Welcome to the December 17 top secret, always confidential Monday Business Briefing.
These are biz tips Insider Louisville staff and contributors have collected during the past few days, a few of which are not double-verified and triple-sourced like Insider Louisville’s daily reporting.
But as always, this is information from sources who are not just insiders, but trusted sources who have for years been our reliable eyes and ears.
This is the official “The Recession is Over, Thank God” edition, with the first signs the local economy is starting to heat up a bit.
• Last week we told you Stites & Harbison, which has about 200 attorneys in Louisville, is seriously considering a move to Nucleus research park at Floyd and Market streets. This week, we found out Humana is moving hundreds of employees to the Forum II Office Park on North Hurstbourne Parkway from the north tower of the Waterfront Plaza. Waterfront Plaza is part of a Main Street complex that includes the Galt House hotel, owned by the A.J. Schneider Co. Humana has been growing so rapidly that it now touches nearly every building in Louisville with Class A space, say real estate sources. We can’t find a definitive number in the company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings, but our insiders say Humana’s total Louisville-based workforce touches 14,000 people from about 9,000 back in 2011. (Looking at the company’s 8ks, Humana will easily top $40 billion in total revenue for 2012.) This massive Louisville workforce – three time more people than at GE’s Appliance Park – works in myriad buildings ranging from the Michael Graves HQ on Main to the Waterside Complex to buildings in the suburban office parks. That includes the CitiGroup Building at 12501 Lakefront Place off Blankenbaker Parkway back in mid-2011. And now the Forum. That could be because the health insurer/health care provider is making acquisitions left and right, including Metropolitan Health Networks, Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla. MCCI Holdings, L.L.C., based in Miami, Fla. and Certify Data Systems, based in San Jose, Calif. this year. Tech sources and others say Humana now is so big that, to quote one, “As Humana goes, so goes Louisville.” Right now, that’s a good thing, with Humana bringing to Louisville some of the most skilled people in our workforce. It’s always interesting to scan employment and recruiter websites for Humana jobs, which this week include dozens of Louisville-based positions including .net architecture developer, social media marketing community moderator and technology project manager. So, our largest corporation – while very quiet locally – has a huge impact on everything from wages to office leasing rates. And just so you know, we used to give Humana a chance to comment on stories. But Humana media relations executives used the response time to release our scoops to other media after not acknowledging our queries.
• Speaking of pressure on wages, the end of the recession is turning into a challenge for a number of Louisville’s small multi-location companies. Many of the coffee shops, restaurants, retail shops and even residential real estate firms that used to rely on cheap labor when unemployment was high now are looking at a double-trouble scenario. All those recent college graduates, grad students and laid off executives are finally getting career offers at the same time benefit costs related to Obamacare are about to rise. It used to be scheduled flexibility was a benefit small local companies could offer. Now, the Starbucks of the world are offering flexible hours and the higher pay and benefits only billion-dollar global companies can offer. Our IL magic 8-ball says, “Look for lots of mergers and acquisitions as small Louisville companies scramble to find sufficient economy of scale to bail them out.”
• And speaking of a company increasing its Louisville workforce, we hear Vogt Power International is moving staff here from Massachusetts on the way to having at least 300 Louisville-based employees. This is a story illustrative of how Louisville is bouncing back as an industrial power because Vogt Power – part of Babcock Power – began in Louisville as part of Henry Vogt Machine Company. Our sources say this is a big deal, and it may be since the Babcock website shows both the Boston suburb of Danvers and Louisville as its headquarters, plural. We are told Vogt Power/Babcock takes up most of a Fenley office building at 13551 Triton Park in the Eastpoint Business Center in Anchorage, but that could change. Source say the growth at Vogt Power comes from the increasing use of natural gas at power plants, for which Vogt Power designs heat-recovery steam generators. Parent company Babcock has at least eight subsidiary companies, all related to power generation.
• Our sources have told us during the last two weeks that changes are ongoing at Louisville Magazine, including the first redesign in a decade. Former Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill and other freelancers such as home writer Donna Russell are departing, say our sources. Which is true, said Kane Webb, editor. But that’s not the story, Webb added. Hill’s column appeared on the back page of the mag. “While we have other plans for the back page and no longer plan to run his column, we hope he writes stories for us on occasion as he has in the past,” Webb said of Hill. As for Russell, “We’ve decided to do something different in the way we cover architecture and design, so we have a new contributor in that post. Indeed, we’ve added several new contributors over the last few months and plan to add more.” Publisher Dan Crutcher emphasizes the magazine is just changing directions in a growth period, with the highest circulation of any non-daily publication. Louisville Magazine execs are in the process of hiring a full-time staff writer, interviewing candidates toward adding the person in a few weeks, Webb and Crutcher said. The mag also recently hired a part-time editorial staffer. Louisville Magazine will unveil a new design with the next issue. “Perhaps these editorial and design changes have confused your source, but I’d say he or she has it exactly backwards, Webb said. “The magazine is strong. As the recent media audit shows, we have more readers than ever before — and we are very proud of that. We’re growing, not shrinking.” More in a post this week.
• This is very interesting. Jeffersontown officials including Mayor Bill Dieruf and economic development director Mike Kmetz are scheduled to tour NuLu, sources say. J-town officials have federal funds to improve the streetscape in “downtown” Jeffersontown, which includes a small row of historic buildings at Taylorsville Road and Watterson Trail. The buildings date back to the 19th Century, and it isn’t hard to imagine a small tech/startup district there. That said, it’s a long way from the amenities of Ghyslain, Please & Thank You and all the other spots that make NuLu the city’s startup hub/power meeting space. Still, we get it that everyone doesn’t want to be downtown, and much of The Valley is sort of remote from San Francisco and other urban centers. J-town officials are wise to start thinking about what comes after the Blue Grass Industrial Park and the strip centers. Work started last week on the preliminary phase of the $14 million Nucleus-NuLu Connectivity Project which we told you about last May. The project will link Nucleus to the four blocks of restaurants, art galleries and retail along East Market running east to the Home of the Innocents.
• We’d heard this was coming for about six months, but our commercial real estate sources confirmed it Friday. Java junkies will see Heine Brothers’ Coffee shops replacing Vint Coffee locations after the first of the year. As of January 7, there will be 12 Heine Brothers’ stores with the change-over of all but one Vint Coffee location including two downtown Vint stores. The Vints on Fourth Street Live and on Main Street will become Heine Brothers’, the Louisville chain’s first foray downtown under that brand. The only Vint that will remain will be the store at 2309 Frankfort Ave. in Crescent Hill. The two coffee companies merged when Mike Mays, who runs Heine Brothers’ Coffee, and Chuck Schnatter, who owns Vint Coffee, cut a deal about one year ago. Both hinted heavily at the time that the merged company would ultimately adopt the Heine Brothers’ moniker for all operations.
• You never want to think about things like this, but a national tragedy can completely trip up companies that aren’t vigilant about their social media messaging. When the Newtown, Conn. elementary school rampage occurred Friday, the conscientious social media marketing firms such as Current360 and 520 East Brands shut off Tweets and other social media activity out of respect, and also to make certain there wasn’t some sort of inadvertent message that could be misconstrued. The few who forgot to stop programmed feeds related to children later apologized, with one tweeting, “If you want to yell at me, I’m here and I deserve it….”