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Economy

Two Westar Energy employees have died from injuries received while working at the company’s largest power plant, which remained closed Monday.

Operations supervisors Craig Burchett and Jesse Henson were burned when a piece of equipment with high-pressure steam broke about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Westar officials said. The two were airlifted from Jeffrey Energy Center to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where they died Sunday evening.

Jen Houston got word back in January that Kansas City International airport was announcing its first-ever nonstop transatlantic flight.

"While I didn't know where it would be going, I knew that I would be on it. So when the announcement was made January 9, I booked my ticket," Houston says.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light Co., won approval from state regulators Thursday to merge as equals.

That clears the way for a combined company worth $14 billion serving more than 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

After three years of construction headaches at a busy corner near the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a new Whole Foods opened Wednesday, promising upscale groceries, restaurant food in a retail store and local touches on a national chain owned by e-commerce giant Amazon.

A couple dozen people showed up Tuesday night in Topeka to voice their concerns about Westar Energy’s proposed rate increase.

Westar is asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to increase prices by about $52 million. That's after taking into account savings from changes to the federal corporate income tax.

The increase would cost the average Westar customer about $5.90 a month.

Perhaps conserving energy is important to you. You’ve switched out all of your incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. You keep your thermostat set at 78 in the summer. You might even get mad at your kids when they leave a light on.

Your neighbor, on the other hand, isn’t quite as concerned. He keeps the thermostat set consistently at 68 and he hasn’t replaced any of his light bulbs because, in his words, who wants to pay $10 for a new one?

TIMELINE: Sprint's 120 Years In Kansas City

May 11, 2018
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Sprint campus in Overland Park, Kansas, was inaugurated in the late 1990s. It's a collegial brick complex surrounded by lawns and trees, and built to house about 14,000 employees. Today, more than 6,000 Sprint workers occupy the company's headquarters, and some of the space is leased to other businesses.

Nightryder84 / Wikimedia--CC

The Kansas City Star laid off 10 newsroom employees on Tuesday, McClatchy Company spokeswoman Jeanne Segal confirmed. McClatchy operates 30 daily newspapers across the country, including the Star.

Updated at 3:07 p.m. ET

T-Mobile and Sprint have reached a "definitive agreement" to merge in an all-stock deal, which would create a new company with a total value of $146 billion, based on current stock prices.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

In an effort to keep its promise for 35 percent participation from minority and women-owned businesses, developer Edgemoor has partnered with Kansas City-based Lead Bank. The bank will provide  low-interest loans to Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women Business Enterprises (WBE) and ensure those firms are paid without a lengthy delay.

Lead Bank CEO Josh Rowland said there’s often a long lag time between when the work is finished and payment for projects like this.

The public submitted more than 100 comments to Kansas regulators about the proposed merger of Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy. Almost all of them were negative.

file photo / Harvest Public Media

Kansas politicians are closely watching developing trade policies with an eye to whether they could start a trade war that might hurt industries in the state that rely on exports.

President Donald Trump’s administration has been in talks with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

“NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere,” Trump said while campaigning for office, “but certainly ever signed in this country,”

Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

A resolution pending in the Kansas Legislature would urge, but not require, state regulators to make electric rates more competitive.

In 2017, Kansas electric utility rates averaged 10.58 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s higher than any other state in the region. It’s also slightly higher than the national average of 10.54 cents per kilowatt hour.

Brent Flanders / Flickr--CC

Kansas lawmakers, increasingly skeptical that tax breaks deliver economic wins, looked closely this week at economic incentive programs.

Senators on the Commerce Committee spent several days discussing bills that would add new requirements to sales tax revenue bonds, known as STAR bonds.

STAR bonds allow local governments to borrow money for a building project, and tax collections created by the development are diverted to pay off the loans.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Executives pushing the merger of the two largest utility companies in Kansas have told regulators they’ll give in on some customer bill protection and job guarantees.

But the leaders at Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy say promising a 5-year moratorium on rate hikes could leave the new, larger company unable to keep step in a fast-changing industry.

Kansas Geological Survey

Zack Pistora of the Kansas Sierra Club was worried about the number of earthquakes in the state and wanted to do something about it.

