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

Health insurance premiums up 5 percent

Courtesy of Kaiser Family Foundation

Health insurance premiums for employer-sponsored family plans rose 5 percent this year, while they rose 3 percent for individuals, according to a survey of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Family plans now cost $19,616, of which employees are paying $5,547, while employers are picking up the remaining $14,069.

While increases this year are roughly in line with the rise in wages, at 2.6 percent, and inflation, at 2.5 percent, health care premiums have increased starkly in the last decade, Kaiser stated. “Since 2008, average family premiums have increased 55 percent, twice as fast as workers’ earnings (26 percent) and three times as fast as inflation (17 percent),” the foundation said.

Kaiser said that 152 million Americans get health insurance through their employers, but the share of employees who are facing deductibles is growing, as is the size of the deductibles.

A decade ago, 59 percent of employees had a deductible. This year, it’s 85 percent. The average deductible this year is $1,573, more than double the deductible from a decade ago — though it was up just $68 from a year earlier.

Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman said in a news release that the prevalence and size of deductibles is causing some consternation among workers.

“As long as out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, drugs, surprise bills and more continue to outpace wage growth, people will be frustrated by their medical bills and see health costs as huge pocketbook and political issues,” he said. —Boris Ladwig

Kitchen opening at Goodwood Brewing Wednesday

Goodwood Brewing’s taproom is located at Clay and Main streets. | Photo by Kevin Gibson.

The owner of FireFresh BBQ and the heads of Goodwood Brewing have partnered to offer fresh food at the brewery’s taproom at 636 E. Main St.

The restaurant called FireFresh Southern Kitchen will operate inside the taproom, starting with a limited menu on Wednesday.

“It’s a fast-casual restaurant in its concept but offers traditional Southern pub experience,” Matt Saltzman, owner of FireFresh BBQ, said in a news release. “It’s laid-back and informal and offers a more affordable dining experience in NuLu.”

FireFresh Southern Kitchen’s menu includes paninis, salads, ribs, barbecue, tacos, green beans, macaroni and cheese and sweet country slaw, among other dishes.

“NuLu is a booming neighborhood. It just made sense for us to add a food concept, and southern comfort food just fit the bill to pair with our wood-touched and Bourbon Country-inspired brews,” Goodwood CEO Ted Mitzlaff said in the release.

The FireFresh Southern Kitchen and Goodwood Brewing will share the same hours of operation, 4 to 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, 1 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. They soon plan to expand those hours to include weekday lunch.

Goodwood Brewing also is working on a taproom expansion that will double the size of the current taproom and will include overhead doors facing Main Street, more outdoor space and a larger concert space. The expansion will open within the next month. —Caitlin Bowling

Junior Bridgeman expanding his Coca-Cola businesses

Junior Bridgeman surrounded by reporters. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Louisville entrepreneur Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman and Canadian businessman Larry Tanenbaum have together signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada, a bottling and distribution business.

Bridgeman made a deal with Coca-Cola in April 2016 and began the franchise company Heartland Coca-Cola Bottling Company, which covers Kansas, Missouri and Southern Illinois. The deal was part of a re-franchising of the beverage company’s bottling operations, Insider reported at the time.

“Junior Bridgeman was a proud customer of The Coca-Cola Company for more than 30 years before investing in our system as a bottler, demonstrating his passion for our business and our brands,” Jim Dinkins, president of Coca-Cola North America, said in a news release, referencing Bridgeman’s former Wendy’s franchise. “When you combine that with Larry Tanenbaum’s successful track record and deep Canadian roots, this is the perfect partnership to continue to build our business in Canada with a highly local approach.”

The acquisition is expected to be completed in the second half of 2018, according to the release. A price was not disclosed.

Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada has about 5,800 employees, five production facilities and more than 50 sales and distribution centers. It covers all 10 provinces and three territories and represents the final step in the re-franchising process. —Caitlin Bowling

New Release Roundup: Brandy via rye, high-proof Angel’s Envy, Little Book 2

Via Chicago

News of a few new whiskeys and whiskey-tinged releases have crossed the Insider Bourbon Desk, so let’s take a look.

First up is Louisville’s Copper & Kings American Brandy Co., which has traveled north to partner with FEW Spirits of Chicago for Via Chicago, a premium, copper pot-distilled American brandy matured in FEW’s rye whiskey barrels. The news release hints at a “velvety” liquor that came from mingling the brandy in used rye whiskey barrels for two years.

“Rye is quite a fruity, herbaceous, peppery whiskey, and this, in combination with the dark fruit, honey and caramel of the brandy, is just a marriage made in heaven,” said C&K Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel. “I love the spice notes, the robust power, the structure, but most of all I love that long, velvety finish. I really, really wish we had much more of this. It’s going to be gone too fast.”

The 108-proof Via Chicago is now available at the distillery, 1121 E. Washington St., for $50 and should make its way to local store shelves as well. It’s also available in Chicago and New York City.

AE Cask Strength

Next up is the annual limited release of Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, which is highly coveted for many bourbon fans. There are only 12,000 bottles this year, and this one is bottled at a stout 124 proof.

“Every 100 barrels or so, we find one that truly stands out,” Wes Henderson, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Angel’s Envy, explained in a news release. “We’re always looking for those special barrels to put through our extended finishing process.”

