The Closing Bell: City explores urban grocery options; Escape demand shortens shutdown; dozens to attend GLI’s coming DC Fly In; 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.

Economic development chief: An urban grocery would require a ‘significant public contribution’

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl | File Photo

During Louisville Metro Council budget hearings this week, the head of economic development for the city told council members that she and her staff were working to bring grocery options to areas that lack enough access to food.

“We are really spending a lot more time on this,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward.

Those areas that have a dearth of grocery store options include West Louisville’s nine neighborhoods, downtown and Old Louisville. Old Louisville’s only grocery store closed this year. First Link grocery store near downtown closed a couple of years ago, and West Louisville has had too few stores to serve its population for decades.

The need for more grocery options has becoming a growing topic of conversation in the last couple of years.

Wiederwohl said city officials were looking at all possible options and talking to small grocery operators, including some that already have a presence in Louisville. However, she added, any grocery operation will likely only move forward with some form of incentive, such as the city offering up one of its properties at a low rate.

A food cooperative can be viable option, as well, Wiederwohl said, after Councilwoman Mary Woolridge asked if she would support a food cooperative.

“We do think that is a model that could be part of the solution,” she said.

Notably, one of the proposals submitted for how the 24-acre Heritage West site in the Russell neighborhood should be redeveloped focuses on creating a food cooperative there to serve the surrounding communities. —Caitlin Bowling

Record SUV demand shortens Louisville plant summer shutdown

A 2017 Ford Escape with a 2-liter EcoBoost engine. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Record demand for the Escape and Lincoln MKC SUVs has prompted Ford Motor Co. to cut in half the traditional two-week summer shutdown at Louisville Assembly Plant.

Ford said that LAP, on Fern Valley Road, is the sole North American assembly plant to have a shortened break this year. The extra production week will allow the 4,610 workers there to make an additional 8,500 vehicles.

Ford plants usually shut down for two weeks around the July 4 holiday for building maintenance and machine retooling. A Ford spokeswoman told Insider that Ford employees typically take vacation time during the shutdown.

Ford said in a press release that it had sold 129,805 Escapes through May, up 3 percent compared to the same period last year. Sales to retail consumers were up more than 6 percent and have reached a record, the automaker said. The Escape is made exclusively at LAP. Ford also has sold 11,161 MKCs in the first five months of the year, up 10 percent.

The shorter shutdown at LAP also means that some component plants, including in Illinois, Michigan and Mexico, will work an extra week this summer, the company said.

High demand for the Escape also had reduced last year’s shutdown at LAP to one week — though it was among several North American assembly plants with a shorter summer break.

Ford has said that it expects growth in the small SUV segment — which includes competitors such as the Honda CRV and the Toyota RAV4 — to continue until 2025, primarily because the interests of the two dominant car-buying generations — baby boomers and millennials — are coalescing. While boomers are stepping down from larger SUVs as their children have left the home, millennials are buying SUVs to accommodate their growing families. —Boris Ladwig

GLI leaders to talk infrastructure, health care on DC trip

Infrastructure, workforce development and health care will be among the top items that local chamber leaders plan to discuss with federal lawmakers when they travel to Washington, D.C. this month.

Greater Louisville Inc. said that its 2017 DC Fly In, a two-day event, will provide networking opportunities and access to “influential policy leaders.” Confirmed speakers include U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

GLI said that its “federal agenda” includes:

  • Improving “transportation and infrastructure networks to remain a world-class logistics hub.”
  • Ensuring (that) “all businesses have the trade and labor environment necessary to compete in the world economy.”
  • “Easing the burden imposed by onerous or unnecessary regulations.”
  • Health care reform.

GLI told Insider that it had not taken a position on repealing/replacing the Affordable Care Act “because of timing of bill filings and the debate that is going on in the Senate.”

GLI said it supported changes to health care laws that would ensure “access for all populations through adequate reimbursement for services and community interventions that keep people healthier, lower overall health care costs, produce a healthier workforce, and improve community quality of life.”

In its full agenda, GLI said it “opposes federal cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs due to the strain potential cuts would place on providers.” The health care legislation that the U.S. House passed on March 6 would make significant cuts to Medicaid, the government program for the poor, and would lower the number of people with health insurance by 24 million through 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

GLI said that its priorities “were selected by business leaders participating in GLI’s Public Policy Committee system.”

