Welcome to the Feb. 8 Monday Business Briefing, your private business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.

Aetna commits to Louisville — won’t do the same for Hartford, Conn.

aetnaFolks in Hartford, Conn., are getting nervous about the Aetna-Humana merger — in part because they fear Aetna will emulate Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric and leave the state.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini has tried to allay some Louisvillians’ fears about the company’s proposed $34 billion takeover of Humana — but, oddly enough, he has declined to do the same in Hartford, where Aetna has its corporate HQ.

Bertolini said at the recent annual meeting of Greater Louisville Inc. that Aetna has made a commitment to only one location, and that’s Louisville.

It does not appear he was simply pandering to the Bluegrass: The Hartford Courant has reported that Aetna remains tight-lipped about whether the company will keep its headquarters — and 6,000 employees — in Hartford after the merger.

The paper reported that when asked about the Aetna HQ’s post-merger role, Bertolini answers in the present tense, that Aetna “remains” headquartered in Hartford.

IL asked Aetna officials if the company has decided whether its HQ will remain in Hartford after the merger and whether the company is considering moving its HQ.

The answer: “Aetna’s headquarters is in Hartford, Connecticut.”

When IL followed up, pointing out that the location of Aetna’s current HQ was not a point of contention or confusion, and that the real question is where the merged company would be headquartered, IL received a one-sentence answer: “That’s our position and we do not comment on any speculation.”

The issue is eliciting some worries about job losses in Connecticut — and potential job gains in Kentucky — reinforced by the recent departure of corporate giant General Electric. The as-of-yet parent of GE’s Louisville-based appliance division said last month it was moving its headquarters from Fairfield to Boston, in part because of up to $145 million in incentives and because of Connecticut’s fiscal troubles, according to WTNH News 8.

Which other corporate giant also complained about Connecticut’s budget uncertainties?

You guessed it: Aetna.

Aetna went so far as to say last summer that a state budget proposal that included higher taxes would “result in Aetna looking to reconsider the viability of continuing major operations in the state.”

Stephan Gohmann
Stephan Gohmann

An economics professor at the University of Louisville said that businesses base location decisions on a lot of factors, but Kentucky’s low corporate tax rate, wages and Louisville’s high quality of life certainly make the state attractive for employers.

For example, Connecticut’s corporate tax rate is 9 percent, three percentage points higher than Kentucky’s, and that could mean big savings for a company such as Aetna, said Stephan F. Gohmann, director of the university’s John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise.

If Aetna tried to move hundreds or even thousands of jobs to Louisville, the company’s current employees in Hartford would see significant disruption.

For Aetna, finding thousands of highly qualified employees in Louisville might be tough in an already tight labor market. However, Gohmann said the company could recruit employees from elsewhere — including from Connecticut, where cost of living is much higher than here.

According to a cost-of-living comparison calculator, a family household income of about $66,000 (Connecticut’s median) in Hartford would be equivalent to earnings of $48,500 in Louisville. That means if Aetna kept wages the same, employees who earn $66,000 in Hartford would feel as though they just got a $17,500 raise by moving to Louisville.

And, beyond a milder climate, Louisville has lots to offer in terms of quality of life.

“Louisville’s a good place to live,” Gohmann said. —Boris Ladwig

Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ nearly ready to reopen after restaurant fire

Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ store in St. Matthews before the fire | Photo by Kevin Gibson
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ store in St. Matthews before the fire | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Stating that the St. Matthews Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ would reopen a couple weeks after a fire destroyed the kitchen was wishful thinking, owner Chad Cooley admits now.

“I’m a ridiculous optimist,” he said, while sitting in the dining room of Momma’s Hurstbourne Parkway store.

Nearly three months later, however, the restaurant, located at 102 Bauer Ave., is almost ready. Cooley said he hopes to reopen Feb. 15 or 16, but it could be the following week depending on when plumbing permits arrive.

“The city has been really on top of things. They’ve been really helpful getting us our permits,” he said.

