The Closing Bell: Docs say Humana merger bad for consumers; historic Portland building gets new tenant; KY friendly for women entrepreneurs; and more

Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Medical association: Aetna-Humana merger would harm consumers in 15 states including Kentucky

Courtesy of the American Medical Association.

Courtesy of the American Medical Association.

A merger between Aetna and Humana would reduce competition in 57 metro areas in 15 states, including Kentucky and Indiana, a new analysis by the American Medical Association shows.

The AMA, the nation’s largest association of physicians, said that the proposed insurance mergers “would exceed federal antitrust guidelines designed to preserve competition and jeopardize patient access to affordable coverage and care.”

The organization had previously said that it opposed the two big pending health care mergers.

Aetna, based in Hartford, Conn., wants to spend $37 billion to buy rival Humana, which is based in Louisville, where it employs about 12,500. Anthem and Cigna also want to join forces.

The U.S. Department of Justice in July filed a lawsuit to block the deals, saying they would reduce competition, lower the quality of care and harm Americans across the country.

The AMA also said this week that the mergers would lower competition in the health insurance market, which would lead to lower reimbursement rates for doctors and higher prices for patients.

“High market concentration can lead to enhanced market power by health insurers on physicians and patients, wherein payments to physicians are lower than those resulting in a competitive market and premiums charged to patients are higher with no added benefits,” the organization said.

Humana could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest AMA release, but the company has previously said that a merger with Aetna would allow both companies to provide better care at a lower cost.

The American Medical Association has opposed the proposed mergers since last year. The American Hospital Association, too, has publicly criticized the proposals, saying that powerful insurance companies are pushing up health care costs — though the insurance industry has countered by saying that prices are rising because hospital and physician groups are merging and using their greater market power to charge higher prices for care. —Boris Ladwig

Switcher Studio closes $400,000 seed round

Switcher Studio

Switcher Studio

In August, IL reported that 2016 Venture Sharks winner, Switcher Studio, was about to close on a seed round of investment and now the company reports that it has done just that. Investors including Poplar Ventures, Kentucky Enterprise Fund, Cherub Fund, Sequel Fund, NexStreaming, Pioneer Ventures, and Ed Henson ponied up $400,000 in strategic investment in the company.

Switcher Studio provides live video-streaming tools that allow users to film from multiple mobile devices to instantly create TV-style productions for the web. The company was founded in 2014. CEO Nick Mattingly recently announced that it was one of 15 companies selected as an official Facebook Live partner.

With the investment, the company has fast-tracked new products and new partnerships. Since the announcement of the Facebook Live integration, Switcher Studio has added other brands as partners including Autodesk, the BBC, DailyMotion, Vice, Taste of Home, AOL, Viacom, The Weather Channel, Discovery, and the Wounded Warrior Project. —Melissa Chipman

World Affairs Council moving to historic Portland building

The | Photo by Melissa Chipman

The Dolfinger | Photo by Melissa Chipman

The World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana is packing up its offices at 227 W. Broadway downtown and moving its HQ to the former Montgomery Street School in Portland. A change in ownership of its downtown office came with a rent hike which necessitated the move.

The former Montgomery Street School was one of the first buildings acquired by the Gill Holland-led Portland Investment Initiative. Before that, the building had seen several different tenants. It was built in 1852 as a Civil War hospital and once housed the Dolfinger School and the Portland Christian School.

When Holland first acquired the property, he called it “Compassion Building,” but according to Pii managing director Stephanie Kertis, they changed the name to The Dolfinger in honor of its former tenant around a year ago.

Holland said that there are already several tenants on board but that the WAC is “the most high-profile for sure and the perfect fit for Portland since Portland was where goods departed down the Ohio.”

The Dolfinger is home to several artists’ studios, a temporary office for the Cropped Out Festival and the Louisville office of Cognotion, a company that creates “emotionally and cognitively intense training and test prep applications that combine interactive video narratives with gamified learning modules, augmented by live simulation and social media reinforcement,” according to its website.

The WAC’s move will take place in October. The WAC has initiated a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000 for the move. According to the site, the move was strategic — it wasn’t just about saving money, it was about wanting to be part of the revival of the Portland neighborhood.

The WAC promotes “cross-cultural awareness, education and tolerance through nonpartisan discussions on current international issues.” It sponsors a speaker series, international visitors and educational opportunities.

Its next major event is at Frazier Hall at Bellarmine University and is called “Terrorism’s New Paradigm: From Jihadists to Lone Shooters,” featuring  Malcolm Nance, former counterterrorism and intelligence officer for U.S. Special Forces and the current Executive Director of the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies. The event is on Sept. 28 at 5:30 p.m. and tickets are $20. —Melissa Chipman

Mary Moseley joins new Louisville board

Mary Moseley, right, is no longer president and CEO of the Al J. Schneider Co. | File Photo

Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin appointed Mary Moseley, former head to the Al J. Schneider Co., to serve on the Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau Commission. The commission is the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau‘s policy-making body.

