2001 Citizen of the Year honoree Enterprise Rent-A-Car Chairman and CEO Andrew C. Taylor (left) presents Centene Corporation Chaiman and CEO Michael F. Neidorff with the award for 2017 Citizen of the Year during a ceremony at McCluer South-Berkeley High School Auditorium in Ferguson on Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

ST. LOUIS — When Centene announced last week that it would spend up to $1 billion on an East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, longtime CEO Michael Neidorff made clear that he wasn’t satisfied with the region’s direction.

He may not have been satisfied with Civic Progress — the organization made up of the heads of the region’s largest companies and institutions — either.

By revenue, Centene is by far the largest publicly traded company based here. It committed in 2016 to a major expansion of its Clayton headquarters. But it’s no longer a member of Civic Progress, which includes the chiefs of major firms such as Emerson, Ameren, BJC HealthCare and Enterprise Holdings.

The Post-Dispatch has learned that Neidorff withdrew from Civic Progress within the last year. The exact timing and reasons aren’t clear, but as recently as August, Neidorff was listed as a board member on filings with the state for the Civic Progress Action Committee.

“We thank Michael Neidorff for his many years of service to St. Louis and to Civic Progress,” Civic Progress President Tom Santel said in a statement. “Centene is a valued corporate citizen and we look forward to continued partnership on regional priorities.”

A spokesperson for Centene did not respond to a request for comment.

In the nonprofit’s filings from the end of 2018, Neidorff is listed as “regionalism chairman.” A few months later, the area’s major effort at regionalism, Better Together, collapsed after the man who was tapped to become the metro mayor, former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.

In interviews with several local media outlets last week, Neidorff referenced the lack of Medicaid expansion in Missouri (his company manages Medicaid programs for many states) along with crime as some of the problems holding the St. Louis area back. He said he needs to be able to recruit the talent he needs, and he specifically referenced a potential recruit turning down a job here after his wife felt unsafe traveling on MetroLink.

Centene executives have talked before about the region’s crime issues, particularly on MetroLink.

Tom Irwin, who led Civic Progress for 12 years, was hired as a Centene executive about two years ago. In March 2019, Irwin was the one who convened a meeting to discuss city-county police cooperation with Stenger, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and then-county police Chief Jon Belmar.

That plan did not move forward. Instead, Krewson sent a letter directly to Irwin saying that the city should enter a contract with the county for 42 officers to help patrol the city. In late February, a new MetroLink security plan still did not implement a blueprint announced last September by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page to assign 18 county police officers to help short-staffed St. Louis police patrol MetroLink in the city.

Civic Progress was launched in 1953 to unite the leaders of the region’s top corporations and universities behind major public investments to keep the region competitive. It backed construction of the second Busch stadium in the 1960s and the community college system. But its influence has waned in recent years with the loss of major St. Louis-based companies. Ex-officio members include Krewson, Page and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

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