March 29, 2015

Nixon-led Missouri trade mission to Europe enters last leg

A Missouri trade mission led by Governor Jay Nixon has gone from Germany to Spain.

Governor Jay Nixon and other Missouri trade delegation members meet with BMW executives in Munich, Germany.  (courtesy; Governor Nixon's Twitter account, @GovJayNixon)

Governor Jay Nixon and other Missouri trade delegation members meet with BMW executives in Munich, Germany. (courtesy; Governor Nixon’s Twitter account, @GovJayNixon)

The Governor says he wants to do three things with this trade trip: thank those companies that already trade with Missouri, let Missouri business leaders meet with their customers, and to look for ways to expand the already strong trade market Missouri has in Europe.

“I think we’re in a growth zone here. I mean, you’re seeing the economy of our state pick up and I think the fact that we are a great place to do business, I think we’re going to continue to see growth in this export sector to Europe,” Nixon told reporters on a conference call from Munich.

The trip has also visited Italy. Between the three countries it has stopped in, Missouri exports exceeded $577-million in 2014. Nixon hopes to increase Missouri exports, which he said reached $14.1-billion last year, the second highest year on record.

“2012 and 2014 were the two best years on record for export of Missouri goods, and these companies with us and a myriad of others will help us in continuing to create more jobs and make more exports,” said Nixon.

Nixon did not say that any new deals have been sealed during this trip.

Missouri has received international attention since August, when 18-year-old Michael Brown, Junior, was fatally shot by a Ferguson Police officer. Nixon says, though, that incident and the unrest that followed have not been major topics of discussion in his meetings with foreign officials.

“Just the fact that folks were aware of it because of the significant attention that it got, and that we appear to be trying to do some things concretely over the long run that are going to make a difference,” said Nixon.

The trip ends Saturday. It is being paid for by a nonprofit economic development group.

European auto parts supplier to open distribution center in Missouri

A European auto parts supplier will place its first North American location in Missouri.

Universal Components Group (UCG) is a United Kingdom based company that plans to expand its operations by opening up a distribution center in O’Fallon.  According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED), the expansion project is expected to create 31 new jobs and a capital investment of $765,000.

UCG is a wholesale distribution business for commercial vehicle, truck, and semi-trailer components.  The company is the largest independent distributor of aftermarket parts in the UK and supplies more than 1,000 distribution outlets worldwide.  UCG works closely with Wainwright Industries in Wentzville, which led to its decision to expand to an approximately 10,000 square-foot warehouse in St. Charles County.

“Universal Components Group is very excited about the new location in O’Fallon.  The U.S market is a great opportunity for us,” said David Kernahan, CEO of UCG.  “The support we have received from the Missouri DED and our Sister company Wainwright Industries has allowed us to get our distribution footprint in place very quickly.”

The DED has offered a strategic economic incentive package to UCG if the company proves to meet strict job creation and investment criteria.

House adopts $26.1-billion budget, sans Medicaid expansion

The state House has adopted a 26.1-billion dollar state spending plan for the year that begins July 1. Majority Republicans have for the third straight year turned away an effort to accept expansion of Medicaid in the budget.

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

House Democrats like Kip Kendrick (Columbia) say that means leaving billions of federal dollars on the table and not extending coverage to those living at 138-percent of the federal poverty level.

“We are literally spending money to keep 250,000 Missourians from the healthcare that they deserve,” said Kendrick during debate on Tuesday.

Republican Caleb Rowden (Columbia) says Missouri can’t afford to expand the current Medicaid system, which he calls, “broken.”

“We are spending tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain our current system at the detriment of K-12 education and at the detriment of higher education,” argued Rowden.

The House budget proposes a $74-million increase for K-12 education; $24-million more than Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) proposal but that would still leave the state about $408-million short of fully backing the K-12 funding formula.

The 13 budget bills need another favorable vote to reach the Senate.

Ford adding jobs, upping salaries building the F-150 in Kansas City

Ford will add 900 jobs in Kansas City and increase salaries for a number of its existing workers building the F-150 truck.

A 2015 Ford F-150 (Photo by: Sam VarnHagen)

A 2015 Ford F-150 (Photo by: Sam VarnHagen)

The company announced the overall addition of 1,550 jobs at its facilities in Kansas City and in Dearborn and Sterling Heights, Michigan, building the 2015 F-150. As part of Ford’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the United Auto Workers, about 300 to 500 workers will see a pay increase from $19.28 to $28.50 an hour. Ford says most of those employees work in Kansas City, Chicago and Louisville.

