Missouri Minute: Utilities suspend disconnections; Cerner tells associates to work from home

Good morning, MBA readers,

Kansas City ratcheted up its response to the coronavirus late Monday, calling for schools to shutter, restaurants and taverns to prohibit dining in, and businesses to allow non-essential employees to work from home. Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city was taking “drastic measures” that would “have unprecedented impacts on our local businesses and working families.” Several surrounding municipalities quickly followed Kansas City’s lead. Some of the area’s largest companies are adjusting to guidance to let employees work from home, but other businesses and workers are faced with a difficult reality: They cannot go remote. In the face of mounting health and financial pressures caused by the virus, companies and governments are looking to provide relief where possible — from utilities suspending disconnections to charitable foundations pooling funds for coronavirus assistance. Scroll down to get the latest on those stories and the rest of the day’s top business news.

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Potential viral exposure shuts down Hallmark headquarters
Hallmark Cards announced Monday evening that its headquarters in Kansas City will close for 48 hours after an employee was potentially exposed to COVID-19 in a social setting outside work. That employee is in self-quarantine while cleaning crews disinfect the facilities. (Kansas City Star)

Ameren, Spire suspend utility disconnections
The utilities that serve a large part of the St. Louis area will temporarily suspend all disconnections and waive late fees for customers who cannot pay their bills. Last week, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson suspended all water disconnects until at least May 15 to promote cleaning and personal hygiene amid the public health emergency prompted by COVID-19. (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Cerner tells associates to work from home
The Kansas City-based health care IT firm has asked all associate-level workers to work remotely until April in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The largest private employer in the area, Cerner had 14,000 full-time local employees as of July. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Despite pandemic, KC area contractors can’t take work home
General contractors like JE Dunn Construction and McCownGordon Construction say they have enhanced cleaning protocols at job sites but will keep sites and offices open since much of their work cannot be done remotely. Workers are encouraged to stay home if they feel sick, and JE Dunn is working on a plan for taking time off due to school or daycare closings. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Graybar announces record year
The Clayton-based distributor of networking products announced $7.5 billion of net sales for last year, a 4.5% jump over 2018. Graybar, one of the largest private firms in the St. Louis area, has reported record net income for two straight years. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis trade show with million-dollar impact postponed
A Halloween attractions trade show scheduled to take place in St. Louis this week has been canceled alongside a slew of other large gatherings amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak. The show, put on by TransWorld Trade Shows, is one of the largest events that comes to St. Louis each year, averaging an economic impact of around $7 million. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Breweries ponder delivery services amid closures
Beer makers across St. Louis are brainstorming new ways to market and distribute their products amid a slowdown in traffic to bars and restaurants. Some, like 2nd Shift Brewing, have already come up with methods to distribute their beverages curbside. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Lee’s Summit lab says it has a rapid new test for COVID-19
Viracor Eurofins has developed a coronavirus test that it says is 99% effective with the capacity to test more than 1,000 people per day and return results the same day. It could offer tests to people who want to be evaluated for the virus but don’t meet current federal thresholds to get tested. (KCUR)

Schnucks issues recall for ground beef
A Schnucks grocery store in Town and Country has recalled all fresh ground beef sold Saturday over fears it could contain metal shavings from an equipment malfunction. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis freezes parking tickets, penalties
In an attempt to keep people out of the St. Louis courts amid a rapidly developing public health crisis, the city will suspend payment of parking tickets until April and keep meters free. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis foundation creates fund for people impacted by coronavirus
The St. Louis Community Foundation has launched a $100,000 fund that will contribute to nonprofits helping to ensure people have daily essentials during the coronavirus outbreak. (St. Louis Business Journal)

KC-area payment platform partners with online marketplace
MSTS, a business-to-business payment platform based in Overland Park, Kansas, has partnered with Arcadier, furnishing the online B2B marketplace with its invoicing tool. The tool allows sellers to create lines of credit, payment terms and special bulk discounts for business buyers. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Say that again

“It brings back bad memories of past disasters like 9/11, where we completely shut down.”

That’s Rob Hadi, who drives for Pesh Limousine in Kansas City, describing how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the transportation industry, KCUR reports. Hadi said he hasn’t received any calls in the past week as dozens of events began canceling even before Sunday, when the city enacted a 50-person cap on public gatherings. Pesh Limousine owner Nader Aldewick said the outbreak has wiped out a typically busy time of year that normally includes the Big 12 Tournament and big Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Aldewick said he has lost roughly $20,000 of business in the past few days, adding that weddings are the only type of event that didn’t cancel early.

Go figure

$150 million

That’s how much a group of businesses proposes spending to convert an old power plant in Independence into a biofuel facility, baffling at least two city council members who are suspicious of central figures behind the project, The Kansas City Star reports. The proposal is led by Kansas-based investment firm Titan Fish Partners and lists Titan Fish lobbyist Steve Tilley, former speaker of the Missouri House. Local lawmakers are skeptical of these two figures because of their ties to a previous proposal to repurpose a former golf course as a solar farm. The city council in 2017 voted to purchase the proposed site for nearly $1 million, just months after Titan Fish purchased the property for $550,000 and just days after Independence Mayor Eileen Weir received more than $10,000 in donations from groups with ties to Tilley. Independence council members said they were then interviewed by FBI agents about a separate $10 million contract to decommission a power plant owned by Independence Power & Light — twice the amount bid by another company — from a company owned by a former donor to Tilley. “I would not even consider a bid from them,” Independence Councilman Scott Roberson said. “Not even consider it.”

Send tweet

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted his dinner plans Monday night, showing support for local Mexican restaurant Tacos el Gallo on a day that the mayor also announced more stringent coronavirus restrictions that will affect the city’s restaurants. Kansas City’s updated emergency proclamation includes a ban on dining in at restaurants and taverns; the closure of the city’s schools starting Wednesday; prohibition of gatherings or events with more than 10 people; and the recommendation that businesses allow non-essential employees to work from home. “We understand these drastic measures will have unprecedented impacts on our local businesses and working families,” Lucas said in the announcement, “and recognize that this is one of the most challenging periods our city and nation has ever faced.”

Hello, my name is

Deluxe Corp.

This Shoreview, Minnesota-based business service firm will be shifting its call center operation to Kansas City later this year, the Kansas City Business Journal reports. Deluxe, which provides financial, payroll and compliance services, told its workers in Greensboro in North Carolina, where it employs about 100, that it plans to shut down the call center there by November. The move comes as Deluxe tries to consolidate its “real estate footprint to create ‘hubs’ in various locations in the country,” the company said in a statement. It added that affected workers will be offered a chance to transfer or take a severance package.

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


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