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The coronavirus pandemic caused economic disruption across the country in 2020, but companies kept St. Joseph on strong footing by building facilities in the area or adding onto ones that were in town already.

“The St. Joseph economy actually fared relatively well through COVID-19 in comparison to other communities when you take into account the vast majority of our industries are considered essential,” said Brad Lau, vice president of economic development at the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce. “They include agricultural-related companies and ones involved in transportation, logistics, food processing and pharma.”

In 2020, about $87 million in new capital projects were announced in the St. Joseph area, Lau said.

Agricultural-focused companies are a particular focus of business recruitment.

“We still are working on the ag-tech industry, promoting food processing from our vantage point,” Lau said. “Agriculture and food companies continued to perform through the pandemic and are essential in daily life.”

In addition to new companies, some existing ones were adding on to their facilities.

“We do have a very strong industrial base that continues to invest millions of dollars each year,” he said. For example, one company’s $23 million expansion investment over three years will add 12 new jobs.

Notable projects completed or announced in 2020 include:

O’Neal Steel

Birmingham, Alabama-based O’Neal Steel opened a location in a new 64,000-square-foot facility, with a capital investment of about $1 million. The company supplies a wide range of carbon and alloy steel, stainless steel, and aluminum products for companies nationwide. The St. Joseph location will supply steel for products made by Altec – which provides products for electrical utilities, telecommunications and tree care – and likely others. The new facility will employ eight people and plans to expand in the future, increasing the employee count to a couple dozen.

139th Airlift Wing

For several years, the Chamber and Community Alliance have worked with the 139th Airlift Wing to get funding for a full motion C-130H Hercules weapons system trainer simulator to be used for pilot training. The simulator itself has already been identified and procured and is undergoing upgrades for the Air Guard’s use. The full motion simulator behaves just like a C-130, simulates various scenarios and moves as the pilots use the controls. Previously, pilots had to complete their training at other bases.

“It will be used not just by that air wing but also by all the regional air wings when they come in for their tactical school,” Lau said.

The total estimated capital investment of the project – for a building and full motion simulator – is $33 million. About 14 jobs will be created with an average annual salary of over $75,000.  The project will be finished by about November 2021.

Vertical Enterprises

Vertical Enterprises broke ground in July on construction of a new ag-tech facility that will be used to cultivate, process and manufacture medical marijuana products. The facility will only house the cultivation and processing operation – retail distribution will take place elsewhere. The project represents a total capital investment of almost $7.9 million, with over $4.9 million consisting of state-of-the-art temperature control equipment, special lighting and other equipment for cultivation purposes. The project is expected to create 50 new jobs over a three-year period, opening by spring
of 2021.

Transport 360

Transport 360, which operates the St. Joseph Regional Port, is taking advantage of almost $1 million in capital investment at the port facility by working with the wind turbine industry to unload blades, towers and components from barges. The blades will be staged at the port and transported to wind farms in the northwest and northeast Missouri
and eastern Kansas.  The project will allow companies to avoid highway travel, and instead send the blades and components from the Gulf of Mexico
up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to St. Joseph.

Sealed Air

A local tax abatement program put together by the St. Joseph Economic Development Partnership helped secure a commitment from Sealed Air for $23 million in new equipment over a three-year period. The project will create about 12 new jobs.

Nestle

Nestle PTC will invest more than $12 million to update its pilot manufacturing plant at the St. Joseph Nestle Product and Technology Center facility. The pilot plant manufactures small batches of products being developed for research and initial market trials.

Boehringer Animal Health USA

A project by Boehringer Animal Health USA has increased its investment in a previously announced project by $9 million to more than $31 million. The project will upgrade the size of its chiller system to accommodate future increased manufacturing capacity.

LifeLine Foods

In September 2020, LifeLine Foods had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of its $12 million project, which will add 13 new jobs. LifeLine’s Masa flour is used to make tortillas, tamales, empanadas, cornbread and more.