Missouri Minute: Congress, Trump agree to $2 billion aid plan; SelectQuote to hire 500 in KC

Good morning, MBA readers,

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the U.S., Senate leaders and the White House reached a deal early Wednesday designed to provide relief to the country’s workers, businesses and health care system. The $2 trillion plan, which is the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history, would give direct payments to most citizens, expand unemployment benefits and provide hundreds of billions of dollars to keep small businesses afloat.

Still, pandemic-induced uncertainty continues to cast shadows over Missouri businesses. The near-complete shutdown of public gatherings has hurt not only bars and restaurants, but also the brewers supplying them, like Anheuser-Busch InBev. And Nebraska Furniture Mart, one of the largest retailers in the Kansas City area, announced it will shutter on Friday, reversing its position that it would continue operating as an “essential” business.

Other businesses are seeking to dispel uncertainty by carrying on as much as possible. Cerner, for example, will proceed with its shareholder meeting in the virtual space. SelectQuote said it will hire in the Kansas City area, which has been battered by a surge of unemployment due to the pandemic. In St. Louis, developers are still building and selling homes, despite reduced economic activity.


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Trump, Congress agree on $2 trillion aid package
The White House and Senate leaders agreed to a $2 trillion stimulus package early Wednesday. The emergency legislation aims to deliver aid to workers, businesses and the health care system amid damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Associated Press)

Local leaders break with president’s plans to relax containment measures
Area leaders like Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas have criticized President Donald Trump’s suggestions to begin relaxing virus containment measures, like stay-at-home orders, by April 12 in an attempt to preserve the economy. Lucas said the idea is “incredibly distressing.” Gov. Mike Parson, typically a Trump ally, said Missouri plans to maintain restrictions for much longer than two weeks. (Kansas City Star)

Boeing doesn’t want government to take equity stake in company
Despite asking for a $60 billion bailout, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said he is not interested in the federal government claiming a stake in the aircraft company as a condition of stimulus loans. Calhoun said Boeing could take its request for capital elsewhere. (Reuters)

Cerner changes rules to enable virtual shareholder meeting
The health care IT company announced changes to its bylaws on Monday, allowing for virtual shareholder meetings amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Insurance company plans to hire 500 in KC area
SelectQuote plans to hire 1,000 people nationally, including around 500 in the Kansas City area, at salaries up to $80,000. (Kansas City Star)

Homes still being built — and sold — in St. Louis
The housing market in St. Louis is adjusting to the coronavirus. Facing diminished customer desire for in-person home tours, builders have shifted to online versions. Meanwhile, construction sites stay open and local home builder McBride Homes reported 22 home sales last week. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Construction on St. Louis apartment building to continue
The pandemic hasn’t stopped work on One Hundred, an avant garde apartment complex in St. Louis’s Central West End. Contractors are following health guidelines and making changes to keep workers from operating in confined spaces together. (St. Louis Public Radio)

St. Louis County to create COVID-19 economic rescue team
The county will create a team to help aid local businesses in economic recovery once the pandemic ends. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Metro ridership down in St. Louis amid stay-at-home orders
As people remain in their homes, Metro Transit ridership dropped 40% two days last week, and will only drop further, director Jessica Mefford-Miller said. The agency, which operates MetroLink, MetroBus and Call-A-Ride, has cut down its weekday schedule to mimic its weekend schedule. (St. Louis Business Journal)

KC business executives buy 50,000 test kits for area
Several Kansas City-area CEOs have banded together in an effort to supply hospitals with test kits to help advance the local fight against COVID-19 after hearing about shortages of testing materials. (Kansas City Business Journal)

KC-area foundations land $5 million grant for COVID-19 relief
A group of local foundations including the United Way and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation have created a fund to raise $10 million for local coronavirus community relief. The Hall Family Foundation and the Sunderland Foundation will partner and match donations up to $5 million, they said. (Kansas City Business Journal)

New St. Alexius hospital management fires CEO, eyes sale
The south St. Louis hospital’s new management fired its CEO, Dr. Sonny Saggar, because his role was “creating a lot of confusion,” according to court-appointed trustee Carol Fox. Saggar said the two clashed on many issues. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Hy-Vee to replace full-service restaurants with burger chain
The supermarket will replace all of its full-service Market Grille restaurants with the burger chain Wahlburgers. Market Grille Express locations won’t be affected. (Supermarket News)


Show me

Artificial intelligence startups in the U.S. raised a record of $26.6 billion in funding in 2019, according to CB Insights, representing a 20% increase for the sector. Today’s graphic looks at the top-funded AI startups by state, including St. Louis agtech company Benson Hill Biosystems.


Say that again

“As the situation has continued to evolve, we are making the decision to close our showrooms, confident in our ability to serve our customers online.”

That’s Tony Boldt, president and COO of Nebraska Furniture Mart, explaining why the Omaha-based chain is closing its Kansas City location just a day after insisting it provided “essential” items amid pandemic shutdowns. Nebraska Furniture Mart announced Tuesday evening that it will close all four of its locations — in Kansas City, Des Moines, Omaha and Dallas — effective Friday evening. The closings come after the home furnishing retailer’s Facebook page was inundated by people criticizing the company’s earlier decision to stay open under limited capacity.


Go figure

20%

That’s how much profits are expected to decrease this year at Anheuser-Busch InBev as the coronavirus pandemic wipes out a considerable piece of the brewer’s business catering to restaurants and bars, Bloomberg reports. In a new earnings outlook announced Tuesday, A-B InBev scrapped its earlier 5% target for earnings growth. Since late February, the company said, “the scale and magnitude of COVID-19 has increased significantly, resulting in restrictions imposed on many customers, as well as other limitations and social distancing measures in many countries in mid-March.”


Hello, my name is

TierPoint

This St. Louis-based IT infrastructure service firm has raised $320 million in its latest round of funding, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. TierPoint, one of the largest private companies in the area, said it expects funding to close by mid-April. Lead investors are Argo Infrastructure Partners, Wafra and Macquarie Capital Principal Finance. The funding aims to boost TierPoint’s growth and help the company pay off debt. Last year, the company reportedly sought new equity capital ranging from $250 million to $500 million to expand data center operations in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.


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


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