10 to watch in 2010: People, places and projects that will make headlines this year

Monday, March 15, 2010

1. Health care growth

At a time when health care on the national level is very uncertain, both Cape Girardeau hospitals are in the midst of major development projects.

Construction continues on the new emergency department at Saint Francis Medical Center. (submitted photo)

"There are so many dynamic things happening in health care right now," says Debbie Linnes, president and CEO of Southeast Missouri Hospital. "There has never been a time in history where health care is a key issue on the national agenda." Southeast is taking this as a challenge to raise the platform of care in the region, starting with a new Regional Cancer Center on South Mount Auburn Road. Completion is slated for December. The system has also added a second da Vinci robotic surgical system and is working to expand its cardiology services, including state of the art cardiac ablation. Linnes is particularly interested in recent studies showing that the areas south and west of Cape Girardeau are among the unhealthiest in the state. As a community hospital, says Linnes, Southeast's mission is to work with these communities until quality care is accessible to all of Southeast Missouri. Because one of the greatest unmet needs is for primary care providers, both nationally and locally, Linnes believes this is the best place to start.

"We need to partner with health care facilities throughout the region and challenge them to better meet the needs of the region," she says. Partnership and development are becoming even more crucial because the baby boomer generation is aging and needs more care, and because Southeast Missouri also has high levels of obesity and heart disease.

As for the national health care debate, Linnes thinks it will be more payment reform than complete health care reform. Southeast hopes to continue offering patients the best value for their health care dollar and focusing on the outcome of the patient experience, she adds.

Meanwhile, Saint Francis Medical Center began work on its four-story Heart Hospital and Cancer Institute in July 2008, with completion expected by fall 2011. The hospital is also expanding its Gene E. Huckstep Emergency Center and Level III Trauma Center and building a hybrid surgical suite for endovascular neurosurgery. Saint Francis acquired Immediate Convenient Care in January and in February, completed a hospitality area for families of patients in the Intensive Care Unit or Coronary Care Unit.

Southeast Missouri Hospital President and CEO Debbie Linnes signing the final steel beam celebrating completion of the steel part of the new Regional Cancer Center, slated to open in December. (submitted photo)

Expansion is necessary because heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in Missouri and because cancer touches the lives of three out of four Missouri families, says Steven Bjelich, president and CEO of Saint Francis Medical Center, citing recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Senior Services. Further complicating the problem is an aging population and increased survival rate of cancer patients. It's because of these staggering statistics, says Bjelich, that Saint Francis is working to bring the best possible care to the region.

"Patients no longer have to travel to St. Louis or Memphis for heart or cancer care. We have everything they need at Saint Francis," he says. Providing world-class care locally also allows families to stay together through lengthy medical procedures and be cared for in a community they already trust, he adds.

"Saint Francis has been preparing for health care reform for a long time," says Bjelich. However, he worries that because Cape Girardeau is a regional hub for health care, reform could have a significant effect locally. To prepare for the possibility of an "economic pinch," Bjelich says Saint Francis is working to expand primary care access, recruit primary care providers, and remain at the cutting edge of medical care while remaining diligent with its own operating costs.

2. Wayne Wallingford, Debra Tracy run for Missouri House

Two Cape Girardeau residents -- Wayne Wallingford and Debra Tracy -- will run for state representative in the 158th Missouri House District this year. This is the second bid for Wallingford, a Cape Girardeau businessman and retired U.S. Air Force officer. In 2008, he and Jeff Glenn were defeated by Rep. Clint Tracy in a three-way GOP primary in the 158th Missouri House District. Debra Tracy -- Clint Tracy's mother -- hopes to take her son's place in the Missouri House.

Wallingford is currently director of human resources for McDonald's of Southeast Missouri, but his business sense comes from many more years of experience -- more than 42 years of experience in leadership roles, and more than 17 years working in business, from a Fortune 500 company to a small local business.

