Business North Carolina Daily Digest

Good morning.

Brian Hamilton is a hero of North Carolina’s business community, having sold his 400-employee company last year to one of the nation’s biggest private equity groups so that he could focus more on his passion for teaching entrepreneurship to prison inmates.
This week, I witnessed another N.C. businessman’s remarkable devotion to people who are mostly forgotten by our society. For years, Charlotte restaurateur Jeff Conway has provided a four-course, fancy steakhouse-quality meal annually to 100 inmates at the correctional institution in Kershaw, South Carolina, about 60 miles south of downtown Charlotte. Conway knows steakhouse quality as the owner of four Ruth’s Chris restaurants and several other establishments.

Prison staff select attendees from Kershaw’s 1,300 inmates based on their leadership qualities and character. Bible study members who meet weekly at Conway’s restaurants served a meal of shrimp, crab cakes, salad, steak, spinach and bread pudding, prepared by Chef Chase Gomez and Sous Chef Michael Wilson, in a style akin to a Ruth’s Chris experience.

After the meal, a group of inmates sang songs and a couple others performed pantomime. Renaldo Wynn, a 13-year NFL veteran who is now director of outreach for Nascar’s Joe Gibbs Racing team, gave a motivational talk.

It’s the best meal of the year, several inmates told me. But we learned that being appreciated and served — a rarity for many prisoners — meant as much or more to them. Inmate Rusty, who has spent 48 years in prison, said the experience had “meaningfully touched some souls.”

I hope others follow the examples of Brian and Jeff to help turn around the lives of those who’ve made some terrible decisions but are earnestly seeking a second chance.

David Mildenberg

Fintech’s N.C. future

Speaking of Hamilton, the Sageworks co-founder is among those featured in a June Business North Carolina story on some of the state’s prominent financial technology executives. That’s “fintech” for the cool cats who recognize it as among the hottest industry sectors. Writer Shannon Cuthrell asked Hamilton what he thought about the state’s potential in fintech, eliciting some interesting comments.

“It’s great that there are so many entrepreneurs in North Carolina who are solving finance problems and developing technology solutions. Obviously, Sageworks has played an important role in the fintech community, but there are so many other good examples too. Years ago, I met Doug Lebda of Lending Tree and thought his company was the best idea I’ve ever heard in my life.

“Of course nCino is another great example, along with AvidXchange, which has done really well. Before that, another big success was First Research, a privately held company out of Raleigh that sold to Dun & Bradstreet in 2007. The founder, Bobby Martin, is a genius.

“I don’t know how all these entrepreneurs ended up in North Carolina — it’s kind of random that it happened this way. It goes in concert with North Carolina being a tech hub. Now I don’t necessarily think North Carolina will be known across the U.S. as a hub for fintech in particular, but the growth in fintech has happened organically with some incredibly good companies.

“Charlotte is really poised to do well in the future. They’ve got the big banks and the financial industry, but they don’t have as many tech companies as they probably can have that support banking. To me, it’s still more of a banking center than a fintech center, but the real growth will come with startup companies supporting the industry.”

The state’s safest hospitals?

Denver-based research firm Healthgrades does a credible study on the nation’s best hospitals for patient safety, then publicizes institutions that rank in the top 10%. In North Carolina, 18 NC hospitals were cited in the report. Most are in smaller towns, including Asheboro, Dunn, Mount Airy and Wilson, though Cone Health’s three hospitals in Greensboro, Durham Regional and Novant Health Medical Park in Winston-Salem also made the list.

Asheville aims high

As Asheville leaders know very well, lots of people would love to reside in the biggest western North Carolina city if they could figure out a way to make a good living there. Yesterday, many of those leaders took part in a Business North Carolina round table discussion and made clear that more opportunities are likely in coming days.

My colleague Sue Graf shared several interesting points mentioned by the leaders:

  • The area’s manufacturing sector has added 1,400 jobs in the last year, many of them high-paying positions.
  • Asheville’s reputation for diversity, healthy living and supporting local ownership fits national trends.
  • Airport traffic is soaring as several airlines add service.
  • Many wealthy retirees in western North Carolina are potential angel investors in local startups.
  • The new Dogwood Trust, created by the sale of Mission Health to HCA Healthcare, will provide $50 million to $75 million annually to improve health outcomes. It’s an unusually large opportunity for the region.

