The top 12 of 2012: A look back at the year's biggest business stories

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Cape Girardeau's Richard G. Wilson Mail Processing and Distribution Facility (file photo)

Postal distribution center to remain open, for now

Cape Girardeau's Richard G. Wilson Mail Processing and Distribution Facility will remain open at least through February 2014.

The facility was not among the 140 set to close starting this summer as part of a modified plan to consolidate its mail processing centers announced in May by the U.S. Postal Service.

The new two-phase plan calls for up to 140 consolidations to be completed by February 2013 and a second round of 89 consolidations to begin in February 2014.

Cape Girardeau's center, with about 100 employees, was not included in the first round of consolidations. Those facilities selected for the second round have not yet been named by the Postal Service.

The local distribution center was one of 220 set to close until the U.S. Postal Service agreed to a moratorium on facility closures to allow Congress time to act on an alternative.

Once both phases of the consolidations are completed, the Postal Service will have reduced its workforce by 28,000 employees and save about $2.1 billion annually.

According to the Postal Service's feasibility study, consolidating the Cape Girardeau center's operations with St. Louis will save the agency $3.8 million annually.

Cape County Commission approves $300 million in bonds for P&G

A $300 million expansion of Procter & Gamble facilities is in the works after the Cape Girardeau County Commission approved a plan to issue industrial development bonds in August.

Commissioners unanimously approved issuing $300 million in Chapter 100 bonds, which company representatives have said will help fund additional manufacturing capacity needed at P&G's Cape Girardeau County plant to meet future consumer demands. The expansion will also create around 200 construction jobs and 35 full-time positions once building is complete, according to the company.

Chapter 100 of Missouri statutes allows counties, cities and other municipalities to issue bonds to finance the costs of industrial development projects for private corporations. Government entities can issue bonds at a lower interest rate than conventional financing corporations could receive.

As long as the bonds are outstanding, the company can receive tax abatements. Chapter 100 bonds also allow for a sales tax exemption on construction materials for the project.

Approval by the commission was a final step for the company in moving ahead plans for the expansion project, which has been in P&G's master plan since the 1990s and a focus for the company for nearly seven years, said Lenn Hess, a project engineer.

Hospitals undertake expansions, new projects

Cape Girardeau's hospitals both took steps to expand their reach and services in 2012.

In November, Saint Francis Medical Center broke ground for its $127 million "Building on Excellence" project.

The project, which has a target completion date of June 2016, calls for a new, updated main entrance, five-story patient tower, a Women and Children's Pavilion and an Orthopedic and Neurosciences Center. It will add more than 217,000 square feet to the medical center, bringing it to 1.6 million square feet.

Steven Bjelich, president and CEO of Saint Francis, said patients and visitors can expect an enhanced medical experience in the new facility upon completion.

"Patients will be cared for in rooms that will be larger than before," he said, "and they will all be private. Right now we have 65 percent of the rooms in the hospital designated as private, and after completion we will be at 100 percent."

SoutheastHEALTH, meanwhile, joined with Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston, Mo., to form a new company, Servir, to build and manage a common networking and data storage center for both organizations. They're currently seeking other medical providers to partner with them for data storage.

The new $3.5 million facility off Silver Springs Road in Cape Girardeau includes a 2,000-square-foot electronic data storage area and training rooms. Its data storage is equivalent to 250,000 CDs.

Both hospitals will install a $12 million health information software system called Soarian, said Mike Dozier, regional information officer for SoutheastHEALTH. A fiber-optic cable also now connects Southeast's facilities in Cape Girardeau to the data center and to Missouri Delta Medical Center. Southeast Health Center of Ripley County, formerly Ripley County Memorial Hospital, will convert to the new system in about a year.

SoutheastHEALTH also entered a lease agreement, scheduled to begin in 2019, with Dexter Community Regional Hospital Foundation. A 10-year-lease between SoutheastHEALTH and the Dexter, Mo., foundation starting Dec. 31 will replace the foundation's expiring lease with SunLink Health Systems of Atlanta. SunLink has leased the 50-bed Dexter hospital, called Missouri Southern Healthcare, since 2000.

Isle of Capri Cape Girardeau casino opens

Isle of Capri Cape Girardeau casino opens (file photo)

When Missouri's 13th and last casino license became available in spring 2010, developers and city officials began to pursue a casino development. Voters approved riverboat gambling in November 2010 and construction on the casino complex began four months later.

The casino opened its doors Oct. 30.

Missouri Gaming Commission executive director Roger Stottlemyre presented Isle Cape Girardeau general manager Chet Koch with the casino's gaming license before the ribbon cutting to formally give the go-ahead for the facility to open.

Jim Riley, one of the early proponents for a casino, said he hoped Cape Girardeau would leverage Isle's $135 million investment into the community to keep improvements and momentum going.

During Isle Casino Cape Girardeau's first two days of operation, more than 10,700 people came to play.

