Welcome to the March 14 Monday Business Briefing, your private business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.
Louisville businessman Brook Smith becomes partner in Castle & Key Distillery
As restoration continues on the hallowed grounds at Castle & Key Distillery (formerly the Old Taylor Distillery) in Frankfort, news and plans for the space continue to seep out like bourbon aging in a barrel.
The latest angel’s share report is that Louisville entrepreneur and businessman Brook Smith has joined Lexington founding partners Will Arvin and Wesley Murry, as well as master distiller Marianne Barnes, in the project to not only offer financial support but also a network of arts and culinary influencers.
Smith, a Louisville native, was once co-owner of 610 Magnolia and spent several years on the Speed Art Museum board. His primary job is in security bonds, and that has allowed him to travel all over the world. A self-proclaimed foodie and contemporary art collector, Smith has numerous connections in both industries and will bring those to Castle & Key. He plans not only to start a renowned art program at the distillery, but also help facilitate a one-of-a-kind culinary experience.
“The thought is to not just make it a typical distillery experience, but to take it beyond,” he tells Insider. “Let’s take this wonderful place and respect it, but also showcase it in many ways and make it interesting enough for people to visit from all over.”
The 129-year-old distillery has not been in operation since 1972, so you can imagine how much needs to be done to the site that features a limestone castle on the premises. Smith says that while the partners have big plans for its future, right now they’re just focusing on getting the distillery up and running. Barnes, the state’s first female master distiller since Prohibition, plans on distilling a gin, bourbon and rye whiskey.
Barnes says she knew right away Smith would be an asset for the team.
“He’s very well connected in the alcohol industry, and he also has visions that align with ours,” she says. “He recognizes the crown jewel we have at Castle & Key and will help us turn it into something more than a distillery.”
Smith says he likes to get involved in all kinds of businesses, and during his travels, one thing usually leads to another. Case in point: He’s part owner of Post Parade wines out of Napa Valley, named for the term in horse racing when a thoroughbred steps out onto the track before entering the starting gate. He plans on using the skills he acquired through navigating the wine industry for Castle & Key.
National security leaders to review proposed GE Appliances acquisition
While Qingdao Haier’s proposed purchase of General Electric’s appliances unit has received a green light from antitrust regulators, the deal is likely to draw scrutiny from a powerful cadre of national security leaders.
Haier, based in China, wants to buy GE’s Louisville-based appliances division for $5.4 billion.
The U.S. Department of Justice has completed its antitrust review of the proposed merger, but before it can proceed, it is likely to be evaluated by the Committee on Foreign Investment, which looks at such deals through a national security lens.
The committee, chaired by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, includes the heads of the DoJ, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The CFIUS process generally involves a voluntary filing by the companies, after which the committee has 30 days for a review. The committee then may initiate an investigation, which can take another 45 days.
Here’s how the committee describes its function: “If CFIUS finds that a covered transaction presents national security risks and that other provisions of law do not provide adequate authority to address the risks, then CFIUS may enter into an agreement with, or impose conditions on, parties to mitigate such risks or may refer the case to the President for action.”
The number of voluntary notices received by CFIUS in the last decade has jumped significantly. In the first few years of the new millennium, the committee received about 50 such notices annually, but in the last five years, the number of filings has averaged 112, CFIUS records show. More than 40 percent of the filings come from the manufacturing industry.
The number of investigations initiated by CFIUS has increased at an even faster clip. A decade ago, the committee investigated about 6 percent of the filings. In the last five years, it has investigated an average of nearly 40 percent.
CFIUS told IL via email that by law it cannot disclose information filed with the committee.
“Accordingly, the Department does not comment on information relating to specific CFIUS cases, including whether or not certain parties have filed notices for review,” a spokeswoman said.
GE was mum on whether it had filed a voluntary notice with CFIUS — though its emailed statement to IL indicates it had not received the committee’s blessing for the proposed sale.
“We do not comment on what reviews are under way or on the status of any review until we have been notified by the responsible agency that it has completed its review,” GE said.
Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau getting new website, rebranding
This July is a big month for the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Not only will it be ramping up for the closure of its convention center, but the tourism entity also will debut a new website and new branding.
CVB president and CEO Karen Williams said both projects have been on her to-do list since she officially took the position two years ago.
“We need to have a better website that is more user-friendly and more dynamic,” she said.
The tourism bureau last year hired Arizona-based Tempest Interactive Media to redesign www.gotolouisville.com for $125,000 because of its specific tourism experience. Tempest has designed tourism websites for cities including Long Beach, Cali.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Jacksonville, Fla.
