Business North Carolina August 2021

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STATE’S TOP 75 PUBLIC COMPANIES KAVA TAKES ROOT • CATAWBAS ROLL DICE ON CASINO • CANNABIS GROWING PAINS

Cast off by some as faded brands, Wrangler and Lee are reasserting who’s the boss in denim.

AUGUST 2021 Price: $3.95 businessnc.com

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+ DEPARTMENTS 4 UP FRONT 8 POINT TAKEN

Known as the father of Research Triangle Park, former N.C. Gov. Luther Hodges strongly opposed integrating N.C. public schools.

AUGUST 2021 COVER STORY

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Kava takes root in N.C.; Fathom Realty revs real estate; fashionistas sell style on social media; Jeld-Wen sees window of opportunity.

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KONTOOR CATCHES ON

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22 CORPORATE MEETING GUIDE

Ingenuity, patience and leisure travelers kept many of North Carolina’s meeting and convention destinations alive over the past 18 months. Now, they’re poised for a comeback.

CO V E R D E S I G N B Y R A L P H V O L T Z

60 COMMUNITY CLOSE-UP: COASTAL

Tourism shines bright in North Carolina’s coastal counties. But the picturesque shores also prove attractive for research, higher education, startups and real estate.

August 2021, Vol. 41, No. 8 (ISSN 0279-4276). Business North Carolina is published monthly by Business North Carolina at 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308 Charlotte, NC 28208. Telephone: 704-523-6987. Fax: 704-523-4211. All contents copyright © by Old North State Magazines LLC. Subscription rate: 1 year, $30. For change of address, send mailing label and allow six to eight weeks. Periodicals postage paid at Charlotte, NC, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Business North Carolina, 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308 Charlotte, NC 28208 or email circulation@businessnc.com.

BY DAVID MILDENBERG

GROWING PAINS

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36 ROUND TABLE: ENERGY

Energy experts discuss pressing industry needs and how to address the state’s biggest challenges.

Scott Baxter rebuffs fears that the revered Wrangler and Lee denim brands have faded.

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Developing a thriving N.C. cannabis industry follows a crooked path. BY EDWARD MARTIN

TOP 75 PUBLIC COMPANIES Shares at the 75 largest North Carolina-based public companies soared as the pandemic waned.

GAME ON

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The Catawba Indian Nation rolls the dice on a Cleveland County casino project with a hefty potential payout. BY SHANNON CUTHRELL

Start your day with business news from across the state, direct to your inbox. SIGN UP AT BUSINESSNC.COM/DAILY-DIGEST. A U G U S T

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UPFRONT

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► David Mildenberg

VICE VERSA

elcome to our annual “Vice Edition,” or so it seems, with two in-depth stories on the potential for gambling and marijuana in North Carolina. We learned in the process that none of us at the magazine have great expertise in either territory. At least no one is fessin’ up. My analytical streak, German heritage and Depression-era parents make me too much of a tightwad to throw away money on slots. I learned my lesson about weed during college days, when it was a normal part of the scene. My key memory was participating one Friday night and not waking up until Sunday afternoon. Life is far too short to lose a weekend. Such anecdotes might seem comical, but Ed Martin’s story also explains the notso-funny racial elements that are central to the marijuana legalization debate. Bias in prosecuting marijuana offenses has had a terrible impact, particularly among Black young adults who made mistakes and paid lifelong consequences. That could have been me. It’s also interesting how Virginia’s legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption is prompting some N.C. politicians to press the issue here, albeit at a more measured pace that starts with medical use. N.C. Democrats want to win back legislative control from the Republicans, as occurred in the Old Dominion State in recent years. That has ushered in reforms for gun control, criminal justice, minimum wage, abortion — and marijuana. Typical of the times, the government is playing a crucial role in both industries. Federal authorities cleared the path for the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation to develop a casino across the state line. It was an act of political derringdo that once seemed incomprehensible — and still does to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Shannon Cuthrell’s story hints at potential expansion of gambling elsewhere in the state once the Catawbas get entrenched.

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In late July, N.C. lawmakers were considering making it easier to bet on sports. Growth in gaming seems inevitable. This edition also features a different form of gambling: the stock market performance of the 75 biggest publicly

V O L U M E 4 1 , N O. 8 PUBLISHER

Ben Kinney

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David Mildenberg

dmildenberg@businessnc.com MANAGING EDITOR

Taylor Wanbaugh

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Cathy Martin

cmartin@businessnc.com SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Edward Martin

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Pete Anderson

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Dan Barkin, Shannon Cuthrell, Jennings Cool, Megan Bird CREATIVE MANAGER

Peggy Knaack

traded companies in our state. The results through June 30 paint a rosy picture with markets trading at record levels and many companies reporting surprisingly strong earnings through the pandemic. The trend toward bigness in corporate America is evident with 14 N.C.-based public companies sporting a market valuation of more than $20 billion, compared with six in Business North Carolina’s 2016 report. Moreover, 29 N.C.-based companies are now valued at more than $5 billion, compared with 19 in the survey five years ago. During July, the CNBC television network ranked North Carolina second in its annual “Top States for Business” report. It was the state’s best showing in the study’s 13-year history. We may have topped No. 1 Virginia except CNBC added some “quality of life” criteria that included ratings related to inclusiveness, protections against discrimination and voting rights legislation. CNBC didn’t include the right to use marijuana, but maybe that’s coming next year. In any case, inhibitions aside, I’d bet the farm on North Carolina’s future.

pknaack@businessnc.com ART DIRECTOR

Ralph Voltz

MARKETING COORDINATOR

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BNC ONLINE

We love getting feedback from our readers. Here’s a sampling of what you had to say about Business North Carolina on social media last month.

Beaufort Community College’s new boat building programs set sail

Jake Rose

Jennifer Bosser

The N.C. Community College system is such an incredible resource for our state and local communities!

Incredible growth for North Carolina! Congratulations to all the economic development professionals that helped get these projects over the finish line.

Account Manager | Systel Business Equipment

N.C. nonprofit, endowment push adults to complete degrees

Leslie Boney @lboney Great piece from @dbarkin in @BusinessNC on getting adult workers back to get degrees. Finally a real plan to make it easier! @BelkEndowment @NCCommColleges @BCCCLR @emergingissues

President & CEO at Iredell County Economic Development Corporation

Daily Digest

Mike Donahue

Experienced and Trusted Advisor | M&A Specialist | Partner, Viking Mergers & Acquisitions Shout out to the team at Business North Carolina for staying on top of important developments in the Old North State. Great way to start the day. This morning's edition included more good news which speaks to the recovery and strength of our business climate. #smallbusiness #entrepreneuership #northcarolinajobs

First Flight incubator hits 30th birthday with much momentum

91omg.biz Startup news + events from NC Beach @91OMGbiz Nice story on @ffvcnc in @BusinessNC Emil was VERY helpful to @OpiAid from #WilmingtonNC when I needed help with life sciences data #startup and understanding successful applications for #SBIR #grants #entrepreneur #ILM @NCSTI @UNCW_CIE #opioid

N.C. economic development: Top job-creating projects

Beaufort Community College’s new boat building programs set sail

Smith Andrews

Executive Vice President at The Nautical Group, Executive Search Great training and #hiring resource for all the great boat builders in eastern NC. #marineindustry #boatbuilding #recruiting #careers

Read these stories and more at

businessnc.com. Sign up to receive our free Daily Digest newsletter at businessnc.com/daily-digest/.

FOLLOW US N.C. economic development: Top job-creating projects

Lindy Lamielle

Social Media Sourceress at Clicksuasion Labs

N.C. economic development: Top job-creating projects

N.C. has a fantastic support network for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Business North Carolina @BusinessNC Business North Carolina @businessnorthcarolina

GrowSanfordNC @GrowSanfordNC BREAKING: Thanks to @AbzenaGroup our community has made the @BusinessNC "Top Job-Creating Projects" list once again!

Check out Business North Carolina’s weekly podcast on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at businessnc.com/podcast/.

@leecountync @CityofSanfordNC @BroadwayNC

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P O I N T TA K E N

► Dan Barkin

A TALE OF TWO LEGACIES Luther Hodges is best known as the father of Research Triangle Park. He also was a segregationist, albeit a complicated one.

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▲ Inauguration of Gov. Luther Hodges, 1957

Many folks, if they think of Hodges at all, remember him as governor before Terry Sanford, who set himself apart from Southern segregationists in his 1961 inaugural speech: “No group of our citizens can be denied the right to participate in the opportunities of first-class citizenship.”

Progressive plutocracy

Political scientist V.O. Key in 1949 described North Carolina at midcentury as a “progressive plutocracy,” a group that Campbell says included Hodges. These businessmen favored public education, better roads and even welfare, Campbell says. “As long as they’re in charge. As long as those rich, white guys can do it. As long as we’re in charge, we’re going to do our best.” “My argument in the book is going to be that … the last progressive plutocrat to run the state was Luther Hodges.” He certainly wasn’t born into that role in 1898. Hodges’ father, a Pittsylvania County, Va., tenant farmer, moved the family a few miles across the state line to Spray (now Eden) to work in the textile mills. Hodges worked his way through UNC Chapel Hill, and after graduation, he went back home to work as an assistant to the general manager of the local textile mills. He was one of the “Young Turks,” Campbell says, trying to

PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

here was a photo in the Raleigh and Charlotte newspapers on Election Day, Nov. 8, 1960, taken the previous evening at a television studio in Manchester, N.H. It showed Sen. John F. Kennedy seated behind a desk, talking on the phone to his brother and campaign manager, Robert. JFK was preparing for an election eve national broadcast. Seated at Kennedy’s left was his sister, Patricia Lawford. Next to her was North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges with a trademark white carnation in his lapel. Six hours earlier, Hodges had been in Raleigh when Robert called saying JFK wanted him on the broadcast. I went looking for this photo after I read Hodges’ book, Businessman in the Statehouse, which he wrote in 1962 while he was Kennedy’s secretary of commerce. I was reading the book to do some research about Hodges’ crucial role in helping to create Research Triangle Park in the late 1950s. Why, I wondered, was Hodges rushed up to New Hampshire? That led me to Karl Campbell, an Appalachian State University professor who has spent the past decade researching a biography of Hodges. JFK wanted Hodges, who had been a top textile executive for Chicago-based department store Marshall Field’s, to reassure business. “I think he was trying to get a big-name businessman because they were getting a lot of blowback there at the end of the thing,” Campbell says. “They were afraid that small businessmen all were going to turn against them.” The Kennedys also wanted a politician who could handle a high-stakes broadcast. Hodges had been appearing on TV since running for lieutenant governor in 1952. “He came across very well on television,” Campbell says. Hodges is a complex figure. North Carolina was one of the poorest states in the nation when he became governor in 1954, and he set out to change that with a minimum wage, a community college system and economic development, such as RTP, to help recruit companies that paid better than textile mills. But progressives fault his response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, that found school segregation unconstitutional. “And that’s the tragedy and the paradox of Hodges that is key to understanding North Carolina history,” Campbell says.

