Missouri Minute: State officials push COVID-19 tests for all; Bullard predicts potentially strong economic recovery

Good morning, MBA readers,

As colleges and universities across the state send off spring graduates, they continue to contend with a raft of coronavirus-related issues they aren’t likely to get rid of any time soon. The University of Missouri announced another 33 employees will not have their contracts renewed, increasing the total number of employees laid off to 78. MU Health Care also announced 29 layoffs, bringing its total to 61. In addition, MU furloughed 320 more staff members, making that tally nearly 900. The University of Missouri System, meanwhile, faces a new lawsuit from a student seeking tuition refunds after the system moved spring classes online. In St. Louis, Washington University is fighting a similar suit. The St. Louis school also has grappled with decisions about federal relief funds in recent days, ultimately deciding to decline $6.4 million it was offered under the CARES Act. Amid all the pandemic-related challenges, though, some schools see potential promise: Smaller colleges in the Kansas City area say their size is an advantage as they pivot quickly and plan for smaller classes to allow for social distancing.

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State officials push COVID-19 tests for all
Randall Williams, Missouri’s top health official, is telling health care providers to test all people for COVID-19, even those who are not exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus. It’s a shift in position that comes as Gov. Mike Parson works to increase testing rates in the state. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Bullard predicts potentially strong economic recovery
Speaking in a Missouri Growth Association webinar this week, the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank president said he’s optimistic about economic recovery from the pandemic in the second half of 2020. He added that the current crisis is different from the 2008 financial meltdown, arguing that production activities should “go back to near normal” quickly once the pandemic has passed. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Missouri tax chief says no tax return backlog this year
Missouri Department of Revenue Director Ken Zellers said the state has processed 2.5 million individual income tax returns so far, down roughly 358,000 from this time last year. With another 600,000 left to go, Zellers said the department is not anticipating any backlog this year. (Missourinet)

St. Louis won’t allow earnings tax refunds for remote workers
Under a new city rule, non-city residents working away from their St. Louis offices due to the pandemic must continue to pay a 1% income tax for people who work or live in the city. The tax, which generated $230 million last year , is a third of the city’s total revenue. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Restaurants look to expand outdoor seating amid pandemic restrictions
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she is working on a plan that would allow some restaurants to expand seating to adjacent lots and even neighborhood streets. The Kansas City Council is also considering similar measures, which are designed to help restaurants offer more seats while following social distancing rules. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star)

Emerson to invest $100 million in Colorado factory
The Ferguson-based industrial conglomerate announced it will spend $100 million expanding a factory in Boulder, Colorado, and add a new research facility there. The expansion would add 85,000 square feet of laboratory and product development space to the facility, which has 630 employees. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Spring Venture Group to hire 400 new employees
The Kansas City-based health insurance marketer plans to hire 400 new workers over the next three months, mostly filling sales adviser roles. The company said the hiring spree is fueled by growth in the Medicare market. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Utah-based cafe chain pulls out of KC market, citing ‘dismal’ sales
Kneaders Bakery & Cafe is closing its three locations in the Kansas City area because “sales are dismal at the moment,” a company spokesman said. (Kansas City Star)

Two tenants expand within Hunt Midwest SubTropolis
Two companies have leased a total of 52,000 square feet of additional space at the Kansas City underground business park. FarmFoods, which sells meat online, expanded its packaging and distribution facility from 6,200 to 36,000 square feet. Pharmaceutical company Nostrum Laboratories tripled its distribution facility there to 32,800 square feet. (Kansas City Business Journal)

Pier 1 Imports to shutter for good, affecting Missouri stores
The Texas-based retailer has filed a motion to wind down its operations as soon as possible, with plans for a liquidation sale. Pier 1’s CEO said the decision comes after “months of working to identify a buyer.” The chain has five stores in the St. Louis metro, two around Kansas City and at least five more throughout Missouri. (Kansas City Business Journal)

MU, hospital system cut dozens more jobs
The University of Missouri will not renew contracts for 33 more campus employees, and MU Health Care has laid off another 29 workers. To date, the university has laid off 78 people and the hospital system 61 as administrators scramble to address budget shortfalls due to the pandemic. (Columbia Missourian)

Wash U turns down $6.4 million in CARES Act funds
Washington University in St. Louis has declined about $6.4 million in federal pandemic relief, as it would have required the school to use half the funds for emergency financial aid to students. The school is still providing financial aid to students, according to a statement. (St. Louis Business Journal)

Westlake Ace expands in St. Louis market
The Lenexa, Kansas-based subsidiary of Ace Hardware is acquiring Brandt & Sons Ace Hardware, bringing its number of stores to three in the St. Louis market and nearly 140 total. (Kansas City Business Journal)

New metal distribution center to open in St. Joseph 
Alabama-based O’Neal Steel is opening a new 64,000-square-foot facility in St. Joseph on June 1. The facility will initially have up to eight employees. (Missourinet)

Student sues UM system over tuition refund
An unnamed University of Missouri student has sued the UM System in state court, seeking damages related to tuition costs now that all classes have moved online. The suit seeks class-action status, claiming refunds are warranted for students who “received a diminished educational experience.” (St. Louis Business Journal)

St. Louis-area drive-in theater meets pent-up demand
Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, Illinois, reopened on May 8 to great fanfare, showing fan favorites from “Beetlejuice” to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The experience of watching a movie in a car provides patrons a sense of nostalgia while ensuring moviegoers are socially distanced. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Say that again

“We have small class sizes because pedagogically it’s best for our students, but we may even make them smaller if necessary next year.”

That’s what Monsignor Stuart Swetland, head of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, said regarding the next academic year at his small Catholic college, KCUR reports. As many colleges and universities across the country face cuts and make adjustments in the midst of the pandemic, some smaller schools in the Kansas City area say they consider themselves a more attractive option since they offer less crowded classrooms. Institutions like William Jewell College are seeing an increase in enrollment, and students at the college can request single rooms in the dorms, rather than shared ones. At Donnelly College, they are considering a mix of in-person and online classes during the next school year.

Go figure


That’s how much average weekly wages in Clay County grew during the final three months of 2019, giving the Kansas City-area county one of the highest growth rates for fourth-quarter wages among the 356 largest counties in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clay County ranked fourth nationally for quarterly wage growth, making it one off three Missouri counties in the top 15. Boone County saw wages increase 8.5%, ranking fifth. Greene County was 12th, with wage growth of 7%. Nationally, wages grew an average of 3.5%.

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That’s John Saw, a T-Mobile executive, welcoming the startups of the telecom company’s new T-Mobile Accelerator. The Kansas City-based startup program officially announced its launch this week. It replaces the Sprint Accelerator following T-Mobile’s acquisition of Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint. The accelerator, which includes Kansas City startups Aware Vehicles and Homebase, is running a three-month remote program for six early-stage companies.

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


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