A look back at 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007
The sun rises while a John Deere combine sitting parked on a freshly harvested corn field with acres of corn left to harvest Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006, near Ashland, Ill. From corn fields to Wall Street, enthusiasm for ethanol is at an all-time high. But not everyone is enthusiastic. Demand for the corn-based fuel is driving up the cost of feed corn, making it more expensive to feed cows, chickens and pigs. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

The regional business scene was a mixed bag in 2007, as national slumps in housing and automobile sales made their presence felt while local achievements, including the opening of the National Asset Recovery Services Inc., or NARS, call center with its 400 new jobs, helped offset other job losses.

Plans for the future made a lot of headlines, mainly in the energy sector. Two area ethanol plants received construction permits from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, but no construction is underway at this time. And in Alexander County, Ill., proposals for a soy-to-diesel facility and a coal-to-diesel refinery raised hopes for a major boost in the economy of impoverished Cairo.

The medical sector, led by Southeast Missouri Hospital and Saint Francis Medical Center, maintained its dominating position as the leading industry and continued to add new facilities and new employees. But rising prices for fuel and food took a toll on purchasing power and some retailers are feeling pinched by sluggish sales.

"It depends on the sector" whether a particular business had a good or bad year, said John Mehner, president and chief executive officer of the Cape Gir?ar?deau Area Chamber of Commerce. "Many sectors were very strong, others were mid-range and others not very good."

Here is a month-by-month review of the major business stories:

January

Jan. 12: A proposal for a $3 billion coal-to-diesel refinery capable of producing 50,000 barrels of fuel a day and employing 1,000 people is explained to local political and economic development officials in Southern Illinois. The investors, Clean Coal Power Inc. of Louisville, Ky., obtained options on several hundred acres between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, including the Cairo Airport.

February

Feb. 12: The Cape Girardeau Board of Education ends discussions with NARS to jointly operate a preschool facility in the company's new call center on William Street. NARS moves ahead with plans to offer onsite day care to its employees.

Feb. 20: Greater Missouri Builders seeks a package of tax breaks and other public incentives to finance its overhaul of the Sears building and the Town Plaza shopping center. City and county leaders agree to property tax abatements as well as a Community Improvement District that will impose a one-cent sales tax to pay for the improvements.

Feb. 25: RegionsAir, Cape Gir?ar?deau's commercial passenger air line link to St. Louis, cuts prices. The move comes after city officials receive packets containing the bids from four airlines for the right to serve Cape Girardeau.

March

The passenger gate sits deserted but ready for use when Big Sky Airlines begins passenger services Nov. 18 from Cape Girardeau Regional Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio. (Rudi Keller)

March 3: The Federal Aviation Administration grounds RegionsAir because of safety concerns. The airline is flying again the next day, but five days later the planes are grounded again. Meanwhile, Cape Girardeau officials endorse the bid from Big Sky Airlines to serve Cape Girardeau with flights to Cincinnati, and the U.S. Department of Transportation chooses Big Sky.

April

April 4 to April 10: A record April freeze, with temperatures overnight in the teens, batters the fruit and wheat crops in the region. The true extent of the damage becomes clear later in the year, with strawberry, peach and grape crops all but wiped out and lower-than-expected wheat yields.

May

Dana Corp. building was put up for sale on May 7. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

May 7: The Dana Corp. manufacturing plant at 2075 Corporate Circle is put up for sale. In the coming months, the work force at the plant dwindles until production ceases in November.

May 18: The Missouri legislature passes a bill allowing the sharing of sales tax revenue through the creation of districts that cross city boundaries, an idea designed to ease competition between Cape Girardeau and Jackson over the location of major retail developments at the new Interstate 55 interchange.

June

June 21: The U.S. Department of Labor announces a $5 million grant under the WIRED Initiative. The grant, to the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, will pay for a program designed to study ways to transform the rural economy of the region to meet future employment needs.

June 27: Esicar's Old Hickory Smokehouse, a Cape Girardeau institution for 74 years, announces it will close its doors in September. Blake Esicar, the third generation to operate the family business, said the timing was right.

July

July 9: Scott County officials are planning to create an Enhanced Enterprise Zone in rural sections of the county. The zone is planned to include Scott City, Chaffee, Miner, Diehlstadt, Blodgett, Morley and Vanduser, and can boost the economy by providing tax breaks and other incentives to new businesses.

August

Aug. 1: Hotel owners Pete and Manny Patel of Carbondale, Ill., announce plans to build a $2.2 million, 62-bed hotel near Center Junction. The Comfort Suites hotel will be on the east side of Old Orchard Road, just off U.S. 61. The Patels, former owners of the Town House Inn in Cape Girardeau, also operate hotels in Paducah, Ky., Pinckneyville, Ill., Vienna, Ill., Carbondale and Anna, Ill.

Aug. 27: Shawn and Lynn McNally open a new gym, Class Act Family Fitness Center, on Old Orchard Road with 57,000 square feet under the roofs of two buildings. The couple will have the area's only indoor tennis courts and plan to include a 25-yard, six-lane indoor swimming pool.

September

Sept. 17: A Southeast Missourian examination of health care shows that the two area hospitals have a combined payroll of $170 million, more than the entire retail sector. Each hospital employs more than 2,000 people, and shows employment increases of 25 percent and total payroll increases of 63 percent in a little more than four years.

Sept. 24: Toyoda Gosei Missouri announces plans for a 20th anniversary celebration for the Perryville, Mo., plant. The Japanese-owned manufacturing plant makes components for automobiles, supplying parts for Toyota and other manufacturers, at a 800,000-square-foot plant employing about 1,500 people.

October

Oct. 19: A spokesman for THF Realty, the developer chosen to plan the use of Southeast Missouri State University property at the new I-55 interchange, said that all plans are on hold. The company had already alienated business and civic leaders with the size of its demands for tax help with the project. At the same time, Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said he opposes sharing of tax revenue from the development with Jackson.

Oct. 29: The General Services Administration announces plans for a new Social Security office building on South Silver Springs Road. The building will be erected by VerMaas Construction of Lincoln, Neb., and leased to the government.

November

Nov. 18: Big Sky Airlines, after lengthy delays, begins two daily round trip flights from Cape Girardeau to Cincinnati. The service brings a sigh of relief from airport and city officials, who are happy to be able to again say Cape Girardeau has commercial passenger service.

December

Dec. 3: The effort to sell the Dana Corp. building seems to bear fruit in early December when Schaefer's Electrical Enclosures of Advance, Mo., announces plans to purchase the building and asks for city help with a bond issue to finance the deal. Another buyer, Plaza Tire, steps in, however, and buys the building in an auction conducted by Dana's bankruptcy attorneys.

Dec. 10: A Southeast Missourian examination of the housing market shows that foreclosures for the year are up nearly 40 percent in Cape Girardeau County, mirroring national trends. Real estate brokers report that sales are sluggish for homes on the market. Housing starts in Cape Girardeau are down in 2007, averaging seven permits for new residential construction per month compared to almost 11 per month in 2005.

The passenger gate sat deserted at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. Big Sky began passenger services Nov. 18, then announced Dec. 18 that it was shutting down. (Rudi Keller)

Dec. 18: Big Sky Airlines announces it is shutting down all service in the eastern half of the country, citing heavy losses and bad weather that interrupted its schedule on numerous days. The U.S. Department of Transportation starts an emergency process to find a replacement carrier to receive the subsidy for Cape Girardeau and other small cities served by Big Sky under the Essential Air Services program.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 126

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