After the fire, workers had to rebuild the kitchen, redoing the plumbing and electrical work, constructing new walls and installing a new HVAC system.

The fire did have a silver lining, Cooley said. It gave him time to expand the kitchen, get rid of the stage in the dining room, and complete some minor remodeling and touch-ups.

“That kitchen was so small, and we just grew so fast. We were just always trying to keep our head above water,” Cooley said. “Our service should be better out of the kitchen for sure.”

While insurance covered much of the costs, including two months of pay for his 30 St. Matthews employees, Cooley now is paying their salaries out of his own coffers until the reopen to ensure they stick around.

“We have a responsibility to our employees. Nobody can afford to miss a paycheck or two, or five or ten shifts,” he said. “We knew from the beginning we were going to take care of our people. We had a great crew over there. It’s hard to find any good help right now in restaurants. …I expect us to be busy when we reopen.”

The sentiment fits in with what customers already know about Cooley — he likes to give back. The restaurant donated close to $70,000 to local charities in 2015, he said, part of an ongoing program where Momma’s donates a portion of its profits. In 2014, Momma’s donated $43,600.

“There are a lot of great people who do a lot of great work for charities, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Cooley said. “I can’t wait to eventually get to $1 million.” —Caitlin Bowling

Derby Festival seeks new sponsor for Thunder Over Louisville after McDonald’s pulls out

Thunder Over Louisville is looking for business sponsors.
Thunder Over Louisville is looking for business sponsors.

McDonald’s Restaurants of Kentuckiana will not return this year as a sponsor for Thunder Funder, the fundraising initiative that raises money for the Kentucky Derby Festival‘s kickoff event, Thunder Over Louisville. So a press release that went out Friday seeking a new partner urges local companies to step up — a move that could benefit both them and the Thunder festivities.

“Thunder Funder offers a unique opportunity for a company to partner on an event with tremendous promotional opportunities,” said Mike Berry, KDF president and CEO. “It has helped enhance the experience of Thunder for fans, and we hope another community-minded company will want to partner with us for 2016.”

There is no comment from McDonald’s as to why they pulled out, but their partnership began in 2006 and offered “Thunder Funder” meals and commemorative cups at area locations. McDonald’s stepped in as a sponsor when Kroger bailed after 10 years of funding it.

Berry said the sponsorship is exclusive and can be customized to include everything from consumer engagement and traffic-driving promotions to hospitality opportunities and day-of crowd interaction.

“With a one-day show that costs over a million to produce, there is always opportunity for more partners to be involved,” he said. “In addition to Thunder Funder, we also have hospitality venues available for businesses to consider. We will raise all we can to put on the very best show for this community.”

The date for this year’s Thunder Over Louisville is April 23. Any interested parties should contact April Zik, director of sponsorship sales, at 572-3836 or [email protected]. —Sara Havens

Mightily helps Southern Comfort rebrand with new website

#Comfortable

That’s the image Southern Comfort is projecting via Mightily’s new rebranding campaign. The blended whiskey drink was created in New Orleans by M.W. Heron, an Irish bartender whose patrons complained about the harshness of the whiskies he was serving. He added fruit and spices to whiskey to make it more #comfortable to drink.

Nick Huhn, global digital program manager at Brown-Forman on the SoCo team, said the company engaged the services of the edgy Mightily to “showcase the new packaging and refreshed branding elements.”

The new site lists a number of SoCo cocktail recipes with photos of the drinks.

The site also is individualized to SoCo’s top markets, so photos, copy and recipes are different for different markets.

“Mightily did a fantastic job of understanding and responding to our business and branding needs,” Huhn said. “They were able to accommodate and appreciate all the nuances associated with a website that serves discrete global audiences.”

Last month, we reported that Brown-Forman has agreed to sell Southern Comfort and Tuaca brands to rival Sazerac for $543.5 million. However, the rebrand proceeded despite the deal.

“Whatever’s Comfortable” is the tagline for the campaign. The website also features links to a series of videos starring comic actor Danny McBride, who apparently, along with my mother, really likes him some SoCo.

