I have seen each of our departments struggling to fill vacancies in essential roles simply because we refused to acknowledge that we were not compensating our staff appropriately for the work they were doing,” White said in announcing the move.

Across the state in St. Louis, a union representing some 2,100 janitors approved a new contract that will bump its wage floor 14% annually over the next three years. The deal, ratified this week, also stipulates no increase to workers’ health care costs and requires higher pension contributions from employers. That pact followed declarations last month by the top elected officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County that they would raise the minimum wage for their public employees to $15 per hour. Said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page: “These are jobs that we consider to be an important part of the function of county government, and we believe they deserve the raise.”

Scroll down to read more about Missouri’s minimum wage fights and the rest of the day’s top business stories.


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Canadian court orders Bayer to hand over documents in antitrust probe
A Canadian federal judge has ordered a group of major agriculture companies, including Bayer, to hand over records and communications as part of an antitrust investigation. The companies, which agreed to cooperate with the investigation, are accused of trying to block an online farm-supply startup. (Reuters)

Feds say Ameren failed to comply with air pollution order
The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Ameren of failing to comply with a September order to curb air pollution from its coal-fired Rush Island Energy Center in Jefferson County. The St. Louis-based utility has appealed the order that called for investment in scrubber technology, which it says will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Jackson County to raise minimum wage to $15 for public employees
Jackson County Executive Frank White announced that the county will gradually boost the minimum wage for its workers to $15 an hour by 2022. The plan will bump pay for more than 500 employees, almost half of the county’s full-time workforce. (Associated Press)

KC streetcar extension plan earns high federal marks
A new report from the Federal Transit Administration gave Kansas City’s streetcar expansion plans a medium-high rating, the highest rating awarded in the New Starts development category. That allows the city to enter the engineering phase. The nearly $350 million project would extend the city’s streetcar line by 3.6 miles from Union Station to the UMKC campus. (KSHB)

Bunge profit tops estimates on strong South American agribusiness results
The agriculture commodities trader, which is moving its headquarters to the St. Louis area, reported pre-tax earnings of $177 million for the fourth quarter, exceeding analyst expectations. Bunge added caution that its overall performance could slip in 2020 due to global trade uncertainties and shifting margins on crops. (Reuters)

Incentives for St. Louis soccer stadium get boost from city committee
A St. Louis aldermanic committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a pair of measures giving $34.5 million in property tax abatement and other tax incentives for the Major League Soccer stadium planned near downtown. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

KC-based remodeling show, contractors draw EPA scrutiny
The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday cited “Bargain Mansions,” a Kansas City-based show on the DIY Network, and four local contractors for improper handling of lead-based paint stripped from old woodwork. All six companies involved in the complaint agreed to pay a total of $59,000 in civil penalties. (Kansas City Star)

Officials push back on $80 million in incentives for redevelopment near SLU
Several members of the St. Louis Tax Increment Financing Commission pushed back Wednesday on a request for more than $80 million in tax incentives for a 14-acre redevelopment between St. Louis University’s north and south campuses. A public hearing is set for April 15 over the mixed-use project. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Springfield lawmakers split on future of tax abatement program
Members of the Springfield City Council this week debated whether to extend a workable program for property tax abatements. The program, which is set to expire March 25, established a plan to deal with blighted areas using tax revenue from taxing jurisdictions, but those jurisdictions are not currently receiving money due to a lack of recent development activity. (Springfield Business Journal)

Ascension Health to invest $300 million in Austin hospital
The St. Louis-based health care network plans to invest more than $300 million in Dell Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Austin, Texas. The expansion includes additional room for beds and a $113 million specialty care facility. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Parson names two new UM curators
Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday appointed Gregory Hoberock of Washington and Robin Wenneker of Columbia to the University of Missouri System Board of Curators. Hoberock is CEO and chairman for Union-based construction services firm hth companies. Wenneker is a former president of MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Foundation. (Columbia Missourian)

Troubled owner of St. Louis hospital under federal investigation
Florida-based Americore Holdings, which owns St. Alexius Hospital in south St. Louis, is under civil and criminal investigation over alleged mismanagement of its hospitals. Late last month, the FBI raided an Americore hospital in Kentucky and the home of Grant White, majority owner of the company. Both Americore and St. Alexius filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December after months of unpaid bills. (St. Louis Business Journal)

University City officials consider locations for upscale hotel
Contractor HVS/Hospitality Valuation Services told the University City Council this week that the “strongest site” for a new upscale hotel would be at Washington University’s West Campus. Construction at that site would cost about $35 million, a representative for the company told officials. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

State sues ex-NFL player over timeshare business
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office has sued former NFL player Steve Martin over a timeshare exit business he once operated in Springfield. The suit alleges Martin and Martin Management Group pledged to help customers exit their timeshares and failed to deliver on that promise. (Springfield Business Journal)


Say that again

“We do not believe that is true.”

That’s Amy Moore, deputy medical marijuana director for Missouri, who during a Missouri House committee hearing denied claims that a company scoring dispensary applications had coached select applicants, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The state in August contracted Nevada-based Wise Health Solutions to screen and evaluate over 2,200 marijuana business applications. Several rejected applicants, some of whom are suing state officials, have pointed to inconsistencies in scores assigned to nearly identical applications and allege a conflict of interest by the company. Moore said if applicants received training from Wise, it would have taken place before the company was awarded a contract from Missouri. She added that state regulators had not substantiated any allegations of a conflict of interest. Some lawmakers remain skeptical of the process. Earlier this week, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, called the scoring process a “boondoggle” with “serious flaws” based on complaints from his constituents.


Go figure

$3.2 million

That’s how big of a budgetary shortfall Kansas City needs to fill to fully eliminate bus fares, KCUR reports. The city made national headlines in December when it announced that it would fully subsidize bus fares, a move that was heralded as a boost for low-income residents. But Mayor Quinton Lucas’ new budget proposal, set for release Thursday, includes just $4.8 million of the $8 million officials say is needed for the zero-fare initiative. A corporate sponsor is expected to chip in $1 million a year for five years. That leaves a $2.2 million hole that will be made up by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. It is not yet clear how KCATA will raise the money, or whether the money will come from other budget items.


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The hard seltzer craze continues to spread. The latest company to join the fizzy fray: Mother’s Brewing Company. The Springfield brewery announced Wednesday that it is launching Ready Hard Seltzer, a 12-ounce can of hard seltzer that comes in cherry limeade and blackberry lemon flavors. The new offering comes as the market for hard seltzer is exploding, with volume of the bubbly beverage projected to triple by 2023, according to Brewbound.


Hello, my name is

Zego

San Diego-based PayLease thinks its acquisition of this Kansas City smart home startup was a smart move — so much so, the company said this week, that it will rebrand under the name “Zego (powered by PayLease),” Startland News reports. PayLease, a property management firm, initially acquired Zego last May with a plan to integrate the company into its broader platform. However, Zego has “become a vital part of our identity,” PayLease said in a statement, which helped convince the San Diego company to change its name.


Word to the wise

Advanced practice registered nurse

That’s the official term for nurses who have at least a master’s degree in a specific clinical role and patient population, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. A Missouri Senate committee is currently debating a bill that would offer APRN licenses in a bid to recruit more specialized nurses from other states, particularly to rural areas with sparse health care options, the Columbia Missourian reports. Right now, Missouri is one of 13 states that only license registered nurses, whereas APRNs are only given a “document of recognition.” Supporters of Senate Bill 714 — sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield — see the bill as a big step for Missouri nurses. A lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Rural Health Clinics said the lack of APRN licenses could be deterring nurses from wanting to practice in Missouri.


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

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