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modernize the industry with better management practices. In his 20s, he would go to the factories at night to teach mill workers. At 40, he was general manager of Marshall Field’s 29 U.S. and foreign mills. He later moved to New York and was named a corporate vice president. Hodges retired in 1950 at age 52 and returned to North Carolina. He ran for lieutenant governor two years later, describing himself as a businessman, someone from outside government and politics. In reality, he had gained considerable experience in government and had political connections. In the 1930s, he was on the State Board of Education and the State Highway Commission. During World War II, he served as an administrator of the Office of Price Administration, where he was in charge of textiles. Wachovia Bank President Robert Hanes, who was in West Germany working on the Marshall Plan (a U.S. program providing aid to western Europe following World War II), persuaded Hodges to help him. “If you think of all the people that have ever been governor of North Carolina,” Campbell says, “I don’t think anybody was more worldly and sophisticated than Luther Hodges.” “He knows businessmen on a first-name basis around the world. He knew [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur and [two-time Democratic presidential nominee] Adlai Stevenson. He traveled the world. He had worked in government. … He knew the elite businessmen who ran this state.” Hodges was not part of the Raleigh legislative and lobbying crowd. But he won with an energetic, statewide campaign. Gov. William B. Umstead of Durham died in November 1954. Hodges suddenly found himself governor. For Southern governors in the 1950s and 1960s, the response to the civil rights movement and the Brown ruling defined their place in history. Hodges, in his book, expressed the belief that immediate, stateimposed integration would have led to the demise of the public school system, as white parents pulled out their children and the legislature slashed funding. In an August 1955 speech, Hodges urged voluntary segregation and denounced the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — or the NAACP — which was battling to end Jim Crow. It is an astonishing speech when read today. “My earnest request of you Negro citizens of North Carolina is this: Do not allow any militant and selfish organization to stampede you into refusal to go along with this program I am proposing in the interest of our public schools; take pride in your race by attending your own schools, and make it clear that any among you who refuse to cooperate in this effort to save our public school system are not to be applauded but are to be considered as endangering the education of your children and as denying the integrity of the Negro race by refusing to remain in association with it.” “It seems to me,” Campbell says, “that a lot of people look at Hodges and they say, ‘Well, he was really a racist, and he was trying to stop and prevent everything.’ That’s what I thought too. “But when I get into the records, I’m actually shocked. I think there is something to the idea that Hodges was not so much a rac-

ist as he was a business manager. And he wanted to manage the crisis. And so you see him over and over again, from ’54 all the way to ’60, all the way through the sit-ins, he’s trying to manage it. That’s what managers do. They manage. “He clearly was on the wrong side of history. And he clearly was a segregationist. Yet, he was more moderate than Virginia and most of the other Southern states. Comparatively, North Carolina was moderate segregationist.” Ten years after the Brown decision, fewer than 2,000 Black students in North Carolina were enrolled in white schools. A variety of local-option laws and strategies made integration difficult, while aiming to avoid direct defiance of the Supreme Court. By the end of his governorship in 1961, Hodges came across as more moderate than some other Southern governors, which kept him in the mix for a cabinet job in the new Kennedy administration. Some historians suggest Sanford didn’t want Hodges hanging around Raleigh and he pressed Kennedy to put him to work in Washington, D.C. The Kennedys knew Hodges well enough to scramble him to Manchester, N.H., on election eve even though he had supported Lyndon Johnson’s candidacy for the 1960 Democratic nomination. When LBJ lost, Hodges campaigned for Kennedy, who felt indebted. However, they owed Sanford more for backing Kennedy for the nomination. Sanford subsequently met with Robert Kennedy and the late Democratic power broker Bert Bennett. “I want you to appoint Luther Hodges and get him out of my hair. Move him up to D.C.,” Sanford said, according to Bennett, who Campbell interviewed before his death three years ago. Hodges is complicated, which is why it has taken Campbell so long to finish a book he thought might take two or three years. “There are two images of Luther Hodges in history. The one is Luther Hodges as the industrial recruiter, the cutting-edge businessman in the Statehouse that brought modern industry and the Research Triangle Park. That’s the Good Luther. “And then there’s this other Luther Hodges, who is the most effective and sly segregationist. Some people would argue that North Carolina was the most successful at slowing down the integration of the schools. That’s the Bad Luther. “The way I come out of it is I say two things: He’s the last person of that progressive plutocracy. He’s really at the end of a 60-year thing that goes all the way back to [Gov. Charles B.] Aycock. But at the same time, he’s the transitional governor that is struggling with flaws to try to bring North Carolina into that modern world.” Campbell says North Carolina leaders today also face a changing world. “Whatever we decided about these social and cultural issues, they can’t be ignored.” And that, Campbell says, is where Hodges “kind of failed.” ■

Veteran journalist Dan Barkin moved to North Carolina in 1996. He can be reached at dbarkin53@gmail.com.

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A PRE-RETIREMENT PLANNING CHECKLIST FOR TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT As retirements rise against the backdrop of a labor, economic and tax landscape rife with change, PNC shares 10 actionable items for retirement planning.

This is the thirteenth in a series of informative monthly articles for North Carolina businesses from PNC in collaboration with BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA magazine.

For years, economists and wealth strategists have looked to 2030 as a key milestone in the universe of retirement planning. That’s when, according to the Census Bureau, all members of the Baby Boomer generation will have reached the traditional retirement age of 65.

1. ENGAGE YOUR PLANNING TEAM. The importance of establishing a shared line of communication between your advisors, including your attorney, accountant, wealth strategist, investment advisor and life insurance advisor – and in the case of business owners, a private business strategist – cannot be overstated. “It’s important that these advisors are aware of what your financial and tax position is – and what your risks are – in order to provide holistic recommendations,” says Benedict. 2. DEFINE YOUR GOALS. These may include maintaining your current lifestyle throughout retirement, not outliving your resources, protecting a spouse’s financial security, providing for other family members, and philanthropy.

3. DETERMINE YOUR SPENDING AND CREATE A BUDGET. Consider the broad range of costs you’ll need Going into the decade preceding this milestone, Americans were retiring at a consistent pace. Then the pandemic hit – and with it, a confluence of contributing factors that have caused many professionals to fast-track their retirement plans. According to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of Current Population Survey data, roughly 28.6 million Baby Boomers reported being retired in the third quarter of 2020 – a staggering 3.2 million more Boomers than the 25.4 million who reported their retirement status in the same quarter of 2019. This acceleration is playing out visibly in N.C., which continues to attract retirees from out of state and is home to an increasingly graying population. Compounding this labor trend is the prospect of impending tax policy changes and implications, which only amplify the importance of planning for retirement and business succession, says Charlotte-based Jim Benedict, PNC senior wealth strategist and private business strategist. What follows are 10 actions Benedict suggests taking when it comes to planning for retirement – particularly when exploring the prospect of early retirement.

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to anticipate in retirement. An advisor can help estimate these costs and prepare realistic future budgets that factor in such complexities as inflation, expense spikes, and potential lifestyle and health changes.

4. UNDERSTAND INCOME STREAMS. Determine

how much of your income will come from various sources such as Social Security retirement benefits and spousal benefits, defined benefit pension plans, traditional retirement accounts, Roth retirement accounts, Health Savings Accounts, taxable accounts, real estate, life insurance policies, annuities, inheritances, trust income, and stock options – and in the case of business owners, the proceeds from the sale of your business.

5. CREATE A WITHDRAWAL PLAN. Building wealth is

just one aspect of retirement planning; creating a withdrawal plan is crucial to preserving accumulated wealth. An advisor can model different scenarios to help devise an appropriate withdrawal plan, weighing various factors including taxes, timelines and withdrawal requirements – while managing risks relating to market volatility.

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6. EVALUATE YOUR RISKS. These include unexpected

illnesses, accidents, a need for long-term care for yourself or a loved one, unexpected death, unexpected large expenses, and a drop in equity markets. Determine how you will mitigate these risks – or understand the degree of risk you are assuming without mitigation. Keep in mind, says Benedict, that the younger you are when you retire, the more likely you are to experience unexpected events that may impact your portfolio.

7. CONSIDER SCALING BACK INSTEAD OF RETIRING COMPLETELY. From an asset preservation standpoint, some expense coverage from earned income is better than nothing, particularly for younger retirees. Additionally, this option allows for continued engagement and activity in the workforce.

8. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL. The tax

proposals on the table are causing concern for many business owners and affluent individuals. While this angst is understandable, it also is unproductive. “Accept the fact that the tax environment will change and that higher taxes are probable,” says Benedict. “What you can control is how you react to the environment, not the environment itself.”

9. HAVE A “THIRD ACT” PLAN. Consider how you will spend your time and what will add meaning to your life in the absence of a career. According to the Exit Planning Institute, 75% of business owners have “profoundly regretted” selling their businesses within just one year of selling. This may be because they didn’t mentally prepare for their post-career lives or neglected to cultivate meaningful ways to spend their time in retirement. Professionals leaving the workforce at the pinnacle of their careers may risk a similar experience, says Benedict.

10. WHEN IT COMES TO SELLING A BUSINESS, FOCUS ON THE NON-TAX REASONS FOR SELLING. When facing the prospect of higher capital gains taxes, a business owner’s knee-jerk reaction may be to sell the business. However, it is important to focus on the non-tax reasons for selling. These reasons may include retirement readiness, industry dynamics such as the need to consolidate to compete, an opportunity to sell at a high multiple that is too good to pass up, and the ability to retain a position of control in negotiations with prospective buyers.

For more information, please consult your PNC Advisor or contact Jim Benedict at jim.benedict@pnc.com.