She succeeds Sarah Robbins, whose appointment had expired, and will serve a three-year term.

Moseley also serves on the Al J. Schneider Co. board, the Federal Reserve Advisory Board District 8, Louisville Downtown Development Corp. board, Home of the Innocents Ethics Committee, and the Jefferson Community and Technical College b, according to an announcement from the Louisville CVB.

Moseley retired as president and CEO of the Al J. Schneider Co. amid family controversy about how the company should be run and about the family trust fund.  —Caitlin Bowling

Two new distilleries, including Angel’s Envy, join the Kentucky Distillers’ Association

Angel's Envy joins the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

Angel’s Envy joins the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

It was a busy week for the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, as the nonprofit trade group welcomed two new members to its roster. On Monday, Sept. 19, Louisville Distilling Company, which makes Angel’s Envy, joined the organization as a “Proof” level member. And on Thursday, Sept. 22, Owensboro’s new edition, the O.Z. Tyler Distillery, joined the KDA as a “Craft” level member.

That brings the number of KDA distilleries to 30, offering a mix of global brands like Jim Beam and Four Roses as well as smaller craft distillers like Kentucky Peerless Distilling and Town Branch Bourbon. The organization promotes the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as well as acts on behalf of its members to give a voice to the bourbon and spirits industry.

As you know if you’ve driven downtown recently, Louisville Distilling is nearly finished with construction on its state-of-the-art distillery and visitors center at the corner of Main and Jackson streets. The $27 million, 90,000-square-foot complex is slated to open this year.

“Membership in the Kentucky Distillers’ Association is a coveted honor in the distilled spirits world,” said Wes Henderson, Louisville Distilling co-founder and chief innovation officer, in a press release. “Taking our place amongst some of the most innovative and socially responsible businesses in the industry is a dream come true for our brands, the Louisville Distilling Company and the Henderson family.”

The O.Z. Tyler Distillery brings distilling back to Owensboro, and the site of the renovated distillery traces its roots back 130 years. The $25 million, 26-acre complex began production this month and is capable of producing 32,000 barrels annually. —Sara Havens

Louisville Grows seeking new executive director

Louisville Grows was started in 2009. | File Photo

After five years at the helm, Louisville Grows executive director Valerie Magnuson has left the urban agriculture and environmental education nonprofit.

“Since 2011, Valerie has played a critical role in the success of Louisville Grows, and we wish her the best of luck in her new endeavors,” an email from Louisville Grows states.

Jessica Pendergrass, a board member and volunteer with the nonprofit, was named interim administrator of Louisville Grows until a new executive director can be found.

The nonprofit posted a job listing Wednesday and already has started receiving resumes, Pendergrass said. Louisville Grows is seeking someone with management, leadership and fund-raising experience, with the ability to organize neighborhoods, and who is supportive of sustainable efforts.

“What’s most important to us is finding someone who will continue to support our staff and our programs,” she said.

Magnuson in an email paid homage to Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5; the late Mark White, Louisville’s former arborist; Pauline Mukeshamano, co-founder of Gate of Hope Ministries, which serves refugees in Louisville; and “countless” volunteers who helped move the vision of environmental equity and self-sufficiency forward.

But over time, she said, the job required her to spend more time in front of a computer and less time in the dirt, which is where she wanted to be.

Magnuson said she gave her notice this month and offered to stay until Dec. 15, but the board “decided it would be best to make a clean break.” She officially left the executive director position on Sept. 19.

“As for what’s next, I believe I’ll be more effective in achieving my mission to assist others in awakening to their connection to the earth and their own innate wisdom through documentary filmmaking, but, we’ll see,” she said. “For the time being I’m enjoying having time, for the first time in five years, to give my own backyard garden and family my full attention.”

In related news, Louisville Grows was highlighted in a story in The New Yorker about the city’s urban heat-island problem and how some are trying to help. The nonprofit is currently in the process of building its new headquarters called Healthy House in West Louisville.  —Caitlin Bowling

Apocalypse Brew Works featured in CNET Magazine for innovative operations


The fall issue of CNET includes a piece about Apocalypse Brew Works.

Readers of this month’s issue of CNET Magazine will find a familiar Louisville business among the pages of the tech-centric publication. Apocalypse Brew Works was featured in a piece titled “Brewing after the apocalypse: One brewery’s quest to keep the beer flowing — even after the end of civilization,” and writer Megan Wollerton caught up with co-owner and brewer Leah Dienes for a behind-the-scenes tour of the space.

Wollerton praised the Louisville brewery for its sustainable practices, including heating water with solar panels and recycling as much water as it can. In the snippet below, Dienes explains her penchant for running a business with a small footprint and how water is important to making beer.