Isle Casino Cape Girardeau, a 137,000-square-foot facility, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesdays. It features nearly 1,000 slot machines, 28 table games, four restaurants and a 750-seat events center.

TG Missouri expanding, adding jobs

More than 200 jobs will be created as part of an expansion of TG Missouri's chroming operations, Gov. Jay Nixon said during a visit to the plant in March.

He visited TG's Perryville, Mo., plant to help announce plans for a $38.9 million expansion and $3.8 million in state economic development incentives for the project.

"This is a great day for us," said Todd Huber, president of TG Missouri.

TG manufactures steering wheels, air bags, side molding and interior and exterior plastic trim components for automobiles. The expansion will allow for the production of chrome components for grills and rear details for the Toyota Highlander SUV. The vehicle is assembled at Toyota's Indiana plant.

Bank of Missouri, First Community State bank acquire more locations

The parent company of The Bank of Missouri, Reliable Community Bancshares Inc., completed its acquisition of The First Southeast Missouri Bancorporation Inc., the holding company for Security Bank and Trust Company.

Security Bank and Trust, headquartered in Scott City, had $80 million in assets. Under the terms of the agreement, The Bank of Missouri purchased the assets and assumed the liabilities of the Scott City, Patton, Mo., Marble Hill, Mo., and Cape Girardeau locations.

With completion of this transaction, The Bank of Missouri now operates 21 locations throughout the state.

Also in 2012, First State Community Bank agreed to purchase nine Bank of America locations, including those in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

Pending regulatory approval, it is expected that the transaction will be completed in the second quarter of 2013, according to a news release from First State Community Bank, headquartered in Farmington, Mo.

Local housing market rebounds

David Trankle of Trankle Masonry measures a brick to be placed on the exterior of a new home on Winterfield Circle Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 in Cape Girardeau. (file photo)

Increasing sales of existing homes and an uptick in new construction indicate the U.S. housing market is gaining ground. Local real estate agents say they're seeing similar trends in the Cape Girardeau area.

For the first eight and a half months of 2012, the number of residential single-family homes sold in Cape Girardeau County is up 10.4 percent compared to the same period in 2011, with a total of 580 single-family units.

Nationally, home sales jumped to the highest level in more than two years in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. Sales rose 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million, the most since May 2010. Construction of new single-family homes in August also occurred at the fastest rate in more than two years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced.

Prices are inching up as well, according to MLS data.

The national median home price was $187,400 in August, up 9.5 percent from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Mortgage rates will hold steady and may go even lower as the result of the Federal Reserve's aggressive plans to purchase large sums of mortgage-backed securities, said John M. Thompson, president at The Bank of Missouri.

"We can anticipate having ongoing and continued low mortgage rates, based on what the fed has said they are going to continue to do, through 2015," Thompson said.

Although the economy hasn't recovered at the pace or level many would have hoped for, Thompson said as it relates to homeownership, people are becoming more confident.

"Those that were concerned about their ongoing employment now feel more stable about that. Those that have jobs, while one year ago they weren't confident enough to say I'm going to go ahead and buy. Now they feel more comfortable," he said.

Drought costs farmers, leads to low river concerns

Lack of moisture during the summer caused big problems for farmers and others who rely heavily on water for their livelihoods.

File photo

In July, Gov. Jay Nixon said the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved a request to designate all 114 Missouri counties as disaster areas. Eighteen Missouri counties, including Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Perry, Scott and Stoddard counties, were designated as disaster areas July 12, with the rest of the state receiving its designation. Nixon later extended the state of emergency.

The designation allows farmers to qualify for low-interest emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency, said Terry Birk, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Farm Service Agency.

While those loans may help farmers short-term, they do have to be repaid, Birk said.

The drought has left a shortage of hay and pasture land, Birk said, with the price of hay doubling. Some farmers turned to baling corn stalks to feed livestock.

Drought conditions hit especially hard in Southeast Missouri, which the U.S. Drought Monitor showed to be in extreme drought for an extended period.

After months of drought, companies that ship grain and other goods down the Mississippi River are being haunted by a potential nightmare: If water levels fall too low, the nation's main inland waterway could become impassable to barges just as the harvest heads to market.

Any closure of the river would upend the transport system that has carried American grain since before steamboats and Mark Twain. Shipping companies are scrambling to find alternative ways to move tons of corn, wheat and other crops to the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas.

As the year neared its end, the Mississippi approached the point where it may become too shallow for barges that carry food, fuel and other commodities. If the river is closed for a lengthy period, experts say, economic losses could climb into the billions of dollars.

Compounding the problem, the Army Corps of Engineers turned back requests by federal lawmakers and the barge industry to release more water from the Missouri River, believing the drought-starved Mississippi River it feeds still will remain open to shipping despite mounting concerns about water levels.

Long, hot summer results in 14 ozone exceedances

Automotive exhaust contributes to the ozone in the atmosphere. (file photo)

After exceeding the standards for ground-level ozone just three times in 2011, the Perry County monitor posted 14 exceedances between May and August this year.