Regional Presidents: Weston Andress, Western Carolinas: (704) 643-5581 Jim Hansen, Eastern Carolinas: (919) 835-0135

The material presented herein is of a general nature and does not constitute the provision by PNC of investment, legal, tax, or accounting advice to any person, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or adopt any investment strategy. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. The information was obtained from sources deemed reliable. Such information is not guaranteed as to its accuracy. You should seek the advice of an investment professional to tailor a financial plan to your particular needs. For more information, please contact PNC at 1-888-762-6226. The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (“PNC”) uses the marketing names PNC Wealth Management® and Hawthorn, PNC Family Wealth® to provide investment consulting and wealth management, fiduciary services, FDIC-insured banking products and services, and lending of funds to individual clients through PNC Bank, National Association (“PNC Bank”), which is a Member FDIC, and to provide specific fiduciary and agency services through its subsidiary, PNC Delaware Trust Company or PNC Ohio Trust Company. PNC does not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice unless, with respect to tax advice, PNC Bank has entered into a written tax services agreement. PNC Bank is not registered as a municipal advisor under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Investments: Not FDIC Insured. No Bank Guarantee. May Lose Value. “PNC Wealth Management” and “Hawthorn, PNC Family Wealth” are registered marks of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. ©2021 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. A U G U S T

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NC TREND

First take: Kava

■ DIGITAL COMMERCE Page 14

■ FASHION Page 18

■ MANUFACTURING Page 20

■ STATEWIDE Page 26

KAVA CRAVE A CALMING BEVERAGE WITH ROOTS IN POLYNESIAN CULTURE GAINS FANS IN NORTH CAROLINA.

BY JENNINGS COOL

▲ Rooted Kava Lounge in Wilmington

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Amezcua started in the kava industry as a customer visiting the Wilmington lounge, which emphasizes chilled teas. It offers an eclectic atmosphere and is decorated with artwork by local artist Rob Fogle. Amezcua enjoyed visiting Rooted Kava during a period in which he cared for his mother. “I found solace in my free time by going to the kava lounge,” he says. As he immersed himself in the community, he was offered a job as a server, then was promoted to general manager. Kava is not a new product, says Zoey Best, co-owner of Da Kine’s Kava in Durham. Her husband and business partner, Brent Waffle, was introduced to kava while living in Hawaii, using the beverage as a muscle relaxant after strenuous martial arts workouts and as a sleep aid. He later shared his love for the beverage with Best on one of their first dates at a kava bar in Wilmington. After moving to Durham in 2018, the couple started their own kava business and added a storefront kava bar in July 2020. “We wanted to jump on it and start the first kava bar in Durham — one that reflected the Polynesian culture similar to kava bars in Hawaii,” Best says. Da Kine’s offers kava drinks in a variety of forms from fruity cocktails — Blue Oahu, Watermelon Kava Margarita Special, and Haleakala Sunrise, to name a few — and bottled with

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JAMIE HANSEN, DA KINE'S KAVA

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rom the sandy shores of the South Pacific comes an earthy beverage that has recently made a resurgence in the U.S. Kava, which hails from islands including Hawaii, Fiji and Vanuatu, is made from the bitter root of the piper methysticum tree and contains compounds called kavalactones that have euphoric and sedating properties. Traditionally, the drink is prepared by chewing or pounding the root to produce a cloudy liquid that is soaked in water and filtered. It has a long history of use in traditional Pacific Island ceremonies and rituals. Today, its recreational and anti-anxiety uses are proving popular in colorful flavored mocktails or teas served at bars or sold in bottles. Kava bars gained popularity among U.S. cities over the past decade as a nonalcoholic beverage option with Sovereign Kava in Asheville believed to be North Carolina’s trendsetter in 2010. Since then, more than 10 kava bars have emerged across the state, according to the Kalm with Kava website, creating a devout community centered around the exotic substance. “I don’t think I have seen so many people of various age groups all in one place,” says Evan Amezcua, general manager of Rooted Kava Lounge in Wilmington, which opened in January 2016.

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▲ Da Kine's Kava opened earlier this year as Durham's first kava bar.

flavors such as hibiscus lemonade, cucumber mojito and ginger beet. Its menu also includes traditional kava, CBD items, herbal teas and coffee. While kava doesn’t contain any alcohol, the earthy-tasting beverage gives off feelings of relaxation, sleepiness, mild loss of sensation in the throat and mouth, appetite loss and reduced anxiety. “It is a great alternative to alcohol because there is no hangover or dancing on tables. It can, however, affect your central nervous system if you drink enough of it, which means it could make your tongue or mouth tingle,” Best says. “This sometimes makes people nervous, but it is totally normal.” Still, there is some controversy surrounding potential side effects including higher liver toxicity related to consuming kava.

As more bars began popping up and increasing in popularity, many farmers had trouble keeping up with demand, causing them to cut corners in processing. Under pressure, many used the leaves and the stem instead of the root to save money. Using those plant parts may be contributing to potential liver damage, some researchers say. “Note that kava has been banned [or heavily regulated] in [some European countries] due to liver toxicity,” said Robert Ashley, an internal medicine physician at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, in a 2018 report. “More than 100 cases of liver toxicity related to the use of kava have been identified, some leading to liver transplant and some leading to death.” Ashley added that liver damage occurs for many reasons and the cited cases involved many people who had prior liver disease or used alcohol in addition to kava. While kava is legal in the U.S. and there are no age restrictions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a dietary supplement and suggests consumers consult with a health care professional before consuming. It’s not wise to consume the drink with alcohol, most experts say. “Third-party lab testing is one of the go-to methods to ensure we’re ordering a safe product,” Amezcua says. “Also, we discourage any customers with certain medical conditions — pregnant, liver problems, taking anti-depressant medication, etc. — from partaking in kava and tell them to ask their doctor first before doing so.” Da Kine’s Kava also makes sure its purchased kava is processed through an FDA-regulated facility, according to Best. While some concerns remain, Best and other kava bar owners are working on breaking the stigma as the beverage’s popularity increases. “If used properly, kava is a fantastic tool,” Best says. ■

▲ Zoey Best and Brent Waffle, owners of Da Kine's Kava

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NC TREND

Digital commerce

EASY TO FATHOM A CARY-BASED HOME-SELLING BUSINESS SAYS TECHNOLOGY AND AN AGENT-FRIENDLY APPROACH ARE DRIVING RAPID GROWTH.

B Y DAV I D M I L D E N B E R G

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or decades, many entrepreneurs have promised to disrupt the traditional economic model of residential real estate but barely made a major dent. Now, a Cary-based company is among the groups trying to tip the scales as trading homes becomes a more technology-driven, cost-efficient industry. Fathom Realty says it has become the 15th-largest U.S. brokerage by eschewing physical offices, emphasizing cloud-based technology and reducing how much money is transferred from agents to their parent brokerages. Others include the much larger Bellingham, Wash.-based eXp Realty and New York-based Compass. Fathom now has 6,000 agents compared with 1,700 in 2017. Its revenue tripled in the last three years to $177 million and is expected to top $250 million this year and $310 million next year, according to estimates by two analysts who track the company. “All of our operations are built to operate off the cloud,” says Wendy Forsythe, Fathom’s chief brand officer. “When an agent does a transaction, the contract is uploaded into our proprietary software system, and then we manage everything from compliance to getting the agent paid through our technology platform.” Fathom went public in June 2020 for $10 a share, raising $31 million. After trading for as much as $54 earlier this year, it closed at about $26 on July 16. The market valuation was about $350 million. Since the IPO, it has expanded from 75 markets in 24 states to 113 in 29 states. Fathom agents operate in most big N.C. markets but overall have a minor market share in the state. Its challenge is attracting brokers from established companies with name recognition built over decades. Traditionally, agents receive a 3% commission on a sale, then send 10% to 30% to their real estate brokerage. Under Fathom’s plan, agents pay $450 for the first 12 sales in a year, then $99 on subsequent sales. They keep the balance of the fee. A $500 yearly transaction fee is also assessed. “If you earn $10,000 on a commission, there’s a big difference in paying 30% to a broker versus $450,” Forsythe says. “But the real magic is working with our agents to take some of that money that you aren’t paying to the broker and use it for lead generation and local marketing.”

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Revenue

$55 million

$77 million

$111 million

$177 million

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2018

2019

2020

Net losses

$0.42 million

$1.6 million

$4.1 million

$1.3 million

2017

2018

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1,734

2,724

4,006

5,471

6,000

2017 (Dec.)

2018 (Dec.)

2019 (Dec.)

2020 (Dec.)

2021 (May)

Fathom has yet to prove it can make money, reporting cumulative losses of more than $7 million over the last four years, during which the U.S. residential market has set a sizzling pace. It is expected to continue losing money over the next two years as it expands into new markets. CEO Josh Harley started Fathom in Dallas in 2010. While he remains in Texas, the headquarters are in Cary, where President Marco Fregenal is based at a 12,000-square-foot office. It's the company's only real estate lease, Forsythe says. Fregenal formerly worked at Triangle tech companies including How Stuff Works, EvoApp and Carpio Solutions. Harley, Fregenal and retired Exxon Mobil executive Glenn Sampson controlled about 70% of the shares after the IPO. ■

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EMERGING FROM THE COVID BUBBLE: FIVE DATA SECURITY ACTIONS EVERY COMPANY SHOULD TAKE TODAY By Peter N. McClelland, CIPP/US It is no secret that during the COVID-19 pandemic, technology, data, and the interconnectedness of our digitized world were a lifeline to North Carolina businesses.

Working with an expert to close gaps—both technological and human—in a data protection program is a vital step for protecting a business from these problems.

Companies that were told they could not have customers in stores or employees in the office were able to pivot and sell their products and services online. Remote work allowed employees to shelter in place and keep their livelihoods going by being able to contribute to their teams without the fear of infection.

#2 REVIEW YOUR PRIVACY POLICY

It truly was a miracle for so many, but without taking the proper steps to protect a business's data in the long term, that miracle may wind up bringing serious harm to a company in the future.

The very websites that businesses rely upon to let consumers, prospective employees, and everyone else know about their products, services, culture, and values often collect personal information. This information can be incredibly helpful for businesses looking to improve their online presence and hone their direct marketing. However, the business could have legal exposure if their Privacy Notice and Terms of Use—the agreements that will govern the website user's use of the page and the business's use of any personal information—are not tailored to the business's goals.

There are five actions all North Carolina businesses should take today to maximize their data security position in an economy exiting the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina businesses should review their Privacy Notice and make appropriate adjustments in light of how they are using information post-pandemic.

#1 PROTECT PERSONAL INFORMATION

#3 REVIEW YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE

Protecting personal information is not just good business practice; it is the law. Having unreasonably lax data security protections can lead to devastating consequences for a business as they grapple first with the cost of getting a malicious actor out of their systems; second with the legal compliance costs of notifying individuals and vendors about the information that was stolen; and then possibly third with lawsuits and class actions that allege the business should have done more to protect the information.

