Missouri Minute: Major state offices reopen; Medicaid expansion campaign files for 2020 ballot

Good morning, MBA readers,

Starting today in parts of the state not under local stay-at-home orders, shops and businesses are allowed to return to operation at a limited capacity to enable social distancing. Gov. Mike Parson’s reopening plan has been praised by some, including those concerned by the economic shocks of the shutdown, and opposed by others, like officials in Kansas City and St. Louis, where most of the state’s coronavirus cases have been reported thus far. A fraction of state workers will also return to work. Some hospitals, like Columbia’s Boone Hospital Center, may find much-needed financial relief from reopening for nonemergency procedures. Still, businesses that depend on customers’ prolonged presence — from hotels to antique stores — fear that recovery will take a long time as public concerns about the pandemic persist.

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Major state offices reopen
More than 2,000 state workers are returning to work Monday as some major state office buildings reopen. Nearly 15,000 state employees, or about 40% of the state government workforce, were working remotely as of Friday. (Columbia Missourian)

Medicaid expansion campaign officially files for 2020 ballot
The group Healthcare for Missouri has submitted nearly 350,000 signatures to the secretary of state, far exceeding the required 172,000. The group seeks to expand Missouri’s Medicaid program to cover people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, adding an estimated 230,000 people to the state Medicaid rolls. (Springfield News-Leader)

State reports new COVID-19 cases at St. Joseph food plant
More than a dozen additional employees at the Triumph Foods processing plant in St. Joseph had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Sunday, bringing the number of cases there to 373 out of 2,300 workers. The new cases follow the increased testing of people who are not yet showing symptoms of the virus, prior to which only 46 workers had been confirmed positive. (Kansas City Star)

Rural hospitals see empty beds, few coronavirus patients
While some big-city hospitals report being overwhelmed by the pandemic, most rural hospitals in Missouri say they are nearly empty as residents avoid them out of fear. One 25-bed facility in Kirksville expects a 50% to 55% drop in revenue for April as it gets few patients and even fewer coronavirus patients. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

St. Louis aldermen urge state lawmakers to pass online sales tax bill
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday passed a resolution calling on the Missouri General Assembly to pass a bill allowing the state and its cities to collect tax on online sales, which have skyrocketed in recent weeks due to the pandemic. A bill that would allow online sales tax stalled in the Senate, where some lawmakers refused to back a new sales tax without offsetting the additional state revenue. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

UniGroup secures part of $7.2 billion defense contract
The Fenton-based transportation firm has been awarded part of a $7.2 billion, multi-year contract to provide global relocation services for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard. The company transports about 40,000 military families around the world each year. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Anheuser-Busch wins latest round in corn syrup feud
A federal appeals court ruled that the St. Louis-based brewer can imply in advertising and on packaging that its rival Molson Coors’ beer contains corn syrup. “If Molson Coors does not like the sneering tone of Anheuser-Busch’s ads, it can mock Bud Light in return,” the three-judge panel ruled. (Associated Press)

Top KC engineering firms maintain national ranks
Burns & McDonnell jumped to No.9 in the Top 500 Design Firms ranking by Engineering News-Record, a key industry benchmark. Black & Veatch maintained its second, third and fourth rankings in the power, telecommunications and water categories, respectively. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Armstrong Teasdale opens new office in Boston
The Clayton-based law firm has opened an office in Boston and hired two local attorneys to staff the office as partners. It’s the firm’s fourth new location in two years and second in two weeks. (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis’ hotel boom up in the air amid crippling downturn
Before the pandemic hit, four new hotels opened downtown in recent months, with seven more under construction. Now, these hotels face occupancy rates as low as 5% to 15% of normal, jeopardizing development of new hotels. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Officials seek bid for mixed-use development near St. Louis convention center
A new request for proposals calls for a developer to buy a 55,000-square-foot parking lot across the street from America’s Center for $3 million, then convert the space into a mixed-used development including nearly 1,200 parking spaces. (St. Louis Business Journal)