"Business leaders expect the government to run the same way a business owner operates their business -- sensibly and responsibly," says Wallingford. "The government needs to let small businesses do what they do best, which is to create jobs. The vast majority of Americans make their livelihoods from business and are trying to make the world a better place for their families and employees. My guiding principle is that we need less government in business." Believing that more taxes and regulations can be crippling to small businesses, Wallingford says he plans to work against policies that would hurt the local workforce and small business owners.

Wayne Wallingford

"As a person who is employed by a small-business owner, I can give lawmakers first-hand perspective on the impact policy has on small business, local employment and the economy," he adds.

Like most other Southeast Missourians, Wallingford is concerned about the economy. He hopes to focus his efforts on improving the local situation and encouraging a business-friendly climate.

"My top priority is the economy and jobs," he says. "The fate of small business and their employees are tied to any movement in the economy. Small-firm operators contribute the entrepreneurial effort so important to Missouri's financial stability. I understand business. I don't want lawyers passing laws about business. I want people with business experience passing laws about business. I will make sure small business values are represented and protected in Jefferson City."

Tracy decided to run for the legislature when her son chose to seek the presiding commissioners job this year. If elected, Tracy said in a Feb. 24 Southeast Missourian story that she would focus on health care issues for women and children and education.

3. Keith Boller and Rhodes 101

Rhodes 101 is quickly becoming a signature business in Southeast Missouri. PAJCO Inc., which operates Rhodes 101 Stops and Jaspers stores, has grown from nine sites in 1998 to approximately 30 locations between Poplar Bluff and Ste. Genevieve, Mo. Rhodes and Jaspers activity has been especially high in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

The Jaspers at 3618 E. Jackson Blvd. in Jackson will reopen in late spring as a Rhodes 101 Stop, according to Keith Boeller, president of PAJCO. Plans are in the works for a Rhodes 101 at the intersection of Bloomfield and Mount Auburn Road in Cape Girardeau and on East Main Street in Jackson. Also in the past year, Rhodes acquired the Rhodes 101 on Nash Road and converted the Jaspers at West End Boulevard and Independence Street back to a Rhodes 101. This month, the former Jaspers on North Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau will reopen as Sunset Spirits and Smoke Shoppe.

"The convenience store industry is not one that is in a huge growth pattern," says Boeller. "This industry is, however, one that is all about convenience. Traffic patterns tend to shift rapidly with new road construction and other development issues ... We always try to position ourselves to be the convenient location for our customers and respond to their needs as their patterns change."

4. Real Estate Market

Those in the market for a new home have enjoyed the benefits of a first-time homebuyers' tax credit this year under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Originally scheduled to expire Nov. 30, 2009, President Obama extended the deadline to April. The credit, claimed on the homebuyer's 2009 tax return in 2010, is for 10 percent of the purchase price of the home, up to a maximum credit of $8,000. To qualify, buyers cannot have owned a principal residence for three years before the purchase.

Bill Cole, broker and owner of Realty Executives of Cape County, says it's hard to tell how the credit has affected real estate sales.

"Unfortunately, the Multiple Listing Service does not track which sales are to first-time homebuyers so there isn't good solid statistical information," he says. "I can say with a high degree of certainty, however, that the first-time homebuyer tax credit has been a reasonably effective tool and an important component of sales during the last six months. But there were other factors as well, namely low mortgage rates, favorable home prices and strong inventory."

The argument also remains that new homebuyers would have bought a home with or without the tax credit. While Cole says this may be true to some extent, he also thinks the credit added a healthy boost to the housing market.

---- The sign says it all in front of this house in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

"Mortgage interest rates have been outstanding and the market conditions, as a whole, have favored the buyer more than the seller," says Cole. "However, the tax credit deadline created a call to action for people who might have otherwise waited before making their first home purchase."

He adds, "It will be interesting to see what happens when May 1 arrives. Certainly the housing market has not recovered; new housing starts are still very low, so the economy has not brought back the construction jobs we need to instill consumer confidence."

