Local News: Big business: 2021 full of economic comings, goings, growth (12/27/21)

Selina Johansson

Barista Emily Long prepares a caramel latte at The Ground-A-Bout Marquette. The coffee shop was one of many businesses in the region that struggled with supply chain issues.

Monica Obradovic ~ Southeast Missourian

Some of the biggest news in Southeast Missouri during 2021 came from the business community.

From businesses opening and closing to trends continuing and diminishing, some of the stories from the year included:

Region’s economy chugging along

Cape Girardeau County, especially, weathered the COVID-19 pandemic well, from an economic standpoint, if one metric is an indicator. Sales tax revenue continued to set records in the county.

Cape Girardeau County will break $8 million in sales-tax receipts in 2021 for the first time.

The West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau sold earlier in the year for about $10 million. A “local” investor group purchased the property.

Southeast Missourian

The office of County Treasurer Roger Hudson revealed in November the county received $594,011.70 that month in its sales-tax account from the Missouri Department of Revenue — pushing the year-to-date revenue generation to $7,657,059.40.

The sales-tax account is running 8.4% ahead of last year’s record pace when the county’s sales generated just more than $7,791.000.

Other numbers pointed to a strong economy, as well.

Unemployment in Cape Girardeau County fell to 2.2% in September, the lowest monthly jobless rate since September 2019, when it was also 2.2%, according to the most recent figures from the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR).

September’s jobless claims totaled 144 in Cape Girardeau County, the lowest since 139 filed in pre-pandemic February 2020.

Macy’s closed its West Park Mall location in the spring. The store, originally known as Famous-Barr, has been an anchor tenant of the mall since 1981.

Jeff Long ~ Southeast Missourian

Unemployment rates in surrounding Missouri counties were low, too, ranging from 2.8% in Madison County to 1.9% in Perry County.

Read more here and here.

Supply chain issues

One aspect of the economy that rippled throughout the region in 2021 was a bottlenecked supply chain.

In June, City of Cape Girardeau officials announced the $12.5 million City Hall project at 44 N. Lorimier St. was been delayed.

Krabby Daddy’s opened this year at 841 N. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau.

Southeast Missourian

“The delay in building materials experienced by so many people building a new home or working on home improvements has finally caught up with the City Hall project,” according to a news release, which praised the efforts of the design-build contractor, Penzel Construction Co.

Penzel said finishing the project was dependent upon delivery of certain materials, with the supplier unwilling to commit to a timeline because the industry is volatile.

“The big issue right now is (getting) the roofing installation,” said Phil Penzel, the company’s CEO. “We have no end date for receiving this material. Nobody will commit to anything. It’s very open-ended at this point and that’s very unusual. I absolutely do not like it, but what can I do about it?”

The issue extended to many items. In September, The Ground-A-Bout co-founder Bob Schooley said plastic cups, lids and straws had been hard to come by.

“Our suppliers are often out of them,” Schooley said. “If they’re not out of them, they’re 40% to 50% more in cost.”

Organic Remedies-Missouri facility manager Scott Arnzen stands in one of the flower rooms, part of a 30,000-square-foot medical marijuan cultivation area at the ORMO facility in Chaffee, Missour.

Southeast Missourian

Red Banner Coffee Roasters owners Robbie and Katie Britt cited similar issues. The couple recently opted to use custom cups, since their usual suppliers had such low inventory.

“We were paying 30 cents for a lid, cup and straw together, now we’re paying $1,” Katie Britt said.

Even U.S. flags were in short supply.

Pete Poe of River City Flags in Cape Girardeau, which supplies flags for Avenue of Flags, said flag production has slowed to a crawl.

“Our industry is not immune to the craziness that is going on,” he noted. “The supply chain issues definitely hit us. It’s a labor situation first; a materials situation second.”

Recently, Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson cited supply chain concerns as the reason behind an emergency request for four vehicles for the use of county law enforcement.

“We need to expand our fleet due to additional officers, plus we’re being warned newer vehicles are going to be harder to come by next year,” Dickerson said. “We bought several cars through the used-vehicle program of the Missouri Highway Patrol and even those will be harder to find (in 2022).”

Read more here, here, here and here.

West Park Mall

A retail icon in Cape Girardeau went on the auction block in 2021.

On the last day of June, the mall sold for $9,772,222 in an online auction.

The sale included the mall’s 68-acre lot, but excludes the J.C. Penney store inside the mall, which is under separate ownership.

River City Centre LLC was announced as the mall’s new ownership group. To date, the names of those involved in the group have not been released.

“I’m not sure how much information they’re ready to release yet,” said mall manager Christy Easley. She did indicate, though, the group is comprised of investors who are “local to our area.”

A source at the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office told the Southeast Missourian that River City Centre registered with the state July 9. According to the registration documents, the group’s registered agent and organizer is Lucas M. Haley and the group has listed its address as 407 N. Kingshighway, Suite 400, in Cape Girardeau.

Read more here and here.

Where are the workers?

People were in short supply throughout 2021, too.

The Ground-A-Bout co-founder Bob Schooley planned to open a third location of his coffeehouse by the end of summer, but one issue stood in his way.

