2018 Year in Review

Economy Firing on All Cylinders – for Most of Year

Oddly enough, a year that featured huge gains on Wall Street and record high levels of confidence among small business executives early on ended on somewhat of a down note. An autumnal swoon with the Dow Jones Industrial Average helped drag down other stock indexes, ushering in a corection that, for the moment, wiped out gains from early in 2018. But Wall Street is not American Business writ large; many in the construction, real-estate and other sectors say there are strong indications of healthy performance in 2019. Which side is closer to the reality? We’ll know in a year, won’t we?

A.D. 2018, though, was a year of some very large deals in the Kansas City region. We lost a couple of signature names in the manufacturing sector, we gained some new esteem nationally within the logistics sector, we saw new governors designated on either side of the state line, and saw a U.S. senator and one area congressman turned out by voters who seem to be as fully bipolar as is the rest of the nation. A couple of key names in agribusiness and one in the tech sector were sold, putting a dent in the list of largest private companies headquartered here. But if there’s one optimistic note, it’s that strong growth across other sectors will fill in behind them. Not at the billion-dollar level this coming year, perhaps. But if history is an indication, it won’t be long.


2 – The new year starts with a big move in regional health care, as Mosaic Life Care moves ahead with the sale of six Northland clinics to Saint Luke’s Health System, switching gears after a concerted effort to broaden its presence in the Kansas City marketplace. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Saint Luke’s said it would offer primary care and limited specialist care at three of the Kansas City properties—Shoal Creek, Burlington Creek and Highland Plaza—plus clinics Mosaic had opened in Parkville, Platte City and Smithville. In addition, Mosaic will relinquish the naming rights it had secured for the redevelopment of Kemper Arena, but will retain its clinics in Excelsior Springs and Kearney. 


6 – The University of Missouri System names Mauli Agrawal as its the new chancellor, effective June 20. He cites the university’s core strengths in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, business, engineering, arts and theater, saying they make UMKC an exceptional anchor for economic development in the Kansas City region.

15 – Faurecia, an automotive technology company, says it will build a $60 million plant in Blue Springs and bring 300 jobs to the area. Its 250,000-square-foot plant will produce and assemble door and instrument panels.  A major factor in the company’s decision to locate here, it says, is the availability of a skilled work force.

26 – One of Kansas City’s top area law firms takes on global dimensions, as well as a new name, when Bryan Cave announces that it will merge with the British firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner will have global revenues of more than $900 million, offices across 11 countries, and a combined staff of 1,600 lawyers.


1 – Dignitaries, corporate executives and civic boosters gathered March 1 to formally break ground on the 800-room Downtown convention hotel that will fly the Loew’s chain flag when the project is complete in 2020. The hotel has been the focus of claims by opponents that the city was providing too large a share of the $325 million project cost. Supporters say the new facility will reposition Kansas City as a destination for conventions and tourism.

18 – Pledging new life for the struggling Independence Center, one of the two major traditional shopping malls still operating in the region, Pacific Retail Capital Partners announces that it has acquired the 1 million-square-foot retail center. It vows to bring new life to the center, following a model used at other distressed properties around the nation.

21 – Lawrence Memorial Hospital board members get their first look at the proposed design for a nearly $100 million expansion that will add physician offices, outpatient surgery and other services. The hospital had authorized purchase of 20 acres in northwest Lawrence, with a goal of breaking ground in the spring and opening the first part of the facility by early 2020.

31 – In a major boost for attracting employees to downtown Kansas City, Kan., the University of Kansas Health System acquires the former Environmental Protection Agency building at 901 N. Fifth Street. It plans to use the facility to house a state-of-the-art mental and behavioral health facility, as well as administrative functions. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.


25 – As it continues to expand its physical footprint across Kansas, the University of Kansas Health System announces that it will acquire Great Bend Regional Hospital, its fourth out-state acquisition in the past two years. That followed deals to bring the former Hays Medical Center under the health system umbrella, along with Pawnee Valley Community Hospital in Larned and St. Francis Hospital in Topeka.


2 – Sprint announces that CEO Marcelo Claure will become executive chairman, and turns the reins of CEO over to Michel Combes, who joined the telecom giant as chief financial officer earlier in the year, after a career at various companies in Europe. That followed Sprint’s recent agreement to merge with T-Mobile. Claure had been CEO of Sprint since 2014.