There is also a link to a music video starring McBride by the Detroit Grand Pubahs. The song is “SHOTTASoCo” and the video features McBride flying around at night after having received an invite to have a SHOTTA SoCo from a ladyfriend. The song’s lyrics suggest that a SHOTTASoCo is the best way to get you and your posse (who are “loco”) pumped up to go dancing. The video was released late last year and has over 5 million views on YouTube. —Melissa Chipman

https://youtu.be/Uf9SpCGpF54

State lawmakers ignite automotive caucus

State legislators, including many from Louisville, have formed Kentucky’s first Automotive Caucus to keep the booming auto industry in high gear.

About 340 auto manufacturing businesses have invested nearly $4.5 billion in Kentucky and created about 20,000 jobs, according to the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association.

Ford Motor Co., which employs about 10,000 in the Louisville area, recently announced it would invest $1.3 billion in the Kentucky Truck Plant for the next-generation Super Duty. The company also said it would hire 2,000 people who would earn at least $17 an hour.

The KAIA will work closely with the Automotive Caucus and auto-related businesses in the next few years to focus on tech development, workforce challenges and “business-friendly tax policies,” the association said in a press release.

While auto industry manufacturing employees earn an average of about $58,000 and many do not require a four-year college degree, skill requirements are changing. Like many other businesses in the state and nation, auto manufacturing companies are struggling to attract and retain workers.

KAIA Executive Director Dave Tatman said that today’s manufacturing jobs require skills in math, electrical engineering and software development, and workers must be able to solve problems, multitask and work in teams.

More than 136,000 people work in auto industry jobs, the association said. The commonwealth ranks third in the nation in car production and second in light truck production.

State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, the caucus’ co-chair, said the lawmakers want to make sure the industry continues to succeed in Kentucky. “When it comes to Kentucky’s automotive manufacturing industry, political party labels don’t apply,” he said.

The caucus has more than 60 members, including Louisville-area state Reps. Kevin Bratcher, Mary Lou Marzian and Jim Wayne. For a full list of legislators on the caucus, you can click here. —Boris Ladwig

nurseVersity still chugging along

Tony Leonard’s nurseVersity, an online training program for nursing test prep, is (unfairly) best known in the Louisville startup scene as a company that was accepted to Velocity accelerator’s second cohort, stuck around for a little over a month, and then mysteriously dropped out.

There’s still some mystery as to why that happened, but Leonard has always assured people it wasn’t because the company was in trouble.

Turns out they’ve been chugging along quite well. Late last month, 500 Startups announced nurseVersity would be part of its 16th cohort. It’s a four-month program in San Francisco featuring later-stage seed companies making between $10,000 and $100,000 per month in revenue. The focus is on fundraising and distribution.

They released an app version of the exam prep last fall.

IL interviewed Leonard back in 2014 while he was still in the Velocity program. He expressed his vision of creating a “Versity” for just about any standardized test. Now he says they’ll add two more verticals to the program in March.

We’ll be talking to Leonard and getting updates on nurseVersity later this week. Stay tuned. –Melissa Chipman

Betty Jeffries now available at brick-and-mortar location and more fashion news

betty jeffries
Betty Jeffries | Facebook

Clothes from everybody’s favorite “food truck that sells clothes not food,” Betty Jeffries, are now available at Art & Soul Beads at 2640 Frankfort Ave. The three-year-old company was founded by Ralph London and named after the real-world Betty Jeffries, his mom.

London describes his clothes as being for the “modern career woman.” The clothes are seriously cute and surprisingly inexpensive.

The company started online, but last spring launched a “fashion truck” — a literal mobile store — that travels to fairs, festivals and occasionally just parks downtown near big office buildings … just like a food truck.

Starting in March, you’ll be able to shop for Betty Jeffries clothes at William Dean Salon on Bardstown Road, and in April, you’ll be able to get them at Blockparty Handmade on South Fourth Street. —Melissa Chipman

KMAC partners with artists to create ‘ARTLIK NuLu 2016’ installation

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft has partnered with 10 local artists to create a new public art collaboration titled “ARTLIK NuLu 2016,” which will be installed in various NuLu businesses starting March 3. The initiative — the brain child of art instigator Scott Rogers — is meant to produce accessible art projects for public participation.