The bourbon is indeed quite powerful, which we detected from a small sample we received. With notes of rich caramel and sweet raisins, if it’s cask strength you want, this certainly fits the bill. And speaking of bills, it’ll cost you $199 if you can find it in stores.

Finally, Jim Beam’s Little Book Chapter 2 is out, with the subhead “Noe Simple Task,” and it shows, once again, that Freddie Noe has a nose for blending.

Little Book 2

Freddie is the son of current Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe and grandson of the late Booker Noe, and Little Book is his annual release.

Chapter 2 is a blend of eight-year-old Kentucky rye whiskey and 13-year-old and 40-year-old Canadian rye whisky, the latter two of which were then aged a bit longer in different barrels. Freddie and his product are all about blending, so expect this to be a common theme each year.

With a lighter color reminiscent in most Canadian whisky, this Little Book packs quite a punch at 118.8 proof. But yet the flavor and finish is quite smooth, reminding us of the first bite of a pecan pie after it comes out of the oven. If you can find it on shelves, it retails for $99.99. —Sara Havens

Ford, GM sales fall 11 percent in September

Texas National Guardsmen rescue a resident by boat during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017. | Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

Ford said sales in September were down 11 percent from a year ago — but the comparison was skewed by hurricanes Harvey and Florence, according to the automaker.

Ford sold 197,404 vehicles last month, down from 222,248 a year ago, but Erich Merkle, the company’s sales analyst, said that the number from September 2017 was inflated from pent-up demand after Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and last month’s figure was depressed because of Hurricane Florence on the East Coast.

“So September of 2018 was always going to be a very difficult comparison to a year ago,” he said in a news release.

Sales for the Louisville-made Escape fell more than 20 percent, to about 20,400, while demand for the F-series truck, which includes the Louisville-made Super Duty, declined by nearly 9 percent, to about 75,100.

Demand for the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, also both made in Louisville, increased compared to last year by an average 37 percent, but with combined sales of fewer than 5,000 models, they remain niche products.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its sales in September improved 15 percent over last year. According to the Detroit News, FCA outsold Ford for the first time in 11 years last month.

General Motors said its deliveries fell 11 percent in September. —Boris Ladwig

Kentucky one of the worst states for college affordability

According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky is one of the worst states for college affordability.

Affordability, in the report, is judged by the average tuition and fees at the state’s public universities as compared to median household income. Kentucky’s average tuition is around 21 percent of a household’s income — the eighth worst in the country.

“The cost of attending college in Kentucky often leaves students with little choice but to take on more debt or give up on their dreams of earning a college degree,” a Kentucky Center for Economic Policy news release said.

UofL’s Belknap Academic Building | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Nationally, state funding for higher education dropped while tuition has increased since 2008. The problem is worse in Kentucky, the report said.

The average tuition bill in Kentucky outpaced the national average, growing 39 percent since 2008. In the same time frame, state funding for higher education dropped 27 percent — more than the national decline of 16 percent.

As affordability worsens, so does student debt in Kentucky. Between 2008 and 2016, a graduate’s average debt jumped 61 percent. The state has the fourth highest student loan default rate in the nation.

“Pushing the cost of a college education in Kentucky onto students and their families, especially as family incomes have stagnated in recent decades, harms our economic security and our future,” Ashley Spalding, senior policy analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said in the release.

Affordability worsens for minority families, jumping to 24 percent of a Hispanic family’s median income and 28 percent for an African-American family, the report found. —Olivia Krauth

Who’s Been Funded

At the October Venture Connectors luncheon, Lisa Bajorinas of EnterpriseCorp, announced recent funding of local companies. So far this year, more than $34 million has been invested in 30 companies, she said.

The update included:

  • Vogt Award Companies — Agent Ally, Dry Baby, Enriched Couples, Pascal Tags, Sport.io and True Secure SCADA — each got a $25,000 non-dilutive grant. The Vogt Awards Demo Day is Nov. 13.
  • Sunstrand, a research and development firm dedicated to providing analysis, product development and testing solutions to the natural fiber reinforced polymer composites industry, received $100,000 from Enterprise Angels Fund.
  • Schedule It, a software company that helps insurance adjusters get to clients more quickly during natural disasters, received $400,000 from local angel investors.
  • Diabetes Life Coach got $600,000 from local and regional angel investors and funds. It supports physicians and patients working together to better manage diabetes through multiple communication methods — mobile interactions, telehealth engagements, texts, video and emails.

Bajorinas said there were 13 Million Dollar Babies, companies that have raised $1 million in single equity round or reached $1 million in revenue for the first time. —Lisa Hornung

In Brief

TARC will roll out a tap-and-go fare card system called MyTARC in January for all buses. The authority will introduce the enhancements to riders this fall. The MyTARC Mobile Bus will be hitting the streets, allowing customers to buy cards, learn how to use the farebox and ask questions. Passengers can also purchase their MyTARC card online, at the Nia Center and at TARC headquarters.

SpaceTango of Lexington launched a microgravity hemp enterprise last week, “focused on research and development surrounding the plant biology and properties of hemp.” Partners include Atalo Holdings, providing certified hemp genetics, and Anavii Market, an online retailer of hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) therapeutics, the company said.