Though Cole has heard nothing so far of another tax credit extension, he believes the real estate market will survive with or without the added assistance.

"The vast majority of people still view homeownership as a viable component in their wealth building strategy over the long haul," he says. "But people need to feel confident about their jobs and financial stability, too."

5. Kenny Pincksten and Downtown Development

Work began this year on a section of deteriorating buildings in downtown Cape Girardeau. Kenny Pincksten of Prestige Development purchased 633, 635 and 637 Broadway in early January with hopes of refurbishing the buildings for commercial development. However, a weakened wall at the 633 section required demolition of the building. Pincksten still plans to use the remaining two buildings for commercial activity and is looking for tenants.

---- Demolition began Wednesday morning on two buildings at 621-623 Broadway. Developer Kenny Pincksten is planning a parking lot at the locatio (Fred Lynch)

"As a businessman and developer, I think people overlook the fact that Broadway still has a high traffic count, and property is at a fraction of the cost of other retail areas," he says.

Down the street, Pincksten purchased 621-623 Broadway. The structures were torn down in mid-February to make room for a parking lot. Pincksten also owns 625 Broadway but is unsure of his plans for that building.

"I don't think downtown will ever be as it was in its heyday, but hopefully if this is successful we'll see more developments get on board," he says. "I'm not ready to write downtown off as a lost cause. I see a lot of potential for downtown and I hope Broadway will be a catalyst."

6. Community College in Cape Girardeau County

In December 2009, local leaders and education officials agreed to establish an open-enrollment community college in Cape Girardeau County and were granted approval by Missouri's Coordinating Board for Higher Education. The plan involves Southeast Missouri State University of Cape Girardeau, Three Rivers Community College of Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Mineral Area College of Park Hills, Mo. Enrollment for the center is expected to start this spring, said Dr. Randy Shaw, associate provost and dean of the School of Polytechnic Studies at Southeast Missouri State University, in a March 1 Southeast Missourian story. Staff from all three institutions are currently working out details for the center, from admissions, marketing and financial aid to creating an advisory committee and bylaws.

Forty-four community college classes are expected to begin in late August, borrowing four classrooms and an office from the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. Teaching duties will be split between Southeast and Three Rivers, and Mineral Area will continue to offer a technical component to the center. Officials believe the demand will quickly outgrow the facilities -- in December, officials at Three Rivers and Mineral Area each experienced a 13 percent increase in enrollment for fall classes, and they expect Cape Girardeau to feel the same demand.

7. Cape Girardeau Regional Airport

---- Cape Girardeau Regional Airport welcomes the return of a passenger airline, Cape Air, Sunday, November 8, 2009. The airline based out of New England will have four daily flights to and from St. Louis. (LAURA SIMON)

Cape Girardeau's airport has appeared constantly in the news in the past year, and will likely remain a focal point as new commercial carrier Cape Air continues its first year of service in Southeast Missouri. Massachusetts-based Cape Air now averages 17 passengers per day, while former carrier Great Lakes Airlines averaged only two passengers per day. Flights are offered daily between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis.

But Cape Air's success may be somewhat clouded by the city's ongoing, troublesome relationship with Commander Premier Aircraft Corp since November 2005. The company still owes the city of Cape Girardeau thousands of dollars in back payments on its lease of a manufacturing facility at the airport. Things were looking up in July, when a buyer announced he would purchase Commander Premier, but no actions have yet been taken. In December, the city began pondering other uses for the building. If one were found, Commander Premier would be evicted. The question of whether to wait for a buyout of the company or evict it has been a hot-button issue in Cape Girardeau's current mayoral race. When a new mayor is elected this April, the issue is sure to resurface.