A patchwork of federal and state laws across America can make it easy for marketing efforts to run afoul of legal requirements. New developments can impact who a business can call or text about their products and services, what content may be required in the body of a marketing email, and when a business has to get additional consents before using a person's information at all.

"Personal information" is also a broader category of data than many might think, and can include your full name, email address, street address, and phone number, in addition to more sensitive information like an account number or a social security number.

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AND MARKETING PRACTICES

For example, not getting proper consent before texting prospective customers can result in class action lawsuits. Not appropriately managing opt-out requests can result in regulatory investigations and enforcement actions. And operating a website that cannot accommodate consumers with disabilities—such as visual impairment—has resulted in lawsuits against North Carolina businesses.

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Businesses should conduct a comprehensive review of their online marketing to ensure the accessibility, data privacy, and consent practices are in place for content, both new and old.

is more "normal," it is important to have an expert on any business's team to guide that human element to a solid foundation.

#4 CONSIDER THE RESIDENCE OF

Make sure you have a team, or at least a team member, keeping abreast of the privacy and data security considerations that may impact your business or your customers. Educate your workforce on data security issues, and take the time to bring these issues into the regular conversation at work. Strengthen your internal policy and process so that data security is part of your company culture.

YOUR CUSTOMERS

There is no overriding federal data privacy law, so a business has to consider laws in all states or countries that could apply to them. Just because a business is headquartered in North Carolina does not mean only North Carolina privacy laws govern the customers of that business. The myriad of laws governing privacy and data security is especially concerning for companies with customers or employees in multiple states because the laws that apply are determined by the residence of the people affected. And importers and exporters may also have to comply with foreign laws, which often contradict American industry standards. That means that it is easy for even a small company to have to navigate a maze of different rules and regulations. Carefully examine what data privacy rules are applicable in each of the locations where you have customers, and develop a strategy to handle data that limits the liability in each state or country.

#5 INVEST IN HUMAN CAPITAL While there are strong, practical tech solutions that can help an organization navigate online data security and protect personal information, the most important risk to address is the human element. The lessons businesses learned from the pandemic about moving products and services online, having employees work remotely when needed, and perfecting their ability to adapt will serve them well. But as we bring the lessons learned in the last eighteen months back into a world that

With these five priorities, North Carolina businesses will mitigate risk with a current post-pandemic data privacy and security posture.

Peter is an attorney and a Certified Information Privacy Professional/US (CIPP/US) who assists clients in a range of privacy, data security, cyber supply chain and technology matters. Businesses and individuals rely on his privacy and data security expertise for structuring and operationalizing privacy compliance programs, data breach response and planning, contract and vendor management, and licensing and technology transactions.

Peter can be reached at pnmcclelland@wardandsmith.com

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NC TREND

Fashion

FASHION FORWARD LOCAL SOCIAL INFLUENCERS GAIN STATURE AS TRENDSETTERS.

BY MEGAN BIRD

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▲ Adkins juggles styling clients, social media and modeling.

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▲ Whitley Adkins helps drive fashion trends in Charlotte.

Carolina stylist and fashion influencers such as Raleigh’s Marche Robinson (@marcherobinson) and Charlotte’s Rachel Brown (@queencitychic) and Jan Correll (@silver_isthenewblonde) have turned to social media to build major followings. Charlotte-based professional fashion stylist Kristin Heinrich says social media is not only a free source for marketing but also inspiration. “One hundred percent of my business is run or fed through Instagram,” says Heinrich, who has never paid for advertisements outside a website domain. A Richmond, Va., native, Heinrich focuses on the personal side of fashion styling. Her services run the gamut from cleaning out clients’ closets to packing their suitcases to dressing them for important events. One of her more popular services is personal shopping. “I basically spend my day spending other people’s money, so it’s really fun.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF WHITLEY ADKINS

etting trends in the $1.9 trillion global fashion industry has long been portrayed as an exclusive club only for the rich or famous. But with the birth of social media, the industry has become more accessible to the public. Rather than runway shows and the glossy pages of high-fashion magazines, the latest trends can be accessed simply by scrolling through any social media platform. As the fashion industry continues to evolve, so does the way apparel is marketed to potential consumers. More than 1 billion people use Instagram each month, with 130 million users tapping on shopping posts each month, according to a study by social media management platform Hootsuite. About 50% of people have visited a website to make a purchase after seeing a product or service on Instagram. Global retail sales of apparel and footwear are expected to grow to more than $3 trillion by 2030, according to a report by Statista. Influencer marketing has changed the landscape of advertising. While the phenomenon is nothing new — the rich and famous have influenced trends for centuries — the rise of social media caused a renaissance. Now, it’s not just celebrities but normal folks, or “niche influencers,” that brands seek out. North

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PHOTOS BY ERIN MAYNARD PHOTOGRAPHY, CHRIS EDWARDS

▲ Kristin Heinrich helps clients stay in style.

Heinrich has worked retail jobs all her life but really got into the fashion world through an unexpected door — stock-car racing. She worked as four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jeff Gordon’s personal assistant for four years, and one of her responsibilities was to select his outfits. After Gordon moved to New York, she started Kristin Heinrich Concierge Services to help other NASCAR drivers, including styling their wardrobes. While male race car drivers helped launch her business, it was their wives and girlfriends who inspired her to shift to personal shopping in 2009. Twelve years later, she has about 20 clients nationally and has styled people for TV appearances on shows such as Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Today Show. Her work has been featured in national publications such as Sports Illustrated and USA Today, and her services include travel wardrobe prep, closet editing and reorganizing, custom fittings, special events and personal shopping. While Heinrich didn’t disclose her rates because she says they vary depending on the client’s needs and preferences, she points out that a lot more people can afford a personal shopper than they might think. “Personal styling is no different these days than hiring an interior designer or someone who colors and cuts your hair,” says Heinrich. “Certainly I can do that myself, but I don’t want to because someone can do it better than me.” Like many, Charlotte fashion and wardrobe stylist Whitley Adkins fondly recalls playing dress-up as some of her earliest memories, wobbling around in oversized heels and flashy costume jewelry. A nascent passion has turned into a successful plunge into the fashion industry. Adkins, 44, divides her time among commercial, personal and editorial styling, building a large social media presence as Queen City Style. More than 11,000 people follow her adventures in fashion on Instagram. Ten years ago, Adkins was a stay-at-home mother to her two sons, Hank and Worth. “It was great, but I wasn't completely fulfilled personally,” Adkins says. The UNC Chapel Hill grad, who has a degree in communi-

cation studies, began throwing herself into all things creative, from redecorating her house every five days to planning elaborate dinners. She drew much of her taste from her grandmother and great-grandmother, who were both stylists and buyers for Rosenbloom-Levy, an upscale boutique in Rocky Mount. When Adkins saw that the back page of Lucky magazine was featuring blog-style spreads of people’s fashionable mothers, she submitted a glamorous photo of her family’s chic matriarchs to the Condé Nast media-owned publication. “That was the catalyst for what would become the Queen City Style, which basically was a fashion blog or a journal for all of these creative things I was doing at home,” Adkins says. Her newfound online presence landed her gigs writing monthly columns for Charlotte Parent Magazine (which also advertised her blog), serving as style editor for SouthPark Magazine, dressing the city’s “smart, hardworking and well-mannered,” as Adkins describes her clients, and, more recently, directing Greensborobased national retailer Marie Oliver’s spring and summer lines. Throughout her company’s evolution, Adkins has done her own marketing and PR and has even served as her own model. With thousands of Instagram followers, Adkins attributes her large base to “a lot of hard work over time” and her “relationship-oriented” approach to business. “I've never pursued being an influencer from a business standpoint,” Adkins says. “For me, it was a creative outlet. It is a thing that allows my soul to feel full. But it is also a marketing and PR tool that doesn't cost me any money.” ■

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NC TREND

Manufacturing

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY AN IREDELL COUNTY EXPANSION SPOTLIGHTS JELD-WEN’S GROWTH PLANS IN A HOT HOUSING MARKET.

BY DAN BARKIN

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▲ After 61 years, Jeld-Wen is an industry leader in windows and doors.

crushed the housing industry, and Jeld-Wen, which had taken on debt, struggled as revenue dropped. In 2011, Toronto-based privateequity firm Onex acquired a controlling interest for $871 million in a deal valuing the business at $1.5 billion, the Oregonian reported. That led to the “transformation of our business from a family-run operation to a global organization with independent, professional management,” according to a company filing in 2016, when it was preparing to go public the following year. Onex and its affiliates owned about 25% of Jeld-Wen stock as of March. The window and door industry is fragmented with Jeld-Wen’s key rivals including Marvin, Pella, Andersen and Ply Gem, which is part of Cary-based Cornerstone Building Brands. Windows, particularly, are manufactured for the requirements of specific regions and climates. They are fragile, increasingly complex, and challenging to transport. Jeld-Wen has spent the past decade acquiring companies all over the world. CEO Gary Michel was hired in 2018 from Honeywell after his predecessor, Mark Beck, left the company after about two years amid slumping sales. Company shares were trading for about $24 in mid-July, little changed from the $23 price in the IPO four years earlier. To spur growth, Michel instituted a program called the JeldWen Excellence Model aimed at reducing waste, shortening lead times and increasing productivity. The plan enabled growth from existing facilities — not simply through acquisitions. Results suggest improvements with net revenue growing at a 4.6% compound annual rate between 2015 and 2020 and adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) increasing by 7.5%. Now the company thinks it can grow revenue by 6% to 8% on a CAGR basis by 2025 and can achieve an adjusted EBITDA margin of 15% to 17% in 2025, up from an expected 11% this year. Dan Jacobs, a Jeld-Wen vice president, says the pandemic added its own challenges over the past 15 months. Jacobs has been with the company since graduating from college 13 years ago. “For people like myself that are young in their careers, to industry