“I’m ready to build it, but I can’t go forward because I can’t hire enough staff to fill it,” Schooley said.

Schooley told the Southeast Missourian in June he anticipated breaking ground on the third Ground-A-Bout late this summer. Though, after speaking with other local restaurant owners about staff shortages, Schooley said he doubted he’d be able to put together the 20-person team he would need.

“Even if I put out there that I was hiring, I wouldn’t get 20 applications,” Schooley said.

Several area restaurants have faced staffing shortages in recent months, according to previous Southeast Missourian coverage. The issue is part of a national trend, with some restaurants reducing hours or closing.

Mario and Angela’s Italian Cucina in Cape Girardeau closed its doors in July after a long battle to find and retain employees.

Worker shortages extended beyond restaurants.

According to Mayor Bob Fox, in October all city departments were understaffed.

“Right now, with our salary schedule, air traffic controllers, police officers or firemen could go somewhere else and make 25% more,” Fox said. “I think we’re at the risk next year of eliminating some services and changing the way we do business.”

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department currently had 10 vacant positions in October, Fox said. Sixty-two police officers staffed the Cape Girardeau Police Department,when optimum staffing would include 85 officers.

Also in October, citing labor shortages, St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets Inc. adjusted its store operating hours at its Cape Girardeau location and others. New store hours are 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. seven days a week. The stores had previously closed at 10 p.m. The new store hours are “in response to the challenging labor market as well as evolving customer shopping patterns,” according to a company statement.

Read more here and here.

The menu changes

Staffing issues did not stop several restaurants from opening in the area during the year.

A new seafood restaurant, Krabby Daddy’s, opened at 841 N. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau. The space was formerly occupied by Papa John’s Pizza. Proprietors Mike and Heather Perez also have locations in Farmington and Festus, Missouri.

Abelardo’s Mexican Fresh restaurant opened in November at 1740 Broadway in Cape Girardeau, according to owner and proprietor Jesus Flores. The previous eatery in that space, Mario and Angela’s Italian Cucina, closed in July, with the Grippo family citing a long struggle in finding and retaining workers. Abelardo’s is part of a Omaha, Nebraska-based chain of 21 restaurants promising food — according to the company website — “prepared fresh, served fast and full of flavor.”

Pilot House Restaurant, which has operated for more than six decades at 3532 Perryville Road in Cape Girardeau, expanded in October to a second location at city-owned Cape Girardeau Regional Airport in northern Scott County on a five-year premises and equipment lease agreement. The eatery filled the vacancy created when Sandy’s Place Cafe, which had been the restaurant tenant for 12 years, relocated to 4590 Nash Road in February near Schaefer’s Electrical Enclosures. According to an executive summary for Cape Girardeau City Council prepared by airport manager Katrina D. Amos, situating an additional venue at the airport will allow Pilot House “to expand (its) customer base to those flying into Cape Girardeau, both general aviation and commercial passengers, while affording [Pilot House] the space needed to fill catering orders.”

Read more here and here.

Open for business

Several familiar names opened or announced new locations in the area this year.

Rural King, a farm supply store with 125 locations in 13 states, announced its newest outlet at 210 S. Silver Springs Road in Cape Girardeau — former site of Hancock Fabrics, Big Lots and Toys R Us. The location is to open in the spring.

The Mattoon, Illinois-based Rural King was founded in 1960 and, according to a news release, features livestock supplies, clothing, hardware and compact tractors from 19 to 55 horsepower at select locations. Rural King already has three stores in Missouri: Farmington, Warrenton and Wentzville, and also has an outlet in Carbondale, Illinois.

Recently, Camping World announced it will build a 33,000-square-foot SuperCenter in Scott County off Nash Road near the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport with an expected opening in the summer.

Camping World Holdings, headquartered in the northern Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire, Illinois, said it is the nation’s largest retailer of recreational vehicles.

“We are excited to expand in the southeastern area of Missouri, which is filled with such natural attractions, history and cultural significance,” said Marcus Lemonis, Camping World’s CEO and chairman. “Each new location we open across the U.S. represents significant economic impact for the communities and convenient customer service and products for the 5.5 million active customers we serve.”

In January, a new Jiffy Lube location opened at 889 N. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau. Stonebriar Auto Service LLC purchased the property, which previously held the name of The Finish Line under owner Jim Mungle. Stonebriar operates several other Jiffy Lube centers in Missouri, including in Springfield and Joplin.

Read more here and here.

Closing

Some businesses announced 2021 would be their last year to operate in the area.

Macy’s in Cape Girardeau, one of the original anchor stores at West Park Mall when it was known as Famous Barr, closed in March.

When Macy’s department store parades into West Park Mall on Sept. 9 — replacing Famous Barr as part of a national changeover — it brought a powerful brand name to the region. “Macy’s is definitely a national brand name, while Famous was more regional,” said Dr. Judith Wiles, a professor of marketing at Southeast Missouri State University…

“After careful consideration, Macy’s has decided to close our West Park Mall location,” company spokeswoman Julianne Olivo said in an email. “The closure is part of the company’s strategy announced in early 2020.”