29 – Eric Greitens confirms that he will resign as governor of Missouri. The move comes after just a year and a half on the job, following coverage of a sex scandal and allegations that he had misused a list of donors to the non-profit he lead before taking office in early 2017. Lt. Gov. Michael Parson takes over as governor later that same week, on June 1.


20 – With fewer than 3,500 voters taking part, a mail-ballot vote on expansion of the Downtown streetcar produces 3-1 margins in favor of the $227 million project. The vote covered two forms of revenue generation for the expansion, one for property taxes, and another to create a sales tax within a transportation district. The turnout represented less than 10 percent of voters eligible to participate in the election.

22 – The long-awaited New Town at Harmony, a $1 billion development, breaks ground on the first phase of its sprawling site on Truman Road near Little Blue Parkway in Independence. Covering 3,000 acres, the site owned by the Community of Christ has long been envisioned as a target for economic development.


13 – TrialCard, Inc., a fast-growing company from North Carolina, announces that it will open a contact center in Kansas City, creating 225 jobs by year-end. The company CEO says the Kansas City attraction came from a mix of its tech and startup environment, educated work force and low cost of living.

18 – After more than a decade of city planner rejections, revisions and neighborhood protests, developer Tom Valenti sees work begin on the long-stalled Mission Gateway development. The project near Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe Avenue is on the site of the former Mission Mall, and was first proposed in 2005.

26 – After a sooner-than-expected retirement announcement from CEO Rand O’Donnell, Children’s Mercy Kansas City names Paul Kempinski as its president and CEO. A Nov. 1 start date will bring him here from Nemours/Alfed I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

31 – Shamrock Trading Corp. announces that it will build a $250 million headquarters in Overland Park location, on the site of the former French Market at 95th and Metcalf. The firm says that when completed, the expansion will accommodate an additional 1,000 workers over the next five years.


1 – With the retirement of fifth-generation banker Jonathan Kemper, Kevin Barth becomes chairman and CEO of Commerce Bank. That same month, Kemper’s brother David retired as CEO of the bank’s St. Louis division, passing the leadership to son John, representing the sixth generation of the banking family.

23 – CVS Health cuts the ribbon on its new retail distribution center in the Skyport Industrial Park near Kansas City International Airport. When fully operational, the new distribution center will add more than 360 new jobs to the Kansas City area, as well as an additional 70 to 100 jobs through work with local businesses, official say.


4 – Officials with Sprint make an unexpected announcement that telecom giant will sell its Overland Park campus and lease back the comparatively small portion needed to run operations as a co-headquarters with T-Mobile. CEO Michel Combes, however, stresses that the company remains committed to Kansas City.

13 – Getting in on the action that attracted Amazon.com’s strong presence to the region, Overstock.com announces that it, too, will put down roots in Kansas City, Kan. The online retailer leases a 517,000 square-foot facility that will employ 200.

26 – With the impending retirement of longtime CEO Frank Devocelle, Olathe Health turns to Stan Holm as its next president and CEO, announcing a Nov. 1 start date for the man who will oversee Olathe Medical Center, the Miami County Medical Center and Olathe Health Physicians.

28 – Two prominent Kansas City law firms—Rouse Frets Gentile Rhodes, and White Goss, join forces as Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes, P.C. It will boast 65 attorneys and a comprehensive suite of legal services.


15 – A developer’s plans to create a massive mixed-use community on the site of the former Brookridge Country Club runs smack into a financial wall as the Overland Park City Council rejects a package of $80 million in public incentives considered vital to the $1.8 billion project.

16 – A Salt Lake City-based development firm, Woodbury Corp., announces that it will redevelop the site of the former Great Mall of the Great Plains as a $300 million mixed-use property, dubbed Mentum.

24 – NorthPoint Development breaks ground on a 148-acre logistics site at the former Southview Golf Course.  The $105.5 million Southview Commerce Center is expected to bring roughly 1,400 jobs to the region by 2028.


6 – In Missouri, Claire McCaskill loses to Republican Josh Hawley in her bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate, despite making the case to voters that she’s more of a centrist than the “crazy Democrats,” in her words, prevalent in the party. In Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder, with a reputation that hardly fits that of an ultra-conservative, loses to political newcomer Sharice Davids, who reclaims that House seat for Democrats.