The show randomly pairs renowned artists with businesses, which will require the artist to really get to know the business they’re assigned to.

“Unlike many collaborative shows, the artists did not submit proposals for specific locations or spaces,” said Rogers in a press release. “In that way, the artists are challenged to make it work within their assigned business. That is an exciting part of the show.”

Participating artists/businesses include: Andrew Cozzens at Royals Hot Chicken; Valerie Sullivan Fuchs at Climb NuLu; Jacob Heustis at Rye; Shohei Katayama at Feast BBQ; Matt McDole at Green Building (lobby); Letitia Quesenberry at Scout; Michael Ratterman at Decca; Gibbs Rounsavall at Gifthorse; Aaron Michael Skolnick at Please & Thank You; and Matt Weir at Galaxie.

The businesses will provide a $300 stipend to the artists, and a limited-edition adult coloring book created by the artists will be for sale at Scout for $4, with all proceeds divided evenly among the 10 artists.

The KMAC exhibition program features artists known for pushing traditional craft processes beyond the limits of conventional practice and creating new forms of inter-disciplinary art activity,” added Joey Yates, KMAC associate curator. “The local artists included in this show not only support KMAC’s mission, but they are also among the most representative of the innovations within the widening contemporary art world.”

“ARTLIK” will be on display from March 3-April 1. —Sara Havens

Taco Bell’s new product doesn’t live up to the hype

My Quesalupa | Photo by Caitlin Bowling
My Quesalupa | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

California-based Taco Bell has built up its latest menu addition as the next Doritos Locos Taco — an item that helped the Yum Brands’ subsidiary create its reputation as the cool, innovative, with-it brand.

Taco Bell touted its new mystery product as “the next craveable food innovation” ahead of its Super Bowl debut. However, those in the know — and those who cared — could pre-order and pick up the mystery item at Taco Bell stores nationwide from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

It gave them a chance to taste it before others, but the catch was that customers wouldn’t know what the new menu item was until they picked it up. (Spoiler: It turned out to be the Quesalupa.)

This inquiring journalist set out to solve the mystery, creating a Taco Bell account online and pre-ordering one mystery item. The website told me I would receive an email Saturday with instructions on how to pay for my order and locations where I can pick it up.

Saturday came, but no email.

Taco Bell disappointment
Some Taco Bell customers had their pre-order cancelled inexplicably. | Courtesy of Twitter

So, I took to Twitter, and it turns out I wasn’t the only unhappy customer. People who were sent a link to cash in on the pre-order offer reported problems with the website. Some tried to pay online and were told their order was canceled, and I presume there were others like me who never received the email in the first place.

Scrolling through Twitter, however, I found an instance where Taco Bell encouraged one fan to simply visit a store and ask for the Quesalupa. Rather than submit to defeat, I gave it a shot.

When I rolled up to the drive-thru speaker, I explained what happened. The understanding manager rang me up for a Diet Pepsi, and when I drove up to the window, I was handed my drink and a Quesalupa in a brown bag that let people know “I’ve got the hookup.”

I quickly pulled into a parking spot, grabbed the gold foil-wrapped Quesalupa and took an obligatory photo before my first taste.

Much to my disappointment, Doritios Locos Taco it is not.

While the meat was surprisingly flavorful (likely due to lots of salt), the chalupa shell fell flat. I was expecting something flaky and crispy, but the shell was more like a doughy biscuit. Part way through, my stomach started to turn after realizing how much grease I was consuming.

I ended up only eating about half the Quesalupa, a result of either being too full from a late lunch at Noodles & Co. or not being drunk. Either way, the Quesalupa isn’t something I plan to order again.

Should I find myself intoxicated and hungry, I’ll opt for a couple Doritos Locos Tacos, or even better, Waffle House. —Caitlin Bowling