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Immigration Raids, Burger Wars And Other Business Stories You May Have Missed In 2019

An Impossible Burger, left, and a Cali Burger, from Umami Burger. A new era of meat alternatives appeared on restaurant menus and grocery story shelves in 2019.
Richard Drew
An Impossible Burger, left, and a Cali Burger, from Umami Burger. A new era of meat alternatives appeared on restaurant menus and grocery story shelves in 2019.

Before we close the books on 2019, we want to look back at some of the business stories that made headlines this year. While some were in the news for weeks — like the trade war or the strike at General Motors, which idled tens of thousands of workers — other stories came and went quickly, but not before leaving a mark on the nation's economy.

Mississippi immigration raids

On a hot day last August, immigration officials raided more than half a dozen chicken processing plants in Mississippi, in what was billed as "the largest single-state worksite enforcement action" in U.S. history. Approximately 680 people were arrested on suspicion of working in the country illegally.

"While we are a nation of immigrants, more than that, we are first and foremost a nation of laws," U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst declared.

The raids are emblematic of the Trump administration's get-tough policy toward illegal immigration. In addition to the crackdown along the U.S. border with Mexico, there has also been a significant increase since 2017 in worksite investigations.

As disruptive as the raids were for Mississippi's immigrant community, however, they had little impact on the targeted processing plants. They quickly re-opened, and the state hosted a job fair for replacement workers who could provide two forms of identification.

The rise of meat alternatives

Plant-based foods that mimic beef were everywhere in 2019, including your local fast food chain. Companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have been making a big splash with consumers who like the taste of meat but worry about the environmental costs or animal welfare. Food giant Kellogg late this year introduced a plant-based burger named "Incogmeato" sold in refrigerated grocery store meat cases.

So far, the companies have taken only a small bite of the $1.4 trillion global meat market. But investors have taken notice. And so has the traditional beef industry, which is pushing back hard against what it calls "fake meat."

WeWork's aborted IPO

Adam Neumann generated a lot of buzz and money for himself with his charismatic vision of shared office space that doubles as a shared community. What he didn't generate was any profit. And once investors got a closer look at the company's books this year, they got cold feet.

"It took a leap of faith greater than the Grand Canyon to see how that business could be profitable any time soon," said Lise Buyer of the advisory firm Class V Group.

Neumann was ousted as CEO and the stock sale was shelved. Even at a time of Wall Street exuberance, rational investors figured out that WeWork was an office space company that only thought it should be priced like a tech firm.

Big tech's big target

Actual tech companies had their own headaches this year. State Attorneys General are investigating Facebook and Google for possible anti-trust violations. Apple and Amazon are under scrutiny as well.

Republicans have complained for years about what they call left-leaning bias in Silicon Valley. Now Democrats are also taking aim at tech giants.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in October over his company's policy on political ads.

"Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

"Well, congresswoman, I think lying is bad," Zuckerberg answered. But he insists it's not Facebook's job to police that.

As Americans have become more reliant on tech giants, they've also become more concerned about the companies' impact on competition, privacy, and the information we all get on our phones. Look for that scrutiny to intensify as we head into 2020, an election year.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.