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JELD-WEN

T

his summer Jeld-Wen, one of the world’s leading window and door manufacturers, is opening a plant in Statesville that will raise the company’s profile in North Carolina, where it moved its headquarters six years ago. The company plans to hire as many as 235 employees and invest $7.9 million in the Iredell County facility, which will make commercial vinyl windows for apartment buildings. The move comes two years after Jeld-Wen acquired the VPI Quality Windows line. The company now has more than 540 N.C. employees, including about 330 at its Charlotte headquarters and more than 210 at a door plant in North Wilkesboro. Globally, it employs 23,000 at about 140 manufacturing and distribution facilities in 19 countries. Last year’s revenue totaled $4.2 billion with doors making up about two-thirds of sales. Windows contribute about 20%. Jeld-Wen has been building windows and doors in North Carolina for decades, but its roots are from far across the nation. The company was founded in 1960 by a young Air Force veteran named Richard Wendt, who had been sent by an Iowa window company to try to turn around a factory in Klamath Falls, Ore., in 1957. He did, but the company decided to sell the plant anyway, and Wendt and several employees bought it. Jeld-Wen’s name has an unique origin story: The first part, Jeld, came from the first letters of the first names of Wendt’s sister (Jewel), mom (Evelyn), dad (Lester), and his own (Dick). The second part was their truncated last name. From that modest beginning, Wendt created a national footprint, opening a window plant in 1962 in Charlotte. The company became one of Oregon’s largest employers with more than 1,000 workers. Wendt passed away in 2010 at 79, and the past decade or so has brought significant changes to his company. These included a little-publicized headquarters move to Charlotte. The Portland, Ore., Oregonian newspaper in 2015 wrote the move “completes a quiet corporate transition out of Oregon, where Jeld-Wen once cut a high profile, employing thousands” and holding naming rights to the city’s minor-league baseball stadium. The move put Jeld-Wen closer to major customers such as Atlanta-based Home Depot, which accounts for 15% of Jeld-Wen’s revenue, more than anyone else. Another big change was in ownership. The 2007-09 recession

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veterans that have been manufacturing things for 40 years, I think we all learned something during the pandemic,” says Jacobs, who started out selling to Home Depot. The No. 1 priority was keeping employees safe, he says. Then it was managing disruptions to the supply chain and dealing with labor shortages. “At first, demand fell out from underneath us, and some of the supply chain issues were covered up because the demand wasn’t there,” he says. “But then demand came back, not only in full force, but something nobody could have predicted. Everybody’s sitting at home, and they want to update their home. And building materials went through the roof. The company’s effort to create a more efficient network of plants and distribution centers didn’t leave North Carolina unscathed. In late 2019, Jeld-Wen closed a door plant in Lexington, which eliminated 135 jobs. The company has said it wants to shrink its global manufacturing and distribution footprint — 24.6 million square feet at about 140 sites at the end of 2018 — by more than 3 million square feet by 2022. Achieving financial goals requires modern-

▲ Jeld-Wen moved to Charlotte in 2015 then opened this office in 2018.

izing technology and achieving more productivity and volume at fewer facilities. North Carolina is supporting Jeld-Wen’s new Iredell plant, offering $2.2 million in incentives over 12 years if the company creates all of the jobs it proposes. The state looks at each application on its own merits, and it doesn’t hurt to have a major corporate headquarters in the Queen City. It recently donated $900,000 for Charlotte arts funding. Michel, the CEO, has been named chairman of the Greater Charlotte Heart Ball, a major fundraiser for the American Heart Association. Jeld-Wen has donated to a St. Jude Dream Home in Charlotte, and the company is a “touchdown” sponsor of the Atrium Health Foundation Keep Pounding 5K. “We’re committed to this state,” says spokesperson Joe LaMuraglia, “and we’re committed to being a good corporate partner.” ■

Jeld-Wen's f inancial picture billion

$91.6 million net income

$63 million net income

$141.9 million net income

$8.1 million net income

$4.24 billion revenue

$4.29 billion revenue

$4.35 billion revenue

$3.76 billion revenue

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Main sales channels residential new construction repair/renovation nonresidential

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CORPORATE

MEETING GUIDE

READY FOR A REBOUND Like many hospitality professionals, meeting planner Jennifer Johnson wasn’t prepared for March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival brought concerns and stay-at-home orders. Events were postponed or canceled, including those organized by her company, Raleigh-based The Johnson Meetings Group. “I had a conference planned at the Sheraton Imperial [Hotel Raleigh-Durham Airport at Research Triangle Park] for August 2020, and I managed to reschedule it in August 2021,” she says. That hotel’s group sales manager was furloughed twice before leaving to start a new career. “I’ve seen a lot of people, especially on the hotel-sales side of the meetings and convention sector, leave,” Johnson says. “And the hotels have had to be really creative and pivot.”

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North Carolina saw nearly $20 billion in visitor spending and 178,700 tourism-related jobs in 2020, about a 32% and 26% drop, respectively, from the year prior, according to a U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics report. Tourism payroll dipped to $6.4 billion, nearly 25% less than in 2019. Besides staff turnover, meeting and conference destinations have dealt with prevention measures that prohibited all in-person gatherings. But by playing to their strengths during the pandemic, they survived and invested in assets that will provide returns when business rebounds. Pinehurst Resort closed for the first 60 days of the pandemic, but golf never stopped. It was one of several outdoor activities that Gov. Roy Cooper preserved in his March 2020 executive

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order, which detailed the state’s COVID response. “That was the real game changer for us,” says Eric Kuester, vice president and head of sales and marketing at the resort. “When we learned we would be able to keep golf open, we knew we would be OK.” But rough times remained for Pinehurst’s meetings and conference business. “When we started the year in 2020, we had around 40,000 group nights on our books,” Kuester says. “And I think we finished the year with 15,000 group nights.” The remaining nights were reserved beyond 2020. “This was a huge bite out of our group business segment,” he says. Meeting and conference contracts are carefully crafted. Most include a force majeure clause, which protects planners from liability when cancella-

Photo of the Lake Pinehurst Beach Club provided by Pinehurst.

Ingenuity, patience and leisure travelers kept many of North Carolina’s meeting and convention destinations alive over the past 18 months. Now, they’re poised for a comeback.

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tions are due to a major disruption such as an act of God, war, labor dispute or disease. Pinehurst, like all other conference destinations, accepted it for cancellations due to COVID. “We value our client relationships,” Kuester says. His sales team extended meeting contracts until the pandemic dragged on for so long that planners were forced to cancel outright. As conferences and group events fizzled, leisure travel flourished. The Home of American Golf — Pinehurst and neighboring Aberdeen and Southern Pines’ nickname — welcomed visitors in staggering numbers. “While the business world went into lockdown, everybody discovered golf,” Kuester says. “We are talking unprecedented levels of leisure room demand, and that has allowed us to put group reservations into a smaller category until that sector of our business reopens.” As golf enthusiasts perfected their game, many displaced office workers went to work on North Carolina’s beaches. In Wilmington, the local economy lost an entire year’s worth of meetings and conventions business, says Kim

Hufham, Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO. But the region’s three main beaches — Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville — thrived. “People were coming down and renting beach cottages for weeks to work remotely, and kids were doing their schoolwork,” she says. “It was really cool to see people with their laptops down on the beach.” Hufham says the difference between business travel and leisure travel was night and day. “If you look straight at the beach numbers, we had one of our best years ever,” she says. “But when you go into Wilmington, where hotels depend much more on group and business travelers, they suffered.” Wilmington’s convention business is expected to rebound this summer. “Most of the planners we work with have promised they would return in future years, and we have been able to rebook about 75% of the events we lost,” Hufham says. “We feel like we have fared pretty well.” No North Carolina city is more popular among meeting planners and conference attendees than Charlotte,

according to hospitality-industry researcher MMGY Travel Intelligence. A recent study found 53% of attendees and 63% of planners are likely to attend or plan a meeting, respectively, in Charlotte. But even that wasn’t enough to completely ward off the pandemic’s effects. Visit Charlotte Executive Director Mike Butts says innovation and creativity best describe the Queen City’s pandemic survival strategy. Its restaurants, for example, designed outdoor seating landscapes and built new carryout models. “Our restaurants looked at the possibilities of creating experiences for their customers that provided fresh air, a fun environment and a chance to get together for a socially distanced, safe meal,” he says. Butts has noticed a recent uptick in requests for proposals from meeting planners. But they are forecasting smaller attendance numbers. He believes that dip is temporary and predicts attendance to reach pre-pandemic levels by next year. Greensboro-based Koury Corp.’s three properties — the Sheraton

With the increase in outdoor activities surging in 2020, the golf course at the Grandover Resort & Spa thrived. SEE OUR AD INSIDE THE FRONT COVER

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CORPORATE

MEETING GUIDE

The Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem boasts 145,000 square feet of flexible meeting space including exhibit halls, breakout rooms, reception areas, three ballrooms and a boardroom.

Greensboro at Four Seasons, Holiday Inn Greensboro Coliseum and Grandover Resort & Spa — were hit hard by the pandemic. While Grandover’s golf course had a record-breaking 2020, the rest of the Koury hospitality family suffered. “First and foremost, we were concerned about our employees,” says Kelly Harrill, executive vice president of hospitality at Koury. “We knew that every employee we had to furlough and send home had a family to support, so we did every-

thing we could to mitigate their losses, including finding small maintenance jobs to provide [work] hours.” As Koury’s hotels have reopened and leisure travelers returned, the stress has eased. “The leisure market really carried us,” Harrill says. “Plus … our hotels were completely full during the spring furniture market.” The 122-year-old High Point Furniture Market, whose 12 million square feet and $6.5 billion economic impact make it the state’s largest trade show,

provided relief in the Triad, increasing business at hotels and restaurants. The market’s spring gathering, which draws as many as 75,000 people from around the world, was pushed to early June from April this year. That was a big change from a year earlier, when the market was canceled for the first time since World War II. “It felt strange not to have market last spring,” says Visit High Point President Melody Burnett. Things improved in October, when the scaled-down market saw half the usual crowd and two-thirds of the typical exhibitors, according to the High Point Market Authority. Like destinations statewide, High Point benefited from visitors who took a day or weekend trip. Burnett says leads from consumers looking to furniture shop jumped 260%, and the volume of responses to advertisements jumped 178% from the previous year. “Furniture shoppers not only helped our local businesses financially, but we found ourselves in a unique position to

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leverage our overall home-furnishing branding,” she says. Day-trippers also made their way to Greenville during the pandemic, says Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Andrew Schmidt. “When the economy started shutting down, we pivoted pretty quickly, because we knew conventions and meetings, sports, weddings, and reunions would be off the table for a while,” he says. What remained were outdoor activities such as rafting, kayaking and fishing. People could participate in those while respecting the socialdistancing guidelines. “We saw a 36% increase in day travel from the Triangle to Greenville as compared to the year before,” he says. Greenville Recreation & Parks Department is moving conference offerings into green spaces. “We always knew we had these assets because we use them for leisure, but now we realize we can use them for conventions as well,” Schmidt says. During the pandemic, many conferences and meetings migrated to videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom.