“We wanted to get the good and bad opinions of things that didn’t work at tourism agencies and things that did work,” Williams said. She didn’t disclose any details about the new site, but said: “It will look entirely different.”
As for the rebranding of the tourism bureau, Williams also remained tightlipped about any exact details. It could mean changing the colors and graphics in the logo and may even mean a name change for the CVB, she said, noting that the bureau hasn’t rebranded since Louisville and Jefferson County merged.
Its agency of record, Bandy Carroll Hellige, is expected to present the new branding to the tourism bureau’s board in May for comments and criticisms. The branding will then make its debut in July, Williams said.
“We had a lot of different messages, Louisville this way, Louisville that way. We weren’t consistent in it, so it was a good time for us to step back,” she said.
Bandy Carroll interviewed the board, groups, leisure travelers, conventioneers, meeting planners and others, asking what they thought about Louisville and about the bureau.
“They would hold something up and say ‘Are we this, are we this?’ and it might be a Porsche, a VW,” Williams said. “You would look at it and say not what you want us to be, (but) what are we, and it was really different to get the thoughts and opinions from a leisure person who comes in our visitors center or a meeting planner…They see us differently today than they did 10 years ago, so we have to do something different with our brand.” —Caitlin Bowling
Big money Flowed to Prodigy Hoops Kickstarter
Two weeks ago, we told you about Jonathan Clark’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for his company, Prodigy Hoops & Flow Props. His campaign was going off the charts.
Remember how I said I totally didn’t “get” this whole Flow thing? It’s some sort of meditation and workout using hoops and juggling sticks, and some people are really into it — like it’s a lifestyle, not a hobby. Really into it to the tune of 381 backers on Kickstarter plunking down $95,838 for their LED-lit hoops and props by the time the campaign closed last Friday.
Good for Clark and his fellow Flow-ers. Note to the rest of us: You can expect a lot more hula hoopers invading your personal space at Waterfront Wednesdays this summer. Take heart and go with the flow.
NowSourcing launches Virtual Reality infographic service
NowSourcing unveiled its first Virtual Reality interactive infographic at SXSW on Sunday. It was produced with their partner StartApp.
Brian Wallace of NowSourcing, one of the top infographics firms in the country, appeared at the Comcast Lounge at SXSW in Austin on Friday before the unveiling. Through the miracle of technology, we were able to tune in via Facebook.
Wallace said the future of infographics is in the third dimension, or in Virtual Reality.
The interviewer asked why he chose to found an infographics company.
“Visual communication is so powerful,” he said. “It penetrates the mind much easier.”
When asked what he thinks about the future of Virtual Reality, Wallace said, “I’m excited out of my mind about it.” He added that Robert Scoble, who visited Louisville Digital Association last year, announced on Thursday that he was leaving his job at RackSpace to join a Virtual Reality company. –Melissa Chipman
IGZU officially launched at Expo West
Speaking of conferences, our friends at IGZU bamboo tea launched their product officially at Natural Products Expo West 2016 in Anaheim, Calif., this past weekend.
We talked to them about their environmentally sustainable botanical iced teas back in November and were the first “non-friend-or-family” to taste test the three flavors: Elderflower Citrus, Lavender Peach and Hibiscus Blackberry. (Delish, by the way.)
Founders, Zachary Anderson and Courtney McCoy hit the ground running in July of 2015 and have moved quickly through to launch. They handed out 1,200 hand-filled samples of Elderflower Citrus in September for ExpoEast.
Anderson stated in a news release, “We knew we had something original and innovative with the concept of bamboo leaf tea and would stop at nothing to see it realize its full potential. It’s been nine months, understandably this feels like my first born child.”
One percent of all proceeds go to three nonprofits: Solar Electric Light Fund, Defense of Wildlife, and Oceans Foundation.
Mightily rebrands Norton Foundation
Mightily, a Louisville-based branding and web-development firm, created a new look, logo and website for the Norton Foundation, a family foundation that supports children and education through community grants.
According to a news release, the new brand identity “is meant to share the profound importance of creating and fostering a society that embraces the transformative powers of creative education. The new logo is comprised of varying tones of red and orange. It is intended to feel organic and fluid, as well as inspire creativity, yet remain authoritative, professional, and approachable.”
The Foundation seeks to support holistic answers to education, so it is especially interested in programs that support children in the arts and in nature. Current grantees include The Kentucky Center’s ArtsReach program, Maupin Elementary (Louisville’s first public Waldorf school), Food Literacy Project at Oxmoor Farm, Louisville Central Community Centers, and many more.
