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Economy

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.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City International Airport is broadening its horizons, hosting a community design meeting for the new terminal in Johnson County after all and stepping up efforts to attract international air service.

Missouri is doing a poor job of tracking the economic impact of tax breaks, according to an audit released on Wednesday.

Missouri state Auditor Nicole Galloway said state government has no idea if incentives, exemptions, and newer tax laws changes are working as intended. She said the state isn’t accurately measuring how much revenue it’s losing.

Mayor Sly James' Office

Updated Wednesday, 3:15 p.m.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced Wednesday a new online campaign to attract Amazon's $5 billion second headquarters project to KC. His plan? Reviewing products on Amazon with Kansas City twists.

Port KC

A proposed $30 million extension of the downtown streetcar to Kansas City's Berkley Riverfront could substantially boost development opportunities and allow people to live and visit there without cars, according to the leader of Port KC.

And Port KC, which receives a big part of its revenues from a long-term lease agreement with the Isle of Capri casino, plans to find ways to help fund the streetcar expansion “with or without” federal funding.

Kevin Collison / City Scene KC

Winslow’s BBQ, a City Market institution that traces its roots to the “roaring” River Quay days in 1971, is going out of business next month.

The barbecue joint and its 300-seat outdoor patio overlooking the City Market vendors has been a familiar fixture for generations, but that will all end Oct. 15, according to Deb Churchill, vice president and property manager for KC Commercial Realty Group which manages the market for the city.

Photo from restaurant Facebook Page

Cafe al Dente is closing after 17 years in the River Market, the first business to depart following the purchase of its building and others along Delaware Street by a Denver investor.

The Italian restaurant posted on its Facebook Page this week it was being “kicked out” of its space at 412 Delaware St., observing “the new building owner has decided we don’t meet his vision and will not renew our lease.”

Kevin Collison / KCUR 89.3

Alexander Austin has worked on some big canvases as one of the city's preeminent street muralists, but the new assignment he's executing in the Power & Light District is taking him to an even higher level.

As in 80 feet above street level painting a mural over a half-football field long on the new 24-story Two Light apartment tower.

"It's the biggest I've ever done," says Austin, who began his mural career on Troost Avenue in the early 1990s as a homeless person. "To have Cordish show this much appreciation for me, I'm honored."

Kevin Collison / KCUR 89.3

The North Loop freeway that divides the River Market from the rest of downtown won’t be going away anytime soon if the advice of a panel of national urban planning experts is followed.

Bottom line, there’s too much easily developable land already available downtown to make it cost effective to redevelop the North Loop corridor, concluded the group from the Urban Land Institute.

“Our panel believes now is not the optimal time to pursue redevelopment in that area,” says Glenda Hood, the chairwoman of the ULI panel and the former mayor of Orlando, Florida. 

Kevin Collison / KCUR 89.3

The Crossroads Academy hopefully has found a new permanent home for its downtown high school, the long-vacant, historic Attucks School in the 18th & Vine Jazz District.

The charter school has submitted a bid to the city to buy the old building at 1815 Woodland Ave. If accepted, it could ultimately house 500 high school students attending the expanding Crossroads Academy program.

Robert Scoble / Flickr — CC

Kansas City is launching an effort to be the home to Amazon’s second corporate headquarters.

Amazon plans to plow more $5 billion into building another headquarters that will be an equal to the current one in Seattle. The internet retailer plans to employ some 50,000 people with average salaries topping $100,000 at what it is calling “HQ2.”

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