While they proved convenient, cheaper and timesaving, hospitality executives say in-person meetings and conventions will return. “After all, human beings need to be around other people, and it’s just not the same over a computer,” Harrill says. “I believe in-person meetings have nothing to worry about.” The state GOP held a successful convention in Greenville in June 2020, and Schmidt says signs are pointing toward a banner 2022. He and others in the industry used the past year to prepare for a rebound as they watched travel numbers ramp up. They’ve expanded offerings, added venues and enhanced visitor experiences. High Point by Design, a cohort of more than 65 branded showrooms that offers two types of shopping experiences, launched last year. Burnett says some showrooms are open to the trade only. Others welcome trade partners, as well as fans of design. HPxD extends the popular furniture market’s reach and designates its namesake city as a design hub. “We have been marketing that to get designers to return to High Point for smaller opportunities in between the

BUSINESS OR PLEASURE, THE CHOICE IS YOURS.

markets,” she says. “HPxD uses existing showrooms that are available outside of the market months for designers to network, get continuing education and engage with each other and with the public.” Charlotte welcomed a 35,000-squarefoot connector between Bojangles Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium in 2020. Butts says it adds 4,400 square feet of meeting space, which has already been put to good use. “We hosted COVID vaccination clinics and held high school graduations there,” he says. Pinehurst Resort is leveraging the U.S. Golf Association’s recent decision to open a headquarters nearby. “We’re building a high-end lodge with 36 rooms and a rooftop bar overlooking the Cradle course,” Kuester says. The Lodge at Pinehurst will have suites, meeting space and fitness offerings. It’s scheduled to open in time for the 2024 U.S. Open, which Pinehurst is hosting. ■ — Teri Saylor is a freelance writer from Raleigh.

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SPECULATION SIZZLES AT SAS

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ews that Cary-based SAS Institute was mulling a sale to Silicon Valley giant Broadcom caused 24 hours of tumult in mid-July that CEO James Goodnight squashed with an email to his 12,500 employees saying that the company isn’t for sale. But many SAS followers viewed the Broadcom dalliance, which was reported by The Wall Street Journal, as a signal of major changes ahead at the statistical-services software company. Microsoft is a close partner with SAS and a potential bidder for the company, Ray Wang, chairman of Constellation Research, told the SearchBusinessAnalytics.com news service. SAS didn’t comment on the speculation. Since Goodnight and John Sall started SAS in 1976 based on their research work at N.C. State University, the company has played a pivotal role in the growth of Wake County and the Triangle. Cary was essentially viewed as a company town for years because of SAS’ rapid growth and Goodnight’s dominant leadership and financial backing for housing developments. He has eschewed sharing ownership with workers or the public, while providing employee benefits that have gained world renown and earned loyalty. Nine of the top 10 executives under Goodnight and Sall have worked at SAS for at least 10 years with many logging 20-plus years there. His succession planning was disrupted when Oliver Schabenberger, the company’s chief operating and technology officer and a SAS employee since 2002, resigned late last year and joined

▲ James Goodnight

San Francisco-based SingleStore in February. SAS’ revenue growth has stalled in the $3 billion range over the past five years amid competition from larger software companies and startups that could offer employees a faster path to securing fortunes for their work. Goodnight, 78, owns twothirds of the business, with the balance held by Sall, 73. ■

V

idant Health CEO Michael Waldrum is taking charge of East Carolina University’s medical school as a “first step” on the path to integrating the organizations’ clinical operations and boosting the university’s brand. He is an internist who’s headed Vidant since 2015 after serving at a university system in Arizona. It’s among North Carolina’s largest health systems with nine hospitals, about 1.4 million annual patients and 17,000 employees. Vidant is increasingly surrounded by UNC Health, a larger affiliate of the UNC System that has bought hospitals or signed management agreements in the eastern N.C. towns of Clayton, Goldsboro, Jacksonville, Kinston, New Bern, Rocky Mount and Smithfield. They complement UNC’s flagship hospitals in Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Waldrum has criticized the UNC Health moves for encroaching on areas that have historically referred patients with more serious conditions to Vidant’s flagship hospital in

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Greenville. Two years ago, the UNC System sued Vidant over a dispute on appointments to the system’s board, resulting in a $35 million reduction in state support. Mark Stacy, a former Duke University executive, left in May after four years as dean of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. No explanation was provided for his departure. System officials plan to rebrand Vidant, a name selected in 2012 to replace University Health Systems. Both Vidant and ECU operate physician practices providing a wide array of medical services. Vidant reported a $40 million operating gain during the six months ending March 31, compared with an $8 million loss in the same period a year earlier when COVID-19 caused sharp declines in elective surgeries. Investment gains and $42 million in federal and state stimulus funds helped the system report a $169 million total margin during the half-year period, compared with a $94 million loss a year earlier. ■

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAS

NEW NAME AT VIDANT

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TRIANGLE

platforms, expand its therapeutic pipeline and advance its current programs in metabolic disease, ophthalmology and oncology.”

MORRISVILLE CARY Epic Games’ plans to redevelop Cary Towne Center into a new headquarters campus include buildings as high as 12 stories with 3.5 million square feet of office space, 75,000 square feet of commercial space and a 200-room hotel. Epic Games bought the property for $95 million from Turnbridge Equities and Denali Properties. Chicago-based Hireology acquired Cary-based referral technology startup EmployUs for an undisclosed amount. The company will keep its brand identity and products with access to Hireology’s larger consumer base.

DURHAM

PHOTO COURTESY OF KANE REALTY

ArchiveSocial, which provides software to archive social media posts, acquired San Francisco-based NextRequest, which sells software to manage public records requests. ArchiveSocial will grow by 25%, with a combined staff of 125.

Christopher Giordano was tapped as CEO of Tenax. He succeeds Anthony DiTonno, who is retiring. The specialty pharmaceutical company, which focuses on cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, raised nearly $10 million from an undisclosed investor.

RALEIGH

Inceptor Bio is investing $26 million in its platform, called AMP+, which uses cell- and gene-based therapies to treat cancer. The 16-month-old, seedstage company focuses on therapies that strengthen immune cell performance where cancer is found. Former U.S. Attorney Matt Martin was named chief counsel and corporate secretary for First Citizens Bank. Martin resigned shortly after President Joe Biden took office. The UNC School of Law alumnus succeeds Elizabeth Ostendorf, who now works at the Butler Snow law firm.

Insightsoftware received an $800 million investment from Londonbased private-equity firm Hg. The transaction values insightsoftware at $4 billion. TA Associates will remain a key investor.

Agnes Stevens, a top administrator at the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for about four years, left to join Greensboro-based public relations company RLF Communications. Stevens will be based here.

Communications-software company Bandwidth tapped Daryl Raiford as executive vice president and CFO. He succeeds Jeff Hoffman, who is stepping down after 10 years at the company. Raiford previously worked at Ribbon Communications and Freescale Semiconductor.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled plans for a new 10-story headquarters on state-owned land in west Raleigh. The office tower includes 480,920 square feet of office space and a parking deck.

Parexel, a clinical research organization with headquarters here and in Boston, is being acquired for $8.5 billion by an investor group led by EQT Private Equity and Goldman Sachs Asset Management. The acquisition will allow Parexel to focus more on the Asian-Pacific region. Biotech startup Kriya Therapeutics raised $100 million in capital. The company, which is headquartered here and in Palo Alto, Calif., raised $80.5 million last year. It plans to use the funds to “develop core technology

McKee Homes moved its headquarters to the Captrust building in Raleigh’s North Hills from Fayetteville. The homebuilding company, which launched in 2010, does business exclusively in North Carolina.

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Jim Whitehurst stepped down as president of IBM and sold his Durham home and moved to Florida. He formerly headed Red Hat, which IBM bought for $34 billion in 2019. Predictive medicine platform VitalFlo raised more than $2.1 million. Geekdom Fund led the fundraising round. VitalFlo, which recently opened a second office in Portland, Ore., says it will use the funds to grow its workforce.

HILLSBOROUGH

Austrian energy drink company Red Bull and beverage company Rauch are investing $740 million in a manufacturing, filling and distribution center at The Grounds at Concord at the former Philip Morris plant in Cabarrus County, creating an estimated 413 jobs. Red Bull and Rauch will receive state and local incentives of about $40 million over 12 years, based on meeting hiring and investment targets. The jobs will pay an average of $50,000 per year.

Neonatal startup Tellus Therapeutics signed a $2 million contract with Bostonbased life-sciences accelerator Xontogeny. The company focuses on treatments for newborns and premature babies.

CHARLOTTE CONCORD Chip Ganassi sold his NASCAR operations here to Trackhouse Racing. Ganassi plans to remain in the IndyCar, IMSA and Extreme E racing series next year. Terms were not revealed. Ganassi’s 200-employee team was valued at $63 million in 2020.

Nir Patel was named CEO of department store chain Belk, succeeding Lisa Harper. Patel previously served as chief merchandising officer. He joined Belk in 2016.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF RED BULL, BELK

CHARLOTTE

▲ Nir Patel

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New York City-based real estate company Lightstone is opening an office in SouthPark led by managing director Conor Mullen. Lightstone’s portfolio includes 1.7 million square feet of commercial and industrial properties, 2,700 multifamily units, and 650 hotel rooms. Atrium Health received state approval to build a 30-bed hospital in Cornelius. The $154 million project will be called Atrium Health Lake Norman and is expected to open in early 2024. Atrium also completed its purchase of Rome, Ga.-based Floyd Health System with plans to invest $650 million over 11 years.

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SPX Flow rebuffed a $3.6 billion takeover bid from Davidson-based Ingersoll Rand. SPX Flow shares gained more than 20% when news of the bid emerged.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ATRIUM HEALTH

Dentsply Sirona is investing $10 million to add nearly 60,000 square feet of lab space, conference rooms, offices and an innovation showroom. The dentalproducts manufacturer employs about 300 in the Queen City and will add an undisclosed number of jobs with the expansion.

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Wireless-solutions company Airwavz Solutions raised $15 million from two investors. The company was founded by Mark Horinko in 2013 and raised $19.4 million in 2018.

disclosed. Earlier this year, isolved acquired workplace philanthropy platform Givful. Sunlight Financial is valued at about $1.35 billion after merging with a special purpose acquisition company. The company, headquartered here and in New York, has helped solar companies secure $4 billion in loans for home solar installations. The deal stipulates that Sunlight remain independent while partnering with private-equity firm Apollo Management.