8. West Park Mall

With the economy still in gloomy shape, Cape Girardeau's West Park Mall has remained a focal point of business and retail news. Steve & Barry's 80,000-square-foot anchor store closed in August 2008, followed by PurseNality in September 2009, Playmoors in December and PacSun in February. The Pasta House Co. moved out of its West Park Mall location in January, relocating to the former Jimmi's location on William Street. On the flip side, Parakeet Jungle opened in November 2009, and Gospeland Christian Outlet moved back to the mall early this year. As of mid-February, Susan Godorov, spokeswoman for Centro Properties Group, which owns the mall, says 88 percent of the center's 512,042 square feet is occupied.

---- West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau (Fred Lynch)

Still, the question remains: when will replacements be found for the closed businesses? And, more importantly, how long can the mall sustain itself minus one anchor store and a sit-down restaurant?

"Traffic and sales at the mall continue to stay positive, especially when compared to national trends," says Godorov. "We are close to announcing numerous new national tenants and continue to focus on leasing the vacant space by actively pursuing additional national, regional and local tenants."

In 2009, the mall temporarily leased out the Steve & Barry's space for the Little Lamb's Children's Sale and the Cape Girardeau Comic Con. The mall is also experimenting with other ideas, like new floor graphics outside Macy's, a business seminar for attendees to learn about leasing a kiosk or space inside the mall, and an entrepreneur contest that included a prize of rent-free mall space for six months.

Godorov adds that the mall is working to reduce it "carbon footprint" -- and expenses -- by lowering energy consumption and costs. The mall now uses an electric golf cart and one fuel-efficient utility truck, and is replacing old lighting with more efficient equipment, including solar lights.

Matt Hopkins

9. Cape Girardeau's Mayoral Race

Due to term limits, Jay Knudtson, who has served as mayor of Cape Girardeau since 2002, cannot seek re-election this year. On April 6, Cape Girardeau will elect either Matt Hopkins or Harry Rediger as the city's next mayor. Both candidates have solid backgrounds in business: Hopkins is an account representative for Technology and Networking/ASC, and Rediger is retired after working 38 years in management with J.C. Penney. So what can the candidates' business experience do for the local economy?

Harry Rediger

In past Southeast Missourian interviews, Hopkins outlined his goal of attracting small and medium-size companies to the area, citing the city's central location, numerous transportation options and dedicated workforce as supports for new businesses. Hopkins would also like to see growth to the north of Cape Girardeau and south of and along Route K. At the same time, he is committed to supporting small, local businesses and already-existing jobs, noting that a balance between national franchises and local businesses is ideal. Rediger has told the Southeast Missourian that if elected, he will focus on finding new ways to boost the city's revenue in order to create more local jobs.

10. Energy costs

The cost of living is rising steadily, affecting grocery bills, gasoline prices and, most recently, energy costs. In July, St. Louis-based AmerenUE proposed an 18 percent rate increase for its customers. If approved, the rate increase -- the company's largest in 20 years -- would increase the average household's electric bill by $180 a year, or $15 a month. It would also follow a 2 percent rate increase in 2007 and an 8 percent increase in 2008. Warner Baxter, CEO and president of AmerenUE, told the Dexter Daily Statesman in January that Ameren rates are among the lowest in the nation, but increases are needed to boost reliability of services, cooperate with federal and state requirements for renewable energy and cleaner air, cover higher fuel costs and make up for lower revenue from sales outside the AmerenUE system. The Missouri Public Service Commission will make a final decision on rate increases by this June.

---- Jackson's power plant (Fred Lynch)

Meanwhile, Jackson residents have already seen an increase in their electric bills. Unlike neighboring Cape Girardeau, Jackson negotiates with wholesale electric markets when purchasing electricity. The city currently has a contract with the Missouri Public Energy Pool, an electric supplier for 30 cities across the state. In September 2006, the board of aldermen voted to launch a series of three 12 percent rate increases over six months in order to keep up with the rising costs of electricity. The first increase took effect Oct. 1, with customers seeing a nearly 40 percent increase on their electric bills by the time the six-month period was up in April 2007. City administrators believe Jackson's rates will eventually be lower than those in surrounding communities.

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