For Dienes, sustainability was more of a financial necessity than a deliberate plan to do good: “To be honest, it’s probably sort of a happy accident, although I look for it in my own life,” she says. “I’m not going to go be like that one guy on Netflix — the No Impact Man — but I’m always thinking about it.” 

Even so, sustainability isn’t an effortless endeavor for Apocalypse. Managing water use is especially difficult. (It takes roughly 4 to over 15 barrels of water for one barrel of beer.) “You have to use water for cooling; you have to use water for brewing, so if you can reclaim some of that water…we try,” Dienes says. “I know what we could do on paper, but sometimes it’s just not feasible to do it on this level.”

The article also points out that sustainability is a focus of many small breweries throughout the United States. The fall issue of CNET is on newsstands now. —Sara Havens

Levon Wallace returns to 21c family

Levon Wallace is returning to 21c. | Photo courtesy of StarChefs.

Levon Wallace is returning to 21c. | Photo courtesy of StarChefs.

Chef Levon Wallace, who helmed the kitchen at Proof for two years after the founding chef Michael Paley left, is returning to the 21c family of hotels and taking over the as-yet-unnamed restaurant in the Nashville 21c Museum Hotel, set to open in spring of next year.

Since he left Proof, Wallace has been the chef at Cochon Butcher in Nashville, owned by famed New Orleans chef Donald Link.

During his time at Proof, the restaurant was selected among Bon Appétit’s “10 Best Hotels for Food Lovers” and he was selected as the 2014 Rising Star Chef from Star Chefs.

Food writer for The Tennesseean, Jim Myers, writes, “We kind of saw this coming like a slow lob of an Osage orange.” (That’s some inside baseball there, Myers. I had to Google “Osage orange.” It’s apparently a fruit that oozes when you cut it open.)

“It feels like we’re getting the band back together,” says Sarah Robbins, 21c’s chief hospitality officer told The Tennessean. That was also the tweet that 21c sent out to announce the news.

The restaurant will seat around 125 people and also have two private dining rooms that each seat 12-15. It will be located on Second Avenue North near the city’s Printer’s Alley district. It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Like other 21c restaurants, the restaurant is being viewed as not just the hotel’s restaurant, but as a destination restaurant.

Wallace has family in the Nashville area, but he is a California native. —Melissa Chipman

FoodCraft is going online only

Turtleback Ridge Farm jams and Hearth & Harrow towels are sold at FoodCraft. | Courtesy of FoodCraft

Turtleback Ridge Farm jams and Hearth & Harrow towels are sold at FoodCraft. | Courtesy of FoodCraft

The specialty store FoodCraft is shedding its brick-and-mortar coil in favor of the internet.

After three months, owner Erin Caricofe said she will close the doors of her Butchertown store. FoodCraft’s last day open will be Saturday.

The 1,000-square-foot space at 1015 E. Main St. was too big for her needs, Caricofe said, and FoodCraft is “a non-traditional gift shop.” It sells handmade and small batch goods for the pantry, bar, body and home.

Online, Caricofe said, she hopes to reach a broader audience than she was able to during her brief time in Butchertown. She will also have pop-up shops, including one at the holiday World Market downtown, and Caricofe will offer locals the option to pick up orders to avoid shipping.

FoodCraft was part of Butcherblock, a small retail development masterminded by Andy Blieden, who also owns Butchertown Market just a short walk away.

“Everything doesn’t work. Erin is a wonderful person. There is going to be some hit and miss,” said Blieden, who already is in talks with a possible new tenant for the FoodCraft space. He said it’s too early to reveal what the business is.

Blieden added that two other businesses open in Butcherblock, the newly opened Vietnamese restaurant Pho Ba Luu and home decor store Stag + Doe, are doing well. —Caitlin Bowling

Kentucky is friendly for women entrepreneurs, site says

thumbtackThumbtack, a web service that provides free customized quotes from local handy folks, lawn care professionals, photographers, tutors and more, has recently named Kentucky one of the top 10 states for women to start their own business.

No city in Kentucky cracked the top 10 best cities for women entrepreneurs, but the state overall came out as number four. Thumbtack’s analysts used “proprietary marketplace data” to determine women entrepreneurs’ level of happiness and optimism about their businesses to determine the ranking.

These aren’t the tech and retail entrepreneurs we’re normally writing about; these are service-oriented businesses for the most part. The top 10 women-owned businesses include hair stylist, house cleaner, photographer, wedding planner, interior designer and caterer.

According to Thumbtack: “recent data from SCORE shows that women-owned businesses are growing 1.5 times faster than the national average, and the trend particularly benefits female business owners of color:  a National Women’s Business Council study found that Hispanic and black women are dramatically outpacing their Asian and white counterparts in business ownership.” —Melissa Chipman