“We are excited to unveil our new brand and how it communicates what makes our Foundation so special,” said Meredith Erickson, executive director. “I am particularly excited about how the design of the new brand visually represents who we are and what inspires the organizations we support.”
The Norton Foundation grants money three times a year. Remaining 2016 grant application deadlines are June 1 and Oct. 3. More information on the website. —Melissa Chipman
Humana sets what could be its last annual meeting
Humana will hold what could be its final annual meeting at 9:30 a.m. on April 21 at the Westin on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.
The Louisville-based insurer filed its proxy statement last week. The meeting’s agenda includes routine items such as the election of directors and the appointment of independent auditors.
Humana is in the process of being acquired by Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna. The acquisition still needs approval from federal and some state regulators.
Humana said last month that its fourth-quarter earnings fell 30 percent from a year earlier because it continued to struggle with higher medical expenses related to customers it has gained through the Affordable Care Act. The company has reiterated that it “continues to evaluate its participation” on the health exchanges for 2017, meaning it hasn’t decided yet whether it wants to continue to offer its insurance plans through the ACA exchanges.
Humana said full-year adjusted earnings per share were in line with management expectations and that it expects profits to increase in 2016, thanks in part to more customers and improving margins in its individual Medicare Advantage line of business. —Boris Ladwig
Liz and Roo Baby Bedding to be produced locally
Liz and Roo Fine Baby Bedding, headquartered in Louisville, is moving its production to Kentucky. For three years, the company produced its high-end bedding products in North Carolina. This month, Liz and Roo will begin production at the former Jockey International plant in Carlisle, Ky.
The facility is owned by 3 Star Industries Inc., which sews premium utility vehicle covers and manufactures windshields.
“My dream from day one was to manufacture locally,” Caroline Eager, president of the company, said in a news release. “And where it goes from here, the sky’s the limit. It’s not just Liz and Roo. Two other Louisville-based businesses that manufacture soft home textiles are also considering joining us there.”
The company plans on hiring five to 10 employees to handle the new orders.
Taco Bell turns up the heat on McDonald’s with new $1 menu
After a respite, Taco Bell is back to giving McDonald’s some serious side-eye.
Making wit and sarcasm its friend, the Yum! Brands subsidiary notes in a news release that “84 percent of consumers cite their radical preference to spend $1 vs. more than $1; while 16 percent of respondents surprised everyone in their desire to spend more.”
The faux study, Taco Bell said, prompted the company to introduce a $1 Morning Value Menu on Thursday.
“We believe firmly in the power of research and strive to deeply understand our customers. We also believe firmly in the power of the painfully obvious,” Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer for Taco Bell, said in the release. “While dollar menus disappear across America, Taco Bell is continuing to reinvent breakfast with delicious and unique menu items only Taco Bell can provide.”
Here comes the jab. The release states that the items on Taco Bell’s $1 menu are actually $1, a sly poke at the fact that the price of some items on McDonald’s dollar menu have crept up to as much as $2.
The new breakfast dollar menu is in addition to its $1 craveable’s menu. Both menus can be found here.
Back when Taco Bell first launched its breakfast menu in 2014, the company released an advertisement touting that even Ronald McDonald preferred Taco Bell’s breakfast. For the promotion, Taco Bell tracked down men throughout the United States with the same name as McDonald’s longtime mascot.
The company no longer has the commercial posted to its YouTube page, but a shortened version of it was posted by another YouTube user. Check it out here. —Caitlin Bowling
Louisville community raises $31,000 for Flint water crisis
Louisville Water Foundation, WaterStep, MSD and Metro Government led an effort that raised more than $30,000 for Flint, Mich.’s water crisis. The Louisville Water Foundation will donate the money to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Child Health and Development Fund, created in January to assist children and families impacted by the water crisis.
WaterStep collected thousands of pairs of shoes to raise money for the Flint Love campaign. WaterStep sells these shoes to an exporter; typically the money is used to help bring safe drinking water to communities abroad, but in February, that money was diverted to the Flint Love campaign.
“We are humbled that so many schools, churches, businesses and individuals cleaned out their closets to help the children of Flint,” said Mark Hogg, founder and CEO of WaterStep. “Compassion runs deep amongst the people of Louisville and the gift of this community collecting shoes helped us surpass our goal by sending more than $30,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Children’s Health and Development Fund.”
While the local Flint Love campaign has concluded, the public can still contribute to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s campaign. —Melissa Chipman