Missouri Minute: Food plant surpasses 400 COVID-19 cases; Hy-Vee to limit meat purchases

Good morning, MBA readers,

Confirmed coronavirus cases continue to climb at meat processing plants, where employees work in close quarters and have voiced concerns about insufficient protection from the virus. At the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, more than 400 people have tested positive for COVID-19 despite showing no symptoms. At a pork plant run by Kansas City-based Seaboard, the number of confirmed cases has eclipsed 100. Downstream, some supermarkets have started to limit the amount of meat customers can purchase, citing concerns about shortages. In another work environment with high exposure to the coronavirus, employees may get a measure of relief, courtesy of Missouri lawmakers. A bill in the Missouri House would shield health care providers who treat people with COVID-19 from civil damages if something goes wrong, and Gov. Mike Parson has signaled support for the legislation. And while much of the state had its stay-at-home order lifted on Monday, St. Louis County’s order continues, resulting in public pushback from some businesses and patrons in the area.


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Food plant surpasses 400 asymptomatic cases
Health officials said 412 of 2,367 people at the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph have tested positive for the coronavirus despite showing no symptoms, up from 359 on Saturday. (Kansas City Star)

New bill would allow Missouri to use pandemic funds to pad budget shortfall
State legislators are looking to obtain $750 million from federal coronavirus funds for “cash flow assistance” after the state’s tax filing date was pushed back from April to July. Constitutional guidelines prohibit the state from tapping into its budget reserve fund for assistance from May 15 to June 30. (Columbia Missourian)

Missouri begins distributing CARES funds to counties
Starting Wednesday, county governments in Missouri will be able to access their share of the approximately $468 million in CARES Act payments processed to 106 counties and the city of St. Louis. (Columbia Missourian)

Bullard calls for reopening economy in second half of 2020
James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said Tuesday the U.S. economy needs to reopen by the second half of the year, adding that he hopes “we will have ended this crisis” by the fourth quarter. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Seaboard reports more than 110 coronavirus cases at Oklahoma plant
The conglomerate based in the Kansas City area owns an Oklahoma pork processing plant where over 110 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus. Several employees said management told employees the plant would not close and that workers who did now show up could be replaced. (KCUR, Oklahoman)

Lucas plans ‘soft reopening’ of KC
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has promoted a “soft reopening” of the city Wednesday, two days behind much of the rest of Missouri and in a highly modified fashion. Lucas plans to allow for the reopening of businesses that garner little traffic, like law firms, but wait until May 15 to reopen high-traffic spots, like restaurants. (Kansas City Star)

Businesses rebel against St. Louis County mandate
Some area business owners have gone against the county’s orders to remain closed indefinitely while most other parts of the state reopen. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Springfield passes new rules for payday lenders
The Springfield City Council approved an ordinance aimed at regulating payday lenders. It requires short-term loan businesses to obtain an annual permit from the city within the next 60 days. (Springfield Business Journal)

Columbia approves small business loan program
Columbia’s city council approved plans for a $400,000 loan program for small businesses hurt by COVID-19. Previously, the city distributed $90,000 through a similar loan program, but it was tapped out in four hours and raised concerns about equitable distribution. (Columbia Missourian)

Hy-Vee to limit meat purchases
Citing concerns about supply shortages due to the coronavirus, the grocery chain, which has about 30 Missouri stores, said it would limit customers to purchasing four packages of meat at a time. (KMBC)

MU starts gradual reopening with limited athletics operations
An athletic training facility at the University of Missouri’s Memorial Stadium is starting to allow student-athletes back in one of MU’s first steps toward repopulating campus. (Columbia Missourian)

Anticipating $20 million shortfall, SLU cuts positions, compensation
Saint Louis University expects a $20 million deficit this year that could rise to $75 million in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university will eliminate most of more than 300 open positions with its health care division and reduce or defer compensation for some employees. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Med tech firm sales fall as hospitals cancel elective surgeries
St. Louis-based Stereotaxis reported first-quarter revenue of $5.8 million, down from $7 million for the same quarter last year, due to the cancellation of most non-essential surgeries. The company said it received a $2.2 million forgivable loan in April through the Paycheck Protection Program. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Springfield engineering firm plans new headquarters
Toth and Associates, an engineering firm with over 100 employees, will relocate to a new headquarters in August after outgrowing its old facility. The company plans to add workers with the move to a larger space. (Springfield Business Journal)

Refrigeration firm acquires another Springfield business
Springfield-based refrigeration company Arctic Food Equipment has acquired the assets of Ozarks Food Equipment Sales & Service, whose owners retired as part of the deal. (Springfield Business Journal)

Efactory cancels 2020 cohort
The Missouri State University business incubator’s accelerator program, which grants businesses $30,000 in seed money in exchange for 8% equity, has been canceled for 2020 due to concerns over the coronavirus. The organization faces uncertainty over some funding in the midst of state budget cuts. (Springfield Business Journal)

St. Louis chamber to lay off seven staffers
The St. Louis Regional Chamber will lay off seven staffers and eliminate three open positions. The organization has reported a deficit six years in a row and is facing economic shocks from COVID-19. (St. Louis Business Journal)


Say that again

“The last thing we want is good people getting sued because they were trying to save people’s lives in unusual circumstances. I think we’re really going to have to take a good look at that.”

That’s what Gov. Mike Parson had to say about a new bill that would shield nursing homes and care facilities in Missouri from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic, signaling his likely support for the measure, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Senate Bill 662, which is sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, would essentially excuse all nursing homes, caregivers and first responders from potential civil liability if a patient with coronavirus were to die under their care. It follows a nationwide campaign by nursing homes to protect themselves against a flood of potential lawsuits. At least 70 nursing homes in Missouri have reported outbreaks of COVID-19, 46 of which were in St. Louis County, according to state health officials.


Go figure

22%

That’s the estimated job loss in the St. Louis metro area since March 1, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The Fed analysis found that job declines in the area varied by city, ranging from 20% to almost 30%, the St. Louis Business Journal reports. For example, jobs declined about 20.6% in St. Louis city, compared to 29.1% in Madison County. The report also found that about one-third of companies are laying off workers, averaging about 14% of their workforce. A separate analysis by Wichita State University projects a 12.2% decline in jobs in the Kansas City metro, upending the previous prediction of a 0.9% growth in employment for the year.


Send tweet


That’s St. Louis County Executive Sam Page revealing that Pfizer will conduct clinical trials for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in St. Louis. The news comes as the pharmaceutical giant moves the new drug, BNT162, into human trials in the U.S., a few weeks after trials began in Germany, CNBC reports. The drug uses genetic material called mRNA to instruct cells to produce more antigens against the virus. Pfizer will collaborate with German drugmaker BioNTech and hopes to test up to 360 people between the ages of 18 and 55.


Hello, my name is

Joe Gruber

This veteran economist has been hired as executive vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve bank of Kansas City, the Kansas City Business Journal reports. Gruber spent 19 years working for the Federal Reserve Board, most recently as deputy director of the international finance division. In his new role, Gruber will lead the Kansas City Fed’s research and analysis programs that support monetary policy, bank supervision and payments missions. He will also join the bank’s management committee and serve as the chief economist and policy adviser to Kansas City Fed President Esther George.


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


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