KANNAPOLIS

Software-technology company isolved acquired predictive people-analytics platform TrenData HR. Financial details were not

Billionaire investor David Murdock put a portion of the N.C. Research Campus up for sale. His company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars there since the mid-2000s.

TRIAD WINSTON-SALEM Professional services company Horizon Strategies scored a $231.2 million firmfixed-price contract from the U.S. Army to provide transition services to veterans through the Transition Assistance Program. The company will add more than 200 employees and an additional 440 positions under five subcontractors. It provides services such as counseling, resume writing, and interview and networking training to assist veterans in finding jobs after their service.

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After announcing that it would cover students’ textbook costs for the next two years, Greensboro-based N.C. A&T State University is using more federal pandemic relief money to establish several scholarships and an emergency aid fund. The scholarship funds are capped at $5,000.

GREENSBORO

EAST LUMBERTON

Jet It signed an agreement with Denverbased Bye Aerospace to purchase eight allelectric twin prop aircrafts beginning in 2025. The deal includes four seven-passenger eFlyer 800 aircrafts and four four-passenger eFlyer 4 aircrafts. Jet It says it will operate the first fleet of electric aircraft in North America.

Elkay Manufacturing, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based producer of sinks and water delivery products, is investing $5.5 million to expand here, creating 20 jobs. The new posts will have an average annual salary of $49,000.

GARLAND The plant that once housed Brooks Brothers will reopen this summer as a cutand-sew business. It’s owned by Cayenne Acquisitions Group and leased to Garland Apparel Group, which plans to add more than 100 jobs this year.

WILMINGTON B.J. Losch, longtime chief financial officer of Memphis, Tenn.-based First Horizon National, has been tapped to oversee the venture branch of Live Oak Bank as its CFO.

Fashion label company Global Brands, headquartered in China with an office here, laid off 78 local workers in early July. Its brands include Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, Frye and Kenneth Cole.

ASHEBORO American Healthcare Systems finalized its $10.2 million purchase of assets of Randolph Health, which filed for bankruptcy protection. CEO Tim Ford formerly led Blowing Rock Hospital.

MOCKSVILLE Shed builder Liberty Storage Solutions is investing $8 million in a new headquarters and manufacturing space on a 33-acre site. It says it will add 50 jobs over the next three years with an average annual salary of $47,500.

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Oregon-based manufacturer Roseburg Forest Products is investing $200 million in a high-tech sawmill operation in Weldon, adding 137 jobs with an average annual salary of $50,796. Roseburg could receive more than $2 million in incentives, based on meeting job and investment targets.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA A&T STATE UNIVERSITY, ROSEBURG FOREST PRODUCTS

Apparel company HanesBrands tapped LaTonya Groom as vice president of talent and diversity. She previously worked as senior director of talent management and development at Northrop Grumman.

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WEST

RIEGELWOOD Precision Swiss Products, which makes parts for the aerospace, medical device and semiconductor industries, is investing $9.3 million to locate its headquarters and a plant here, adding 125 jobs. The positions will have an average annual salary of $54,000.

WALLACE Metal roofing product manufacturer Metal Specialist is investing more than $2.9 million to build a headquarters and manufacturing facility, creating 33 jobs. The positions will have an average annual salary of $40,213.

ARDEN Seeing Medicines, which develops regenerative medicine treatments for people with macular degenerative diseases, raised nearly $7 million from three investors. The company is led by LeRoux Jooste, whose previous Buncombe County company was acquired by Astellas Pharma in 2016.

HICKORY Michigan-based insurance brokerage High Street Insurance Partners acquired First Security Insurance. FSI President Charles Connor IV and CEO Karl Sherrill will continue to lead the firm.

ASHEVILLE East Fork Pottery plans an expansion that will add as many as 50 jobs by 2022. The company says it will hire from a disadvantaged population, including those with criminal records. The new jobs will pay an average of $22.46 an hour.

BLACK MOUNTAIN

MAXTON The Laurinburg-Maxton Airport is utilizing $8 million in state funding to extend one of its three runways from 6,500 to 8,500 feet. The 80-year-old airport will be the fifth in the state to have a runway of that length, allowing it to accommodate any aircraft.

Emerson Automation Solutions, owned by Ferguson, Mo.-based Emerson Electric, is laying off 67 employees and closing its facility here. ▲ LeRoux Jooste

Construction on Arbor Landing at Compass Pointe is expected to be completed as early as September. The community will include 100 one- and two-bedroom apartments, dining rooms, resident lounges, a fitness studio and a movie theater.

FAYETTEVILLE Historically Black Fayetteville State University is using $1.6 million in federal funding to clear the debt of students who attended the university during the pandemic. The money comes from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III, part of the American Rescue Plan.

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Boone will receive a $10 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revitalize its downtown. Known as the Howard Street Revitalization Project, plans include converting a downtown road into a one-way street, putting utility lines underground, and establishing new streetscaping, crosswalks and bike lanes.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SEEING MEDICINES, VISITNC.COM

LELAND

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ROUND TABLE

ENERGY

FLIPPING THE SWITCH When it comes to renewables, North Carolina is charged up. It’s ranked third in the nation for overall solar power, up from fifth in 2020. While that’s a step toward reaching decarbonization goals, there’s still a way to go. North Carolina needs more renewable generation and transmission infrastructure. Threats, including cyberattacks, need to be addressed, and technology must be developed and implemented, ensuring the amount and type of power needed reaches customers, including individuals, companies and the military. Business North Carolina and trade association e4 Carolinas recently gathered a group of energy industry experts to discuss the needs and how to meet them.

PANELISTS

David Doctor (moderator)

Diane Cherry

Andy Fusco

president and CEO, e4 Carolinas

energy and environmental strategic industry consultant, North Carolina Military Business Center

vice president of member services and corporate planning, ElectriCities of North Carolina

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ElectriCities, EPIC and Pine Gate Renewables sponsored the discussion, which was moderated by e4 Carolinas President and CEO David Doctor. It was edited for brevity and clarity.

HOW IS THE ENERGY INDUSTRY CHANGING? FUSCO: In the past, utilities centrally generated electricity and delivered it to customers. Distributed energy resources and various grid-edge technologies are turning utilities into orchestrators. Readily available, easy to implement and affordable digital technologies — smart grid, 5G communications and other forms of computing — have allowed utilities to meet changing demands. Retail and banking customers, for example, expect a technology-driven experience. Now they want the same from utilities, along with inexpensive and reliable power. These technologies also help utilities understand who wants what. Many commercial and industrial companies, for example, have carbon-dioxide reduction targets. Technology enables us to give those companies the power supply that they want.

KOLLINS: Decarbonization will become more important. We can’t begin to imagine how different energy generation and consumption will look in a decade. There will be more solar on the grid, and wind will be an important part of that mix. We will need to diversify. NAGLE: Solar panels, for example, were one-sided a few years ago. Now many are bifacial; both sides generate electricity. They also capture solar energy that’s reflected off the ground. And when the ground is covered in highly reflective snow, energy capture quadruples. These improvements ultimately benefit ratepayers. The more energy captured with each panel, for example, the cheaper the energy. Storage technology is developing quickly. Its cost is rapidly declining and is where solar was a couple years ago. It’s no longer restricted to two or four hours of deployment. Energy captured during the daytime can be deployed over four, eight or 12 hours. So, you can have a 24/7 product completely generated by wind or solar. It’s a fascinating time for the industry in North Carolina and around the world.

Military bases need energy 24/7. Most want a secure 14-day supply. The notion of global energy resilience while dealing with legacy systems, such as diesel generators, is surfacing. We’re at risk in terms of natural disasters and cyberattacks, such as what recently happened to the Colonial Pipeline. Installations are identifying critical components that demand uninterrupted power. Security is critical, especially building it into something rather than adding it afterward. The North Carolina Military Business Center has staff dedicated to ensuring cybersecurity requirements are met. Energy and cybersecurity are linked more than most people realize.

CHERRY: There are two big energy changes for the military. The first is the growing importance of energy resilience.

MAZZOLA: I’m an electrical engineer, so fancy wireless gadgets should interest me. But I’m a power guy. I want to talk about solar panels, wires and similar items. At EPIC, we realize that transitioning to a zero-emissions future is a foregone conclusion. Everyone who matters has committed to it. What remains is determining when, the cost and the technology. We can’t become overly dependent on unproven technologies or cost projections. Customers are an untapped resource for grid integration of more intermittent resources such as solar and wind. The target cost for future

Katharine Kollins

Mike Mazzola

Makarand Nagle

president, Southeastern Wind Coalition

director, UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center

senior vice president and head of development strategy, Pine Gate Renewables A U G U S T

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ENERGY energy is $50 per kilowatt hour. There are thousands of megawatts of opportunity to have consumers participate in the management of the energy supply at prices less than that. The Joules Accelerator, a Charlotte-based operation that collaborates with e4 Carolinas and helps energy startups, is working with a company that’s exploring building energy

interactivity as a storage solution that costs less than $50 per kilowatt hour. HOW MUST THE ENERGY INDUSTRY EVOLVE? MAZZOLA: We should’ve been building gigawatts of zero-emission resources last year and adding a couple gigawatts

every year for the next several decades. That’s the scale needed for energy transformation. Most people can’t comprehend how much energy is used nationally or globally. All of the integrated resource plans for North Carolina call for considerably more solar and wind generation. But neither can do it all, so we need to apply for 20-year extensions for all our nuclear plants’ licenses, too. One recent estimate calls for our current nuclear fleet to operate through the end of the century, so we don’t go backward in terms of generation. We need more nuclear and energy storage. We also need transmission infrastructure. Offshore wind generation, for example, won’t be any help unless its electricity flows onshore. That requires retooling energy infrastructure. It will take a lot of work. We have to start now. NAGLE: If a builder wants to construct a massive housing complex, but its site isn’t connected to the main city by roads, how good will it be? Solar and other new forms of generation are in a similar situation. We can’t replace each retiring generation unit with an equivalent of solar. So, we’re more likely to see plants return but not where solar or wind is placed. We work closely with Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities. It has identified pockets of transmission constraint. That’s good, because it allows us to plan around them. I worked at a utility, planning transmission for more than 10 years. It’s a complex process. You have to think outside the box. Utilities are here to keep the lights on, maintaining grid reliability while improving its efficiency. The Southeast needs an organized energy market, where excess energy can be sold and needed power purchased. The solar industry, along with wind and other sectors, is pushing for it, but it’s far from reality. We also need energy buyers beyond regulated utilities and cooperatives. Technology giants, such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, want to build more data centers, which use a tremendous amount of electricity,

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in North Carolina. But first they need market structure and more deregulation. It’ll take time to clear those hurdles.

amounts of new high-voltage transmission. It can double to alleviate some transmission constraint pockets.

