- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - Ferguson’s economy, still struggling after the unrest that followed the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, celebrated a jolt of good news on Friday: new jobs.

Dozens of political, civic, civil rights and business leaders gathered to dedicate Centene Corp.’s new service center in Ferguson. The center, which opened earlier this year, created 250 new jobs, the vast majority going to people who live in Ferguson or elsewhere in northern St. Louis County.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Centene “is setting a high bar for corporate responsibility,” calling the company’s commitment to Ferguson “both compassionate and visionary.”

Centene is a Fortune 500 managed care company based in St. Louis. The new 45,000-square-foot center includes a gym, a cafeteria and a day care center for workers. Overall, the company has 25,000 workers in 24 states. It also plans an expansion in another St. Louis suburb, Clayton, potentially adding 2,000 jobs by 2019.

“It is our hope that building this complex and investing in Ferguson will give businesses a sense of stability in the future,” Centene CEO Michael Neidorff said.

The company announced plans for the Ferguson service center just weeks after Brown, a black 18-year-old resident, was fatally shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting of Brown, who was unarmed, set off months of protests and sparked multiple investigations.

A local grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice found no wrongdoing by the officer, who resigned that November. But a separate Justice Department probe resulted in a scathing March 2015 report critical of Ferguson’s criminal justice and police systems, including finding incidents of racial profiling. Last month, the Ferguson City Council agreed to a settlement that requires reforms.

More than a quarter of the people living in Ferguson, where two-thirds of the 20,000 residents are black, live below the poverty line.

“The business sector must be a role model in creating stronger and healthier communities across the nation,” Neidorff said.

So far, corporate help in Ferguson has been limited. In September 2014, Emerson - a Fortune 500 company that employs 1,300 people in Ferguson - announced it was donating $4.4 million for scholarships and youth employment efforts. The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis is planning a Community Empowerment Center to provide job training for young black men.

But the St. Louis Urban League’s president, Michael McMillan, said that 20 months after Brown’s death, Centene “is the only corporation with this major investment” in actually creating jobs.

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