Missouri Minute: Lawmakers approve COVID-19 stimulus plan; virus drives e-commerce surge

Good morning, MBA readers,
The coronavirus is forcing many retailers to shutter physical storefronts, but it has yet to stop consumer spending. Shoppers have moved online en masse, driving e-commerce transactions up 74% in March, according to one measure. The sudden surge in online shopping has companies across Missouri scrambling to enhance their own e-commerce capabilities. Officials in Kansas City are stepping in to support local companies making the transition.

Elsewhere, Missouri lawmakers gave Gov. Mike Parson sweeping approval to spend billions of federal dollars to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. And, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting 6.6 million new unemployment claims Thursday — including more than 82,000 in Missouri — the state continues to grapple with the challenge of processing claims from “gig economy” workers.


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Missouri approves COVID-19 stimulus plan
State legislators approved plans giving Gov. Mike Parson authority to spend billions in federal funds on coronavirus relief measures. The money will go to local governments, schools, universities and rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

Missouri can’t process gig worker unemployment claims yet
The state’s unemployment office does not yet have the ability to process unemployment claims from workers like Uber and Lyft drivers who wouldn’t normally be eligible for benefits. Those workers are eligible for assistance through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Some Missouri counties more equipped than others to deal with COVID-19
Newton County, home to Joplin, has the state’s most intensive care unit beds per 1,000 people over the age of 65, at nearly 10 per 1,000 people. (St. Louis Business Journal)

KC-area county to test 2,000 residents for coronavirus
Although testing shortages continue across the nation, Johnson County, Kansas, has received enough swabs to start testing in an effort to understand how the virus is spreading among people who are asymptomatic. Around 2,000 residents will be chosen randomly for drive-thru tests. (Kansas City Star)

Layoffs wrack St. Louis businesses
Three St. Louis businesses have been added to the list of local companies forced to issue layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Red Wing Shoe Co. has laid off 184 workers, Wellbridge Athletic Club & Spa has laid off 213 and Innkeeper Hospitality Services laid off 136. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Lumiere Place furloughs 600
The St. Louis casino will furlough its 646 employees, who had been receiving pay after state gaming regulators shut down casinos March 17. The company will continue to pay its share of employee health insurance for the time being. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Equifax looking to build a new St. Louis facility
The credit reporting agency is looking to construct a 300,000-square-foot office in west St. Louis County or near the I-270/64 corridor. The company currently leases space in Westport and Earth City. (St. Louis Business Journal)

UMB Bank expands operations
Kansas City-based UMB Bank has added commercial and small business banking staff in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, a step toward opening branches in the markets. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Parson taps Florissant hotel for emergency hospital
Missouri’s governor said plans are in motion to turn an unnamed hotel in Florissant into a makeshift emergency hospital to help treat COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms who don’t need hospitalization. It will be the state’s first emergency site and will be able to house around 100 patients. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Missouri researchers are testing COVID-19 vaccines
Researchers at Kansas City’s Center for Pharmaceutical Research started a test for a COVID-19 vaccine last week that will be tested on 40 healthy people. They join St. Louis University, which is also conducting human vaccine trials. (Associated Press)

Volunteers 3-D print masks in KC
Some 400 volunteers in the Kansas City area have already made 2,000 plastic face shields for health care workers using 3-D printers. The efforts are coordinated via Facebook, and volunteers distribute them based on greatest need. (Kansas City Business Journal)


Show me

The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted significant damage on the airline industry in the first quarter, with three of the four largest U.S. carriers seeing their share prices decline at least 50% in that span.


Say that again

“There are more groceries being bought than there ever have been, because people are eating at home. My workers, and all grocery and retail workers across Missouri, are being subjected to an unknown amount of virus on a daily basis.”

That’s David Cook, president of Ballwin-based United Food Commercial Workers Local 655 union, St. Louis Public Radio reports. Cook issued a letter this week to Gov. Mike Parson asking the governor to require people shopping at “essential” businesses to better protect workers. The letter comes days after Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order, which critics say does not go far enough to protect workers from the pandemic. Cook’s union, which represents some 9,000 workers, previously asked the governor to temporarily classify grocery workers and pharmacy technicians as first responders. The request, which was not granted, would have given these workers priority access to personal protective gear and testing for COVID-19.


Go figure

74%

That’s how much online transaction volumes in March increased from last year, according to payments processor ACI Worldwide. Jon Stephens, CEO of the Kansas City Port Authority, cited that increase in explaining a new policy to fast-track e-commerce projects in the city, the Kansas City Business Journal reports. The spike in e-commerce activity comes as brick-and-mortar retailers are forced to shutter due to the pandemic. Stephens said Port KC is now working with e-commerce firms to get new operations up and running more quickly. Under its fast-track policy, Port KC can provide development incentives as an economic boost in especially distressed parts of the city.


Hello, my name is

SafetyCulture

This Australian tech company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Kansas City, has raised $35.5 million in a new funding round, putting its valuation at $800 million, TechCrunch reports. SafetyCulture, which makes compliance software, has swelled its customer base to more than 26,000, including Coca-Cola and IKEA. Last year, its annual recurring revenue climbed 85%. SafetyCulture plans to use the funds raised in the latest funding round, led by TDM Growth Partners, to provide liquidity to early employees and investors, and to hire new staff.


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


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