“Those earthquakes can cause damage to people’s homes, businesses, public buildings,” he said. “Right now there’s no recourse for those Kansans who get affected.”

Photo courtesy Cromwell Solar

If you’ve got solar panels on your roof, Westar Energy wants to create a surcharge on your power bill.

The utility insists that if it doesn’t charge you extra, all of its other customers will get stuck with the tab of being ready with electricity when the sun lets you down.

Solar power enthusiasts want the Kansas Legislature to outlaw such charges, fees they say could stymie their industry’s growth.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Sit-ins and other protests over poverty and racial equality could be coming to the Kansas Statehouse, clergy and civil rights activists said Monday.

They promised to bring the same level of attention to the issues that the causes garnered when Martin Luther King Jr. championed them a half-century ago in his Poor People’s Campaign.

The effort is an updated version of King’s campaign by the same name. It emphasizes higher minimum wages, lower barriers to voting and an end to disproportionate incarceration of minorities.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Lowering the Kansas sales tax on food is as popular as it is difficult in a state scrounging for every nickel to balance its budget.

On Thursday, supporters of a plan to cut taxes on groceries sounded off at the Kansas Statehouse with a plea to a Senate committee to advance a constitutional amendment that would reduce the rate.

file photo

A merger of Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy deserves approval, regulatory staff say in a new report, if the two utilities sweeten the deal with more money for ratepayers and less for shareholders.

The staff report issued this week is only advisory. Combining the two companies still needs a go-ahead from the Kansas Corporation Commission. But it signals that the companies may be close to a merger that wins regulatory approval.

Grian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

A proposed merger between two of Kansas’ biggest electric utilities drew little criticism, or praise, during a public hearing Monday night in Topeka.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, want to  create a new company worth about $15 billion. It would serve more than 1.5 million customers in Kansas and Missouri. The combined company would also have one of the largest portfolios of renewable energy in the country.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light say all the money coming from recently passed federal corporate tax cuts will land in their customers’ pockets. On Thursday, the agency that sets utility rates in Kansas insisted on it.

Westar Energy expects its tax bill to shrink by about $65 million a year under the new federal tax plan. Spokesperson Gina Penzig says several politicians asked if the utility would pass those savings along.

“We were glad to offer that confirmation,” she said.

Robert Scoble / Flickr — CC

Kansas City did not make the short list to be home to Amazon’s second headquarters.

The $5 billion project, known as HQ2, will bring 50,000 high paying jobs to the chosen city.  

“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough — all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” said Holly Sullivan, Amazon Public Policy.

KC Fed
Charvex

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, part of the nation's central banking system, is perhaps best known as a key provider of agricultural economic data. Its president helps set national interest rates. It works with banks.

But the bank also promotes economic growth in its seven-state region. Dell Gines, who heads up the Fed's small business work with rural communities and urban neighborhoods from its Omaha office, calls it the work of a "wholesaler."

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Over 100 people gathered Tuesday afternoon for a community forum on labor for the construction of Kansas City's new single terminal airport. 

The event drew a diverse crowd, roughly half of which indicated by a show of hands that they were M/WBEs, or minority or woman owned business enterprises.

That's what Edgemoor — the Maryland-based developer the city selected to lead the $1 billion project — was hoping for when it called the meeting. 

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

Courtesy Exact Partners

The 11-story former Netherlands Hotel is slated to be redeveloped into 110 apartments, part of a Main Street development surge linked to the planned streetcar extension.

The decrepit Netherlands at 3835 Main and its neighbor, the former Monarch Storage building at 3829 Main, are part of a more than $30 million redevelopment plan being pursued by Exact Partners.

Frank Morris / KCUR

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Mariordo59 / Creative Commons-Flickr

This story was updated at 1:56 p.m. to include the comments of a Tesla spokeswoman.  

Electric car manufacturer Tesla has scored a big win after an appeals court ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging its right to sell automobiles directly to Missouri consumers.

Courtesy Loews

After seven years of discussion and planning, construction of a 24-story, 800-room downtown convention hotel in Kansas City is expected to begin Jan. 2 following approvals of key documents Wednesday.

A thick stack of financing and property transfer documents necessary for the $322.7 million Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel project was approved unanimously by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

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