KOLLINS: North Carolina has focused on growing land-based wind generation for a long time. It needs to remain on the table, but we see more opportunity offshore because of scale. It’s impossible to build thousands of megawatts of wind generation — which will be needed to decarbonize energy production — on land within one permitting pass. That’s not an issue with offshore wind, which matches daily and seasonal patterns of electricity demand. Solar continues to be the cheapest and easiest renewable to build, so there will be more solar developments in the Carolinas. But if you diversify your intermittent energy resources, backup generation is needed less. Offshore wind requires significant

CHERRY: There is a desire for self-generation. House Bill 589, comprehensive energy legislation that was passed by the N.C. General Assembly three years ago, included Green Source Advantage, a program that allows universities, large companies and the military to directly purchase renewable energy. None of North Carolina’s military installations took advantage of it. It’s transactionally difficult. The desire to provide 24/7 power to ensure uninterrupted operations makes managing energy yourself attractive. It’s not ignoring everything. It’s a push to deal with things within your control. It can be challenging when you have staff used to maintaining the current system. When you want to dispose of your 200

or 400 diesel generators and move to a distributed energy resource system that focuses on self-reliance, you have to train your engineers and staff on that technology. It’s more challenging if you deal with a third-party provider, especially in an emergency. Installations must complete an energy security plan. It identifies challenges to being energy resilient within a 14-day window and which projects can be completed now and which later to reach that goal. FUSCO: Supply is not a problem as different types of resources come on board. There’s a vibrant wholesale market in the region. We interact with it to balance our energy needs. Utilities deal with daily issues, and that list of issues is growing. While reliability is a challenge, it’s a strength for public power. On average, municipal utilities experience fewer

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ENERGY outages per customer per year. And their outage durations are shorter per customer per year as compared to other utility models. They respond faster because their employees live in town. And if it’s a big problem, fellow municipal utilities can and do collaborate. Cybersecurity isn’t new, but the threat is worsening. Hackers are incentivized to continue their cyberattacks, and they’re getting smarter. We have to get smarter, too. The good news is that the utility sector has been on top of that for a long time. Cybersecurity is part of the mandatory North American Electric Reliability Corp. standards. As utilities and other energy entities deal with cyber threats, the cost of electricity will rise and efficiency and innovation will be impacted. We’ll find solutions to that.

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THE ENERGY INDUSTRY HAS ENDURED SEVERE WEATHER EVENTS AND CYBERATTACKS IN RECENT YEARS. CAN ITS SYSTEMS BE DESIGNED AND BUILT TO OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES? CHERRY: Many military installations call it global energy resilience. You have to identify the critical mission-ready elements and make them energy resilient. That is challenging. There are technology projects, such as a floating solar array at Fort Bragg and a microgrid project at Camp Johnson, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. But those are pilots; they’re not serving the entire installation. You can’t have a microgrid for an entire base. The budget process makes it difficult, too. Budgets are passed by Congress for the Department of Defense, then they go to the military branch. By

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the time one arrives at the base, people are focused on the next technology. It’s a timing problem. But as important as the military is and as exposed as it is to natural disasters, North Carolina should be where it all comes together. We can get there, but it will take a lot more work. NAGLE: Pine Gate has an extremely robust system. It can withstand winds upward of 250 miles per hour. Solar panels are about 10 feet above the ground, keeping them safe from flooding. They are angled so snow slides off them. If it doesn’t, we have equipment to quickly remove it. We recently brought our first North Carolina solar and storage project online in Enfield. Energy storage’s role will grow as it improves and matures. The technology currently provides a sustainable solution for about four hours. It gets extremely expensive beyond that.

SPONSORED SECTION

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Businesses have to decide if it’s worth the investment. Whether it’s weather, forced outage or maintenance, you need the ability to bring power in when your generation is down. The solution is a combination of market reform and technology advancements such as storage. We’ll see more smaller entities, including some businesses, create their own microgrid. They can’t rely on the main grid in certain situations. KOLLINS: We heard a lot about wind earlier this year, after severe winter storms brought widespread power outages to Texas. What we didn’t hear about much was the reliability of coastal wind because it’s extremely reliable. It’s an amazing complement to our energy generating system. Those turbines have heated blades, which allow them to run in the coldest temperatures. Texas didn’t

spend money on weatherization for wind turbines or gas pipelines, which is standard practice elsewhere. Residents paid the price. Wind is like other energy production; it’s built to withstand a lot, including the strongest hurricanes. That doesn’t mean it can withstand everything. Only diversity — from generation to transmission — provides true resiliency. Energy is a complex issue. We need to decide what is most important and balance competing interests. FUSCO: Hackers view municipalities as soft targets. Municipalities are more than a utility. So, while its utility may be spared from a cyberattack, the rest of city services may be exposed. In many cases, municipalities rely on their utility department to help elsewhere, so its defensive measures pervade throughout all enterprise resource management

systems. It’s one thing to address resiliency or reliability when you’re talking about an industrial campus or military base. A downtown, for example, may have parts that are more important than the rest. Hospitals, for example, need power before private homes. Sometimes something as simple as placing wires underground instead of overhead creates reliability. Communities close to or on the coast are more likely to flood. And when your substation is inundated, you only can wait for the water to subside. So, they’re being built on higher ground. These fundamental changes work with technology to increase reliability. MAZZOLA: If you view the Texas outages in the terms that utilities measure reliability, it hardly creates a blip. That’s because power is on almost all the time. Technology isn’t the real obstacle. It’s

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ROUND TABLE

ENERGY the willingness to implement it. The real threat is that old cliché: We’ve seen the enemy, and they are us. So, “not in my backyard” — NIMBY — shoots down public policy. How could you be against an underground transmission line in a neighborhood filled with trees and frequented by storms? We’re moving up decarbonization goals, so we have to do a better job of making some of the needed changes publicly acceptable. During a recent visit to my family’s home on the Outer Banks, I sat outside, enjoying the last sand beach before Europe and watching lightning dart from a passing tropical storm. I was glad I didn’t see a bunch of wind turbines standing in the water. So, as long as they are on the other side of the horizon, I don’t think there will be an issue. It’s more their cost and building transmission infrastructure. WHAT ISSUES ARE CAUSED BY INTEGRATING LARGE AMOUNTS OF RENEWABLES INTO THE GRID? HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP? MAZZOLA: With the old system, if customers didn’t need as much electricity, you could close the throttle on generation and produce less. But with renewable energy, we’re at the mercy of when it can be generated. We’re learning to manage it, and North Carolina does a really good job of it. We use energy storage, including pumped hydro in the mountains of western South Carolina and the ability to move large amounts of excess solar across North Carolina. But doing thousands of megawatts more, which is in every integrated resource plan, will be a challenge. It’s more than an engineering problem, so EPIC works with social scientists and computational social scientists. We need the customer to help us integrate renewable energy. We have to understand how they think, how they use energy and how to convince them to give up a bit of control to get something, maybe less expensive energy. I ask my students this trick

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question: Should we only ask consumers to reduce their energy use? The answer is no. At noon on a sunny North Carolina day, we should ask them to use more, if they can transfer their use to that time. We have new technologies that will let them do that. One is electric vehicles. NAGLE: Duke Energy has several scenarios for renewable integration scenarios — between 6 and 30 gigawatts by 2030. They won’t happen without transmission infrastructure, and that’s not enough time for it to be planned and built. Some of my colleagues are in Washington, D.C., trying to get it built within the overarching infrastructure plan. Cost allocation is tricky; people don’t want to pay for somebody else’s power. Our transmission infrastructure is conservatively operated. Transmission lines, for example, are operated as if the ambient temperature is always 95 degrees. That sounds right in July, but it’s stifling delivery most days. That will improve if we had a device that monitors transmission infrastructure in real time, telling the control center to push more power or divert some from constraint infrastructure. We’re collaborating with technology companies on that. It’s the bridge that will get us to when infrastructure is built. CHERRY: There will be more “islanding,” and old technology, such as diesel generation, will disappear. It won’t happen immediately. It’ll take five to seven years because of budgetary issues. If you want to be 24/7 ready, then switching to something new over what’s working is a tough argument. Partnerships around technology, training and research through higher-education institutions are needed. Staff training, which is often overlooked, will be a big component. The military is often lacking staff to accomplish everything it’s trying to do. It’s daunting to hear its responsibilities. It’s a huge mission. That opens the door for contractors, but you have to figure out how to do that. It can be challenging.

C A R O L I N A

WHERE AND HOW CAN THE ENERGY INDUSTRY HELP WITH ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT? KOLLINS: There are offshore wind commitments on the order of more than 25,000 megawatts along the East Coast, from Virginia to Massachusetts. That’s a more than $70 billion economic development opportunity. Many Northeastern states are clamoring for it. Virginia dedicates several full-time employees at the state level to offshore wind industry recruitment. There is some momentum in the Carolinas. Gov. [Roy] Cooper’s recent executive order steered more resources toward bringing these thousands of jobs to North Carolina. The Carolinas are well-positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. Many of the industry’s suppliers are here. Saertex in Huntersville, for example, weaves fiberglass fabrics that are the basis of every wind turbine blade. SpanSet in Sanford supplies pieces that lift components as offshore projects are built in place. These machines are so large that the final components are built at ports, giving coastal states an advantage. FUSCO: Foreign-direct investment is behind much of the economic development activity in the state. Foreign companies that want to sell their products here need factories here. Many of them have sustainability and carbon-dioxide reduction targets. In cities with their own electric department, economic development folks can work hand in hand with the utility. One of our member agencies provides Huntersville with energy that’s 97% non-carbon emitting, predominantly nuclear and renewables through Southeastern Power Administration. That’s a recruitment tool. We’ve seen a significant uptick in this activity, including a number of announcements statewide since the first of the year, despite travel and other restrictions that were enacted in response to the COVID pandemic. ■

SPONSORED SECTION

7/22/21 2:55 PM


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2021

Please join us for a day and a half of collaboration, learning, and networking featuring relevant panel discussions and speakers, as well as golf on Pinehