Monday Business Briefing: Forum on River Rd. expansion; employment rate dips below 4%; UPS, Teamsters extend contract; Brown-Forman; and more

Welcome to the July 16 Monday Business Briefing, your weekly business intelligence digest from Insider Louisville.

City hosting public forum about River Road expansion west

Courtesy of Louisville Metro Government

Develop Louisville and the Department of Public Works is holding an open house to talk about a planned River Road extension from Seventh Street to 15th Street as part of the Waterfront Park Phase IV expansion.

The meeting is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, 715 W. Main St.

Representatives with the Reimagine Ninth Street draft plan also will be in attendance at the River Road extension meeting to discuss improvements to Ninth Street with residents. The plan includes improving safety for pedestrians and cyclist and creating new public space.

Construction on the River Road extension is expected to start in 2021 and wrap up in 2022. Funding will come from local, state and federal sources.

Construction to extend River Road to 15th Street is expected to begin in 2021 with completion in 2022. Funding for the extension comes from a combination of local, state and federal funds. The total estimated project cost is $18.7 million, with Louisville Metro Government paying for $3.74 million. —Caitlin Bowling

Unemployment rate at 3.9 percent

Courtesy of KentuckianaWorks

The unemployment rate for the Louisville metro area was 3.9 percent in May, down from 4.2 percent a year earlier, according to KentuckianaWorks’ latest labor update.

The agency also said that the metro area’s labor force, which includes people at least 16 who are employed or seeking work, increased to 671,092, up by more than 12,000, or nearly 1.9 percent. Economists generally say that an increasing labor force points to an improving economy, as it indicates that more people are coming to an area with high confidence in their ability to find a job.

The labor force was the largest since July 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

KentuckianaWorks said that it counted more than 17,000 online job postings in June, with about 5,000 of those requiring an associate degree or higher. Boris Ladwig

WSJ, NYT: Inflation, tariffs offsetting wage gains

Stainless steel braids. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As unemployment data show: Most people who want jobs are employed. However, two national papers are reporting that wage gains are being offset by inflation and tariffs.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the trade war is costing a typical American family about $60 per year so far, which would double if other tariffs that have been proposed go in effect in September. The calculation comes from an analysis of two economists, but the paper cautioned that the numbers are “rough estimates, as they don’t account for the full range of ways businesses and consumers will react.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal said Thursday that inflation in the U.S. “hit its highest rate in more than six years, with consumer prices eating away at modest wage gains by American workers, underscoring questions about how much they are benefiting from an economy that by many other measures is booming.” Boris Ladwig

UPS, Teamsters extend contract

UPS planes at Worldport in Louisville. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

UPS and the Teamsters have agreed to extend the current contract covering package handlers beyond the July 31 expiration date to hammer out deals on supplemental agreements with local unions.

The national contract covers about 250,000 workers, including about 8,000 in Louisville represented by Local 89.

The parties in late June had reached a tentative agreement on a new national contract that would raise the starting pay for workers, addressing one of the union’s primary concerns. A local union official had told Insider that the low starting wage was causing lots of turnover at hubs including Worldport in Louisville.

The tentative agreement calls for the starting wage for part-time workers to be raised to $13 on Aug. 1, up from $10 now. The wage progression schedule calls for the starting wage to reach $15.50 by Aug. 1, 2022.

Local 89 is governed by three agreements — national, regional and local — and wages are negotiated at the national level by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is led by President James P. Hoffa. Union members will vote on all three portions of the agreement together.

According to the Bloomberg report, the parties have agreed to extend the current contract beyond July 31. A union official told the news service that “negotiators expect to conclude all talks within two months.”

UPS on Friday also said that it had reached a tentative agreement on a separate contract that covers about 11,000 freight employees.

Bloomberg said that getting the contracts in place “is crucial for UPS’s efforts to compete with FedEx Corp., which uses ground-delivery drivers who aren’t unionized. —Boris Ladwig

Brown-Forman approves $200M share repurchase

Brown-Forman Corp.’s board has approved a $200 million share repurchase for the next 12 months, the company said Friday.

CEO Paul Varga said in a news release that while the company was “appropriately attentive to today’s uncertain market environment,” the company remains “optimistic about the long-term growth prospects for our brands around the world.”

Brown-Forman’s shares got hammered in the first half of the year, falling 13.4 percent, to $49.01. The share price declined in part over concerns related to retaliatory tariffs in Europe, with investors fearing that higher bourbon prices would not only curb sales but permanently steer customers toward other alcoholic products.

Shares have recovered some this month, however, and closed at $51.02 on Friday, up 4.1 percent in the last two weeks. For comparison, the S&P 500 has gained 3 percent in the same period.

Share repurchases reduce the number of a company’s outstanding shares, which means they increase earnings per share.

Reuters reported last week that the trade war between the U.S. and China “may prompt U.S. companies to shift money they had earmarked for capital expenditures into stock buybacks instead, pushing record levels of corporate share repurchases even higher.

“Such a move away from capital reinvestment would also undercut one goal of the Trump administration’s signature $1.5-trillion tax cut, which supporters said was intended to unleash a wave of new investments in factories and workers at home,” the news agency said.

Reuters said that companies in the S&P 500 in the second quarter “announced a record $436.6 billion in buybacks … nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion announced during the quarter before.” Boris Ladwig

Louisville’s Big Mike’s Shaved Ice named one of the country’s best by travel site

Mike Buchanan in 2015 | Photo by Sara Havens

Back in 2015, Insider brought you the story of Big Mike’s Shaved Ice, run by Mike Buchanan, who at the time was a senior at DeSales High School.