Our colleague Ben Kinney will share more on the event later this week.

Today’s number: 59

Births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. last year. It’s the lowest fertility rate in more than 30 years. “People are living longer, growing up slower and delaying marriage,” Axios’ reporter Stef Kight notes. It has huge implications for the economy and the education industry. And a lot of Baby Boomer parents are asking, “Where are my grandkids?”

In search of success

One of Business North Carolina’s most popular features last year was the stories of 20 enterprising businesspeople working outside of the state’s big metro areas. It enabled me to get to know Logan and Ashley Scarborough, who are building a thriving forestry-management business based in rural Anson County,

We’d love to share similar stories of folks who meet two criteria: they are less than 40 years old and they work outside of the state’s 10 biggest cities. Both entrepreneurs and employees of businesses qualify for consideration. Please click the banner just below this paragraph and nominate a deserving representative of your community. Deadline is June 1.

State Health Plan pushes ahead with controversial reimbursement plan
(Winston-Salem Journal)

The State Health Plan posted its reimbursement contracts for medical-care providers that want to stay in-network for more than 720,000 teachers and other state employees. The plan ties reimbursements for plan members to Medicare rates, an approach called “reference-based pricing.” The plan is the state’s largest buyer of medical and pharmaceutical services with $3.2 billion spent in 2017. The N.C. hospital industry opposes the reimbursement proposal and is promoting legislation that would block State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s effort to institute the program. Folwell, who oversees the State Health Plan, says the new approach will provide higher payments to most independent primary care physicians and many rural hospitals, while trimming some spending with specialty physicians.

Mars Hill manufacturer wins top SBA honors for exporting
(Asheville Citizen Times)Mars Hill manufacturer Advanced Superabrasives Inc. won North Carolina’s Exporter of the Year from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Company officials say 25% of ASI’s sales are made abroad. ASI makes grinding wheels used in various machines, including dishwashers and the Mars Rover.

Wray Ward relocating office to downtown Charlotte
(Charlotte Business Journal)Wray Ward, Charlotte’s largest ad agency, is relocating 105 employees 2 miles from its current headquarters to a 38,000-square-foot space in the FreeMoreWest neighborhood of downtown Charlotte. The firm now has a 20,000-square-foot space near Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood. The move is scheduled for August 2020.

AmeriHealth Caritas North Carolina chooses Raleigh for local HQ
(Triangle Business Journal)AmeriHealth Caritas North Carolina plans its state headquarters at a leased space in Raleigh’s Brier Creek Corp. Center. The 82,000-square-foot location will house more than 300 employees and will start working with North Carolina Medicaid enrollees in November. The health care management company operates in 11 states and Washington, D.C., with more than 5 million members.

Downtown Fayetteville slashes parking fee in half
(The Fayetteville Observer)Fayetteville City Council is reducing its downtown city parking fees during Fayetteville Woodpeckers games to $5 from $10 amidst protest. Business owners and employees complained that the former parking fee was a financial burden and chasing away potential customers.

New Jersey group buys Winston-Salem health care facility for $21M
(Winston-Salem Journal)Winston-Salem One Propco LLC, an affiliate of Ultra Care Management LLC of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., purchased the Winston-Salem Nursing and Rehabilitation facility in downtown Winston-Salem for $21 million. The property, which sits on 3,42 acres, was last purchased in September 2017 for just under $15 million.

Organizers on pace to raise $70M for 2020 GOP convention, leader says
(Charlotte Observer)Charlotte’s big employers are stepping up to help finance the city’s $70 million pledge for hosting the Republican National Convention in August 2020, lead organizer John Lassiter says. While declining to provide specifics, he said Charlotte is ahead of previous conventions. An economic impact of as much as $200 million is expected.

David Weekley Homes plans project in inner-city Charlotte neighborhood
(Press release)David Weekley Homes, a Houston-based homebuilder, is planning a complex of 56 townhomes, 68 paired homes and three single-family residences on a 12.4-acre property in Charlotte’s Villa Heights neighborhood, just north of downtown. Home prices will start in the mid-$300s. Scott Fuller and Greg Godley with Legacy Real Estate Advisors and 5 Point Realty’s Michael Doney represented the sellers. David Weekley Homes’ high-density Central Living unit is also building projects in nearby neighborhoods.