Guy’s Big*Tall owners Curt and Penny Johns decided to retire after more than 40 years in business.

“We’ll start our 41st year on Nov. 2,” Penny said earlier this year.

Zaxby’s locations in Cape Girardeau and Sikeston closed. The locations were owned by Manwell Food Company of Valdosta, Georgia.

“We have made the difficult decision to close the doors,” said a Manwell spokesman.

Read more here.

Spec building occupant

Midwest Sterilization Corp. will occupy a 50,000-square-foot “speculative” building at 2550 Industrial Lane, just off Route PP.

Construction began on the structure in 2017, according to Cape Girardeau Area MAGNET interim director John Thompson, who adds “speculative” signals the intended use of the building was not known at the time of its construction.

“We worked closely with Jackson Industrial Development Corp. (JIDC) in securing this building located close to our current facility in Jackson’s Industrial Park,” said Karen Eldridge, Midwest’s president and CEO, in a news release.

The facility — located on 8.82 acres — will provide additional warehouse and distribution opportunities for the company.

“We are thrilled a member of our Jackson community, MSC, chose to invest in our community with the purchase of the spec building,” said Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce. “I’m looking forward to seeing what MSC has planned for the site, including employment opportunities and economic growth for the Jackson area.”

“This was a community-spirited group which came together with [Jackson Industrial Development Corp.] to make this project happen and Penzel Construction did an outstanding job building the spec building,” said Thompson, adding seven banks came together to provide funding.

“JIDC’s goal was to create an opportunity to attract new business or solidify current industry in Jackson through our spec building project and we did,” said Gerau. “We are happy Midwest Sterilization is expanding in Jackson. We could not have done this without the assistance of our financial partners: First Midwest Bank, The Bank of Missouri, Montgomery Bank, Southern Bank, First Missouri State Bank, First State Community Bank and Commerce Bank. We also appreciate the assistance from the Industrial Development Authority of Cape County, Cape MAGNET, the Jackson Chamber of Commerce and Liberty Utilities. Our building and construction partners, Koehler Engineering and Penzel Construction, played a major role in our success as well.”

Read more here.

Assessment

Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, the not-for-profit organization that sees as its mission attracting business and industry to Southeast Missouri, received a strategic plan report during the first week of January from the consulting firm Ernst & Young.

The document, titled “Cape Girardeau Regional Competitive Assessment,” among other things, benchmarked Cape Girardeau County against eight other communities in five states “with economic and demographic similarities to Cape Girardeau.”

Among the key findings:

* there is sluggish employment growth, though optimism prevails

* Cape Girardeau is an outlier in a region experiencing widespread population losses

* a locally oriented economy is fueled by a handful of industries

* talent is a competitive advantage and driver of economic activity

* residents expressed a cherished quality of life.

Read more here.

Medical marijuana

The state’s medical marijuana industry began to lift off in 2021, and earlier in December, state officials reported medical marijuana sales in Missouri reached a milestone, topping the $200 million mark.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said that 14 months after sales began, 158,169 patients are active in the state’s medical marijuana program, along with 3,283 caregivers.

Organic Remedies-Missouri (ORMO) has turned the former Columbia Sportswear facility in Chaffee, Missouri, into a medical marijuana cultivation facility.

ORMO is a partnership between a Missouri investor group and a sister company in Pennsylvania and was formed soon after Missouri voters approved the production and distribution of medical marijuana in 2018. It sought and received a pair of licenses from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to cultivate and manufacture cannabis in Chaffee.

The company is spending about $20 million to retrofit the former Columbia Sportswear plant to make it suitable for marijuana cultivation and processing. Penzel Construction of Jackson, which built the original facility for the apparel manufacturer in 1988, is the project’s general contractor.

Developers of the Greenlight dispensary, 1001 Broadway, received a “green light” from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) early in the year.

The Greenlight building at the intersection of Broadway and Harmony Street was originally a service station and has housed several businesses over the years. For its latest purpose, the building has been remodeled to include reception, sales, storage and product preparation areas.

Read more here and here.

Plaza Tire merger

Plaza Tire Service, founded in Cape Girardeau in 1963, announced in November it will partner with Tucson, Arizona-based Sun Auto Tire & Service and become a wholly-owned Sun subsidiary by the end of the year.

The addition of Plaza Tire’s 70 locations in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas will bring Sun Auto to more than 350 outlets, according to a Tuesday news release.

“We didn’t go looking for a buyer for our company.” said Plaza Tire Service president Mark Rhodes, who said the addition of PTS will give Sun Auto its “largest presence” currently in the Midwest

“When Sun Auto reached out and we saw their plans, the way they do business, the other acquisitions they made, it became clear this could be a good option for us. We’re excited to get started on this next chapter in the history of Plaza Tire Service. This transition will be seamless for both our customers and employees. We will continue to provide the same types of products and services, and our focus on outstanding service (with) the largest selection available and the lowest out-the-door price remains the same.”

Plaza Tire’s headquarters, warehouse and distribution center will remain in Cape, company officials said, adding there will be no employee downsizing as a result of the transaction with all store, office and warehouse positions continuing.

Read more here.

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