During the summer, his startup Hawaiian shaved ice shack served thousands of thirsty neighbors in the Highlands, and he estimated he put in about 70 hours a week.

Business is still booming at Big Mike’s, and Buchanan will enter his junior year at the University of Kentucky in the fall. His business recently was featured in travel website Afar’s “11 Hawaiian-Inspired Shaved Ice Shops in the United States,” and he couldn’t be more proud.

“It was really cool,” he tells Insider. “I try to produce a product you would get in Hawaii, and I want to deliver that here in this part of the United States. So it feels good to know we’re doing it right.”

Since our story ran, Buchanan says he’s added two employees, who help him with an expanded concession trailer for festivals and events. And he’s had to raise his prices just a tad, but the shaved ice is still quite affordable — $3 for a small, $5 for a medium and $7 for an “Everest.” He also features an option where you can add ice cream or condensed milk for extra texture.

And about those long summer hours — he’s now down to about 65 a week.

Big Mike’s is located at 1265 Bardstown Road, across the street from Mid City Mall. Stay updated on his business on its Facebook page.

Vermont college offers field classes in New Castle, Ky., to study Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry | Courtesy

Sterling College — a liberal arts school that focuses on environmental stewardship based in Craftsbury Common, Vt. — will begin offering field classes in Henry County based on the life and work of poet Wendell Berry. The inaugural courses, titled “The Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College,” will start in August.

The college received a $156,000 grant from an anonymous donor for the project, and the 12 students participating have already been selected.

“We are deeply grateful to the anonymous foundation that has provided support for our work,” said Sterling President Matthew Derr in a news release.

“Like Sterling, they recognize that we need liberally educated farmers to strengthen rural communities. I believe the Wendell Berry Farming Program will represent the most radical change in agricultural education since the advent of the land grant universities and one that will address the failure of higher education to use nature as its measure in preparing the next generation of farmers.”

The goal is to develop a program for students and a fundraising arm to support that.

“To upend the upward mobility major that has dominated our colleges and universities for decades with a program that teaches students to live well within limits is the most important work of our time,” said Mary Berry, director of The Berry Center and Sterling College trustee.

“We must have people who understand good land use if we are to do the local work it will take to stop the collapse of rural communities and deal appropriately with climate change.” —Sara Havens

Heaven Hill’s 2018 Parker’s Heritage release will feature a citrus notes

Look for it in September. | Courtesy of Heaven Hill

Each year, Heaven Hill releases a limited edition Parker’s Heritage Collection bourbon that helps raise funds for ALS research in honor of Master Distiller Parker Beam, who died in 2017 from the disease.

This year’s batch features 7- and 8-year-old bourbon that was finished for four months in barrels that previously held French orange curaçao liqueur.

Of the 12 years that Heaven Hill has released Parker’s Heritage, this is only the second time it’s involved a barrel finishing.

Bottled at 110 proof and non-chill filtered, the bourbon is quite tasty and definitely showcases heavy notes of citrus from the orange curaçao. (Insider was fortunate to try a sample during this year’s Bourbon Affair.)

Master Blender Alain Royer helped with the project, and Royer also was involved in the other barrel-finished release, the Cognac-finished Parker’s Heritage of 2015.

“Parker appreciated thoughtful, new ways to enjoy bourbon, as evidenced by his original collaboration with Royer,” said Susan Wahl, group product director at Heaven Hill in a news release.

“This newest edition blends both Parker’s imprint, as the bourbon was distilled by him several years ago, but also the imprint of our current master distiller, Denny Potter, who worked through countless samples to find the perfect balance of flavor and bourbon. We are proud to continue offering the Parker’s Heritage Collection in his memory and continue to support ALS research and patient care efforts.”

The bourbon will be available in September for a suggested retail price of $89.99 — if you can find it, that is. These tend to go quickly. —Sara Havens

Childhood trauma expert to offer training in Louisville

Tim Grove

Family Scholar House will host a national expert on helping children to thrive despite traumatic experiences Tuesday at the University of Louisville’s ShelbyHurst campus.

Tim Grove, who was recently featured on “60 Minutes” by Oprah Winfrey, will train staff, agency partners and community members on “trauma-informed care” initiatives, according to a news release. Participants also will learn how trauma can affect development.

Grove’s expertise includes being a master trainer in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) test, which scores the history and level of trauma that a child has experienced. He is chief clinical officer of SaintA, a human services organization in Wisconsin.

Interested members of the public are asked to register for the event, which will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 9001 Shelbyville Road. The cost is $50. —Darla Carter

In Brief

Dunkin’ Donuts is opening a store at 3012 St. Joseph Road in New Albany at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17. The first 500 customers will receive a complimentary refill mug, which gives them hot and iced coffee refills for 99 cents in the month of July.

Write Now Marketing, a full-service creative firm, has added two new Louisville area marketing managers — Melanie Berry and Catie Wilson — and is now offerings to include custom wearables and apparel for schools and businesses. The company just entered the Lexington market in April.

More than 50 restaurants are teaming up with The Healing Place for its “86 Addiction” fundraiser on Wednesday. Participating restaurants will donate 10 percent of proceeds to help men and women with drug and alcohol addiction. The businesses include Bristol Bar and Grille on Main Street, Butchertown Pizza Hall, Uptown Cafe, Noosh Nosh and many others.