‘Very disappointed’ over loss of visitors for Berkshire Hathaway meeting that will cost Nebraska millions: Gov. Pete Ricketts

Max Zahn
·Reporter
·4 min read

An estimated 30,000 people attended Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting last year. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, they’ll have to watch the first-ever virtual version of the event on Saturday from the comfort of their own couches.

If fans of Warren Buffett are miffed about a Woodstock of Capitalism they can’t attend in person, they can rest assured that Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts isn’t thrilled either about the blow to the state’s tourist activity.

“Selfishly, from the state of Nebraska’s point of view and from Omaha’s point of view we’re very disappointed that those visitors won’t be here,” the Republican Governor told Yahoo Finance on Friday.

He estimated that it will cost “literally millions of dollars in economic loss to the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska.” Visit Omaha, the city’s tourism bureau, calculates the economic impact of the meeting at $21.3 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Of course we’re glad shareholders will be able to participate virtually and listen to what Warren Buffett has to say,” adds Ricketts, who on March 16 issued guidance limiting public gatherings to 50 people or fewer before issuing even stricter guidelines in April. “We certainly understand the reasons for it and look forward to being able to host the event next year.”

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Finance, Buffett announced in March that Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) would put on a scaled-down, virtual version of its shareholders meeting. Exclusive coverage of the meeting on Yahoo Finance begins at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 2.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts appears on Yahoo Finance's "Final Round."
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts appears on Yahoo Finance's "Final Round."

As of Friday, Nebraska had about 4,280 confirmed cases of coronavirus; far less than the hardest hit states like New York, where the number of cases had reached about 308,310, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

“Given we don’t have the direct connections to Europe or to China, we haven’t been nearly so impacted as a place like NY,” Ricketts says. “With those early interventions, we have kept our curve very flattened.”

Ricketts opted to forego a statewide stay-at-home order in Nebraska, though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the state’s directives “functionally equivalent” to a stay-at-home-order.

The state has remained in the bottom half of states in its total number of cases. A study of economic activity released last month by WalletHub found that the state had slowed less than all other states in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“So far our sales taxes are down, but not tremendously,” says Ricketts, the 55-year-old son of TD Ameritrade Founder and prominent Republican donor Joe Ricketts.

Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting will be broadcast live on Yahoo Finance.
Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting will be broadcast live on Yahoo Finance.

Ricketts made the remarks on a special segment of Yahoo Finance’s “Final Round” devoted to a preview of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting.

Instead of the two days of meetings and merriment that included a massive exhibit hall filled with displays from Berkshire companies like See’s Candies, Coca-Cola (KO), and GEICO, as well as guided shopping tours, seminars with thousands of Chinese investors, and a running race, this year’s meeting will take place over several hours on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Usually, Buffett and his right-hand-man Charlie Munger take questions in front of a crowd at the CHI Center in downtown Omaha; this year, Buffett will answer questions virtually and Munger will not be in attendance. Buffett will take some questions from shareholders, but they will be limited due to the shortened time frame.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: (AFP OUT)  Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during a meeting on trade with governors and members of Congress at the White House on April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: (AFP OUT) Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during a meeting on trade with governors and members of Congress at the White House on April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images)

Last month, Ricketts announced that hospitals in the state will be allowed to resume elective surgeries beginning on May 4, as long as they meet a set of conditions that ensure they could withstand a sudden uptick in patients. The move suggests that the state is incrementally shifting back to normalcy.

“Even in our hotspots, everybody who’s needed a hospital bed, an ICU bed, or a ventilator has been able to get one,” Ricketts says. “And we’ve got tremendous capacity in our hospital systems in our metropolitan areas like Omaha and Lincoln.”

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