The current standard, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is 75 parts per billion, but the monitor in Farrar, Mo., registered as high as 89 parts per billion June 29, when the temperature hit 107 degrees.

"The heat wave got us. Hot days, still air, lots of sunshine equal the perfect recipe for ozone formation," said David Grimes, deputy director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission in Perryville, Mo., who coordinates the regional air quality task force. Other ozone monitors across the state are also recording high ozone values, with the Bonne Terre, Mo., monitor in Ste. Genevieve County showing seven exceedances and many monitors in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., posting readings above the standard as well, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources weekly ozone report.

Counties that fail to meet ozone standards are considered "nonattainment zones" and businesses there face restrictions on their emission of pollutants that contribute to the formation of ozone, such as nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds. Exposure to ozone causes a variety of respiratory problems for people and can damage vegetation and upset ecosystems, said Renee Bungart, director of communications at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Interstate 55 Corridor Group forms, focuses on economic development

As industrial site selectors are taking a more regional approach when looking for locations, Southeast Missouri communities are making an effort to market themselves as a region.

"In this global economy, you've got to act regionally and that's what we're doing," said Perry County Economic Development Authority director Scott Sattler, a member of the new Interstate 55 Corridor Group.

The group has members from Sikeston, Scott City, Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Perryville, as well as Perry, Cape Girardeau and Scott counties.

"Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger said he hopes the group will bring synergy to the specific economic development efforts of communities within the group.

The joint effort will not infringe on or supersede any local plans of any of the member communities, he said.

Sikeston's Executive Academy, made up of about 25 community leaders, reached out to other communities along Interstate 55 to get the group started, said Steve McPheeters, a member of the academy.

"I think the Do It Best moving from Nash Road to Sikeston's industrial park was the thing that kind of put it in perspective," McPheeters said. "There's a lot we can gain from working with each other versus trying to always compete."

Communities can also broaden their reach with industrial site selectors by pooling their financial resources on combined marketing efforts, Rediger said.

Saxony Lutheran, Strack Excavating battle over quarry in court

Saxony Lutheran High School won another battle in court in September in its fight against quarries operating near the school.

Judge William Syler ruled Sept. 26 that Strack Excavating LLC won't be able to continue operating its quarry near the school while it appealed Syler's earlier decision from earlier in month invalidating its permit to operate the quarry.

Strack Excavating's motion to amend a judgment that vacated its surface-mining permit near Saxony Lutheran High School was denied by Syler.

In October, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals denied a motion by Strack Excavating to be able to operate its quarry near Saxony Lutheran High School. The court also announced that Saxony Lutheran High School, the respondent, had until Dec. 10 to file a brief with the court. Strack Excavating and the Missouri Land Reclamation Commission's briefs are due Jan. 2, with Saxony Lutheran's reply due Jan. 15.

Saxony Lutheran won an initial victory Sept. 12 against Strack and the Department of Natural Resources' Land Reclamation Commission when Syler overturned the commission ruling that awarded Strack a permit to construct a limestone quarry adjacent to the school's property.

Saxony Lutheran had appealed the issuance of Strack's permit, arguing the land commission was prohibited by law from issuing a permit to a quarry that has a boundary within 1,000 feet of an accredited school. At the time the permit was issued in September 2011, Strack's mine plan boundary was only 55 feet from Saxony's property, but the commission modified the permit to require a larger buffer before giving approval, in response to a change in state law.

The school contended that the law did not give the commission the power to impose a special condition that would grant Strack a permit so long as its mining plan boundary was relocated 1,000 feet or more away from Saxony property.

Syler agreed with Saxony Lutheran.

"If the General Assembly had intended to confer statutory authority on the commission to impose conditions in a permit, then it would have expressly done so," he said in his Sept. 12 opinion that reversed the commission's decision and vacated Strack's permit.

Downtown experiences revitalization with improvements, new stores

Broadway business owners who struggled through a summer of construction celebrated the $4.41 million street project's completion in November.

Vehicles are parked on the south side of the 500 block of Broadway. (file photo)

In addition to the city's project, many owners took the initiative to paint or put up new signs in an effort to upgrade their own businesses. Improvements on Broadway are contagious and spreading upward from the new street and sidewalks to the tops of the buildings that line it.

"The innovation and improvements on Broadway -- the widened sidewalks, the landscaping -- will encourage a lot of entrepreneurs to reconsider Broadway as a destination for their new businesses," said Robert Gentry, who operates The Corner Grocery Store with his wife, Mary.

Adding to downtown's revitalization, six new businesses have opened on Broadway -- Philanthropy, Arevalo Photography, Sweet Design Boutique, Red Line Motorsports, Relentless Media and Budget Buster Furniture -- as well as new stores such as Stash and Sloan and Themis on Main Street.

Eleven buildings have either been updated or are now undergoing upgrades, said Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills.

Also in 2012, the Riverfront Farmers Market brought crowds downtown on Saturday mornings to shop for homegrown produce, homemade baked good and crafts.

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