Health care providers including Norton Healthcare, Baptist Health, KentuckyOne Health and Kindred Healthcare are among the organization’s top investors.

GLI said “dozens” of local leaders will participate in the DC Fly In. —Boris Ladwig

Construction underway on Spalding’s Century Park

A rendering of Century Park | Courtesy of Spalding University

Workers have begun removing the asphalt and concrete parking lot at 960 S. Second St. near Kentucky Street to make way for lush grass and trees.

Spalding University and Louisville Gas & Electric Co. have partnered on the project tentatively named Century Park, which will turn a surface parking lot into a park. The park will give students a place gather and play intramural sports; it also helps combat the urban heat island effect that results from large amounts of asphalt and concrete, according to Spalding.

Work on the park is expected to wrap up in early fall.

This project is part of Spalding’s broader greening initiative, which also include Mother Catherine Spalding Square on Breckinridge Streets, between Third and Fourth Streets, and the planned transformation of a former industrial property on Ninth Street into athletic fields for Spalding.

The university also recently purchased the former Kroger site on South Second Street, but it hasn’t decided what to do with the property. —Caitlin Bowling

New Misc. Goods Co. website

Courtesy of Misc. Goods Co.

Sometimes things are noteworthy just because they’re beautiful. Misc. Goods Co.’s designer Tyler Deeb excels at making beautiful things. This time it’s a beautiful website featuring his flawlessly designed high-end products like playing cards, flasks, wallets and prints.

Deeb left his traditional freelance designing life behind shortly after the Kickstarter he started for a deck of playing cards raised around $140,000 more than his initial $6,000 goal back in 2012.

Tool around the website a bit. It’s lovely. Unexpected things move. The photography and videography are gorgeous. And beautiful things are nice to look at. — Melissa Chipman

Car Keys Express is in the news for EY finalist honor and expansion

iKeyless HQ | Photo by i-Keyless

EY (which is how the former Ernst & Young has rebranded itself) has named Mark Lanwehr, founder and owner of Louisville’s Car Keys Express, a finalist for the Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 Award in the Ohio Valley region. Award winners will be announced at a special gala event on June 15 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cincinnati.

Car Keys Express is a division of iKeyless, an independently owned company and worldwide leader in automotive technology, based on Market Street in NuLu.

The mobile key replacement company has also announced its expansion into seven Canadian cities: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec. Currently, the company serves 48 states and over 1,700 cities.

“There are so many new opportunities opening up before us. We’ve grown to become the largest company in the industry, but there’s still a ground-floor, startup feel here,” said Lanwehr in a news release.

Insider toured the company’s newish NuLu HQ last fall. —Melissa Chipman

Party late night on the Belle of Louisville

The Belle of Louisville compete each year in the Great Steamboat Race. | Photo by Sara Havens

A change to the Belle of Louisville’s liquor license would allow the boat keep rock into the wee hours of the morning.

According to an advertisement, the Belle of Louisville is applying to extend its liquor license until 4 a.m. A typical license allows alcohol sales until 2 a.m.

John Boyle, chief executive of the Belle of Louisville, told Insider in an email that it had received inquires from people who wanted to host private parties that would go later.

“The Belle does not have any plans at this point to hold a public event that late,” Boyle said.

The 103-year-old historic steamboat can be rented out for excursions on the Ohio River including for field trips and special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or business events. —Caitlin Bowling

Auto auction opened large facility in Louisville area

The Clark County Auto Auction has opened a brand new 44-acre facility off S. 10th St. in Jeffersonville, Ind.

The new site, at 1000 Auction Lane, include a five-lane service building and a 40,000-square-foot main sales and administration building.

Three other businesses are located on the site. Digital Sales Network and AFC (Automotive Finance Corp.) have offices there, and Urban Bread Co. opened a 100-seat restaurant on the property.

Clark County Auto Auction donated its former five-acre facility to the Greater Clark County School Corp., which will open the Mark Fetter Center for Professional Learning. The center will host professional development opportunities for the school systems more than 750 teachers.

The family-owned company opened in 1982 and is today operated by third-generation owner Matt Fetter. —Caitlin Bowling