KC development agency launches small business relief loans
The Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City on Friday began accepting applications for up to $25,000 in relief loans. Local “nonessential” businesses may qualify for zero-interest loans with payments deferred for up to a year. (Kansas City Business Journal)

MU cuts health care jobs amid budget shortfall
The University of Missouri announced Friday it will cut 49 positions — including 32 MU Health Care jobs — in the first round of its cost-cutting efforts. The University of Missouri System’s three other campuses are expected to announce cuts soon. (KCUR)

St. Louis craft brewers anticipate mass dumping of leftover beer
Many St. Louis brewers report having an abundance of beer in storage nearing its expiration date. Bars, restaurants and event venues face a similar problem. Brewers expect to dump a considerable amount of their products that go unsold. (St. Louis Business Journal)

KC printer merges with Kansas firm
Richardson Communications is now part of Eudora, Kansas-based Kingston Printing. Its operations will be combined with Kingston’s facility, and Kingston President Kyle Johnson will lead the operation. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Branson resort reports 115 furloughs
Georgia-based Atrium Hospitality notified state officials last week that on March 12 it began furloughing 115 employees at Chateau on the Lake near Branson. The company said it hopes the furloughs will be temporary but cannot guarantee they will not be permanent cuts. (Springfield News-Leader)

Springfield behavioral hospital scores $4 million federal grant
Burrell Behavioral Health has been awarded a $4 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to serve about 1,600 more people. (Springfield Business Journal)

Columbia hospital resumes nonemergency procedures
Boone Hospital Center will begin conducting nonemergency procedures again after a weeks-long shutdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. It will continue its no-visitor policy and require all patients and staff to wear masks. (Columbia Missourian)

Drury revamps MBA program
Starting in August, Drury University will offer a new take on the two-year program, which is comprised of a year of leadership training and a year of case studies and practical application. (Springfield Business Journal)

Say that again

“I’m very fearful of what the future holds. How many people really need an oil painting of a judge from 1870?”

That’s Brian Hoffman, owner of the Brass Alligator antique store in St. Louis, whose business is one of many retailers struggling under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The antique industry has been hit hard by the pandemic because dealers have been slow to migrate their businesses online. Much of the industry’s core business model depends on foot traffic, with many dealers operating out of mall booths and flea markets. The coronavirus put a sudden halt to it all. Treasure Aisles Antique Mall in Maplewood, which saw steady business during the Great Recession, said sales fell 85% in the days leading up to St. Louis County’s stay-at-home order in late March.

Go figure

$2.6 million

That’s how much Build-A-Bear Workshop CEO Sharon John earned last year, a 23% bump in compensation over 2018, when the St. Louis-based retailer was in the red, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Her bonus of roughly $847,000 for 2019 was 119% of the target amount, the company disclosed Friday. Build-A-Bear reported $261,000 profit for the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Feb. 1, following a $17.9 million loss a year earlier. The company had planned to distribute bonuses in April, but it delayed them due to the pandemic. Build-A-Bear cut salaries for executives — including John — by 20% last month and furloughed 90% of its employees in March.

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That’s St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who on Friday unveiled a new program that will distribute federal relief funds to local businesses. The Small Business Relief Program offers a one-time grant of up to $15,000 to companies that had 50 or fewer full-time workers as of March 1. Grants will be capped at $2.5 million per county council district. The program was conceived after much debate by the St. Louis County Council over how to distribute $173 million in federal coronavirus aid, St. Louis Public Radio reports.

Hello, my name is

Jon Belmar

This former chief of the St. Louis County Police Department is headed to work for Centene, KSDK reports. Starting Monday, Belmar will serve as the Clayton-based health insurer’s vice president of global police relations. In his new role, the 34-year police veteran will “establish and maintain strong relationships” with jurisdictions where Centene operates, the company said in a news release. He will also assist Centene’s security efforts. Belmar served as police chief for six years. The last year of his tenure was marred by a $20 million judgment in favor of a gay officer who claimed Belmar and his administration discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation.

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


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