Missouri Minute: St. Louis Bayer campus reopens; Missouri colleges move classes online

Good morning, MBA readers,

The coronavirus outbreak, now officially a pandemic, continues to be a disruptive force in Missouri and elsewhere. Wednesday brought a spate of decisions to alter school and work arrangements, cancel high-profile events and restrict international travel.

Known cases in the U.S. had eclipsed 930 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the most recent CDC data. And although confirmed local cases have been limited to one apiece in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, companies and institutions across Missouri are moving to guard against the virus spreading.

Several colleges and universities across the state have either temporarily suspended classes or shifted to online-only courses. College sports, too, will alter plans. The NCAA announced it will bar fans from attending its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, set to start next week. Major college conferences will follow suit for their tournaments, taking place this week. That will be felt by businesses and workers in St. Louis, which is scheduled to host NCAA tournament games, and Kansas City, where the Big XII tournament is being held.

The virus is expected to leave a mark on other high-profile events: Organizers in Kansas City and St. Louis have canceled annual St. Patrick’s Day parades to limit large gatherings.

Big companies in the state are taking precautions with their employees. Bayer temporarily shuttered its Creve Coeur campus earlier this week but announced it would reopen Thursday after an employee tested negative for the virus. Firms like Nestlé Purina PetCare encouraged thousands of employees to work remotely if they or family members experience symptoms. Emerson CEO David Farr reassured employees that they would be paid even if they had to stay home due to illness or school cancellation.

Meanwhile, some local companies find themselves at the heart of efforts to address the disease: At least one Kansas City firm will soon begin to accept samples of the virus for testing.

Read on for more about Missouri’s coronavirus response and the rest of the day’s top business headlines.


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Stay alert

Bayer campus reopens after St. Louis employee tests negative
The German pharmaceutical and agriculture titan announced late Wednesday it was reopening its Creve Coeur campus, which had been closed since Monday after an employee showed signs of coronavirus. (St. Louis Business Journal)

California judge recommends regulators OK Sprint/T-Mobile merger
An administrative law judge with the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday recommended the commission approve Sprint and T-Mobile’s pending merger. The commission could vote next month. The state has announced a settlement in which T-Mobile would spend $7.8 billion over six years to develop 5G technology in California. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Missouri colleges take classes online as viral precaution
Schools from Washington University to the University of Missouri and University of Missouri-Kansas City have cancelled in-person classes in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Instead, classes will take place online. (St. Louis Public Radio, KCUR, Columbia Missourian)

Emerson acquires Canadian energy management firm
The Ferguson-based industrial conglomerate said Wednesday that it acquired Verdant, a Canadian company with 70 employees that help hotels manage their energy usage. Emerson, which announced a $425 million cost-cutting plan last month, said the deal will expand its commercial and residential division. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Missouri gets nearly $10 million to combat coronavirus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the state more than $9.8 million to bankroll its efforts containing the COVID-19 coronavirus, which the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared a global pandemic. The funds for Missouri are part of a $560 million aid package signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. (KSDK)

NCAA to bar fans from March Madness games
The NCAA announced Wednesday that its upcoming basketball tournament games will be played without fans in attendance, and many college conferences did the same. First- and second-round men’s NCAA games are scheduled to take place March 19 and March 21 at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. (St. Louis Business Journal)

State sues televangelist for selling fake cure
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a cease-and-desist letter against televangelist Jim Bakker, who tried to sell his viewers a purported cure for COVID-19 on the air last month. (NPR)

Local leaders among new board members of KC innovation district
The Keystone Innovation District project introduced 10 members of its governing board on Wednesday, which includes Black & Veatch CEO Steve Edwards, UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal and Robbie Makinen, CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. (Kansas City Business Journal)

KC-area firm to begin testing for coronavirus
Viracor Eurofins, a clinical specialty lab based in Lee’s Summit, will begin testing samples for COVID-19 this week in accordance with Food and Drug Administration guidelines. The firm, which has 325 employees, focuses on testing for infectious diseases, cancer, immunocompromised patients and allergies. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Springfield airport braces for pandemic’s toll
Officials at the Springfield-Branson National Airport are measuring the expected toll of the coronavirus pandemic, as carriers at the airport plan to reduce seats. Delta, American and United airlines are each cutting flight capacity nationally by 15%, 8% and 4%, respectively. (Springfield Business Journal)

Nebraska firm acquires utility packaging service in KC area
Valmont Utility, a segment of Nebraska-based Valmont Industries, has acquired a majority stake in Kansas City Utility Packaging, a firm in Grandview that packages substations and other electric utility equipment. KCUP will be rebranded as Valmont Substations and retain its current leadership and employees. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Tenant advocates say KC mayor left ‘string of broken promises’
Renters in Kansas City are giving Mayor Quinton Lucas until Friday to fund an office that would enforce tenants’ rights, accusing Lucas of “gaslighting” the movement by calling them “entitled” for demanding the money. Lucas allegedly promised last year that he would allocate $1 million for the enforcement office, according to advocates. (KCUR)

Springfield nonprofit expands to new space
Life360 Community Services, a nonprofit that provides free or discounted lunches to school children, has signed a six-year lease for the 46,600-square-foot former site of Price Cutter in Springfield. The new building will serve as Life360’s operations center and community hub. (Springfield Business Journal)

Forbes names three KC firms to best startup employers list
The financial magazine has ranked Fishtech Group, a cyber security firm in Kansas City, No. 277 on its list of the 500 best startup employers in the country. BacklotCars, an online wholesale platform for selling cars, was ranked No. 399, followed by health care startup Bardavon Health Innovations at No. 439. (Startland News)


Say that again

“The company canceled a meeting of executives and franchisees, but it’s not making any plans for us frontline workers, who cannot afford to take a day off without pay if we get sick.”

That’s Fran Marion, a McDonald’s worker in Kansas City, describing the fast-food chain’s response to the surge in coronavirus cases across the country, Reuters reports. In a statement earlier this week, the group Fight for $15, which advocates for giving low-wage workers higher pay, called on McDonald’s to expand paid sick leave to employees who show possible symptoms or have an immediate family member with symptoms of COVID-19. Workers nationwide are also asking the company to update its safety and cleaning protocols and provide workers compensation for any missed shifts and other economic impacts from the outbreak.


Go figure

$9 million

That’s how much DisruptOps, a cybersecurity startup in Kansas City, raised in a recent Series A funding round from a pair of investors, Startland News reports. The company announced this week that Drive Capital and existing investor Rally Ventures backed its efforts to become more responsive to new digital threats. DisruptOps plans to use the funds to speed up product development, it said. In particular, the firm emphasized the complexity and vulnerability of cloud computing, which is regularly used by companies worldwide.


Send tweet


St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson tweeted Wednesday afternoon announcing that this year’s downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade would be canceled as a precaution. The move comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and prevention confirmed that a 20-year-old St. Louis County woman had tested positive for coronavirus. Some social media users applauded the move as prudent, while others complained and said it would likely impact local businesses.


Hello, my name is

Knoq

That’s the new name that was announced this week for Polis, a Boston-based startup with an office in Kansas City and 35 local employees, Startland News reports. Founded in 2015, Knoq is a door-to-door sales business that recruits and trains representatives through its app to educate their neighbors about home products and services, such as home security systems and repairs around a home. With more than $2 million in annual revenue, Knoq has plans to hire more than 200 “Knoqers” this year, but the company faces an unexpected challenge due to the spread of coronavirus. In response to this week’s surge in new cases, Knoq instructed its representatives to take a number of precautions, such as not shaking hands and not touching doorknobs.


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


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