The addition of jobs is on top of 5,000 hourly jobs Ford added across its U.S. manufacturing facilities in 2014. Once the new hires come on board during the first quarter of this year, Ford will employ more than 7,000 workers in Kansas City.

Ford says the moves are in response to strong demand for the F-150. The company says January was the F-Series truck’s strongest sales month since 2004.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) will travel to Magna Seating in Excelsior Springs Wednesday to talk about the additions at Ford and the strength of Missouri’s auto sector.

5 things to listen for in Missouri’s 2015 State of the State

Governor Jay Nixon (D) will deliver tonight the penultimate State of the State Address of his two terms. In it he’ll present his policy and spending priorities for the legislative session and the year, and today legislators will get his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  You’ll be able to watch the State of the State, the Republican response, and post-address reactions at, in conjunction with KMIZ TV, beginning at 6:45 tonight.

There are many things the governor is likely to talk about, such as the staples of education, job creation, and economic development.  Here, we offer some background on some of the other things one might listen for during the speech:

Governor Jay Nixon is greeted by legislators as he leaves the Missouri House Chamber after delivering the State of the State address at the State Capitol in Jefferson City. UPI / Bill Greenblatt

Governor Jay Nixon is greeted by legislators as he leaves the Missouri House Chamber after delivering a previous year’s State of the State address at the State Capitol in Jefferson City. UPI / Bill Greenblatt

1) How the Governor addresses Ferguson

The Governor must address the single biggest issue in Missouri of the past year. Nixon has received criticism from multiple fronts for his, and his administration’s, response to unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown, Junior, by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A joint state legislative committee is investigating the state response on the night the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced.

Nixon stands by how he and his administration have responded, but his critics–some within his own party–remain vocal.  One thing he might do is reiterate the call he and others have made for the U.S. Justice Department to release the results of its investigations into the Michael Brown shooting, which some see as necessary for the community of Ferguson to at last move on.

Nixon has often talked in past State of the State addresses about how Missouri and her citizens have responded to adversity, but the sensitivity of the issue and its relation to his office means great delicacy is required.  There is also a great deal of legislation stemming from Ferguson he could speak about, such as a bill to require the appointment of a special prosecutor in all officer-involved shootings or one that would abolish the grand jury system.

It’s also possible that protestors will seek to make their voices heard during the State of the State Address, much as they did the opening day of the legislative session two weeks ago.

2) Whether he will propose a transportation infrastructure funding plan

Nixon asked for, and received, a report from the state Transportation Department on whether making I-70 a toll road is feasible.  He hasn’t said whether he will call for that, or any other, transportation funding plan, leaving some believing that he’ll lay one out during the State of the State.  The Transportation Department, meanwhile, has outlined it’s “Tough Choices Ahead” plan, telling Missourians it will only perform regular maintenance on about a quarter of Missouri’s roads under the funding level projected for 2017.

Members and leaders of the Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate maintain that a tolling proposal won’t clear the legislature.  Some of them also blame the governor for the sound defeat of a transportation tax proposal in 2014, saying it failed because he opted to put it on the August primary ballot. They say, then, that he needs to step up with a plan of his own.

3) Can Missouri keep the Rams in St. Louis?

Signs point to “no,” with many believing that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke is well on the path toward taking the team to Los Angeles, assuming NFL owners don’t interfere.

A task force appointed by Nixon has laid out its plan for a new stadium in St. Louis, and Nixon has said, “there is a value to being an NFL City.” Still, state lawmakers have expressed resistance to involving taxpayer dollars in that effort.

Nixon might use the opportunity presented by the Address to push for some effort to keep the team in the Gateway city.

4) Tone toward Republicans

In his 2014 State of the State Address Nixon included some tough language regarding the positions of a Republican supermajority on Medicaid expansion; teacher pay, benefits and tenure; and tax reform. After November’s elections he faces even larger Republican supermajorities in both state legislative chambers.

The President of the Senate, Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles), has said he’s encouraged by a tone of greater cooperation and communication from Nixon leading into this session. That could be, or not be, reflected in Nixon’s address tonight.

5) Medicaid expansion

Republicans in the state Senate, like those in the House, continue to oppose Medicaid expansion, with one of their newest members saying he will, “do everything,” he can to prevent it.

That doesn’t mean Governor Nixon has given up on the idea, however, recently telling reporters that it isn’t a lost cause and that a “cavalcade of states” with Republican governors and legislatures have moved forward on Medicaid, which he calls a significant change from last year.

He’s not alone in supporting expansion of Medicaid eligibility either, with the latest proposal being targeted at veterans, though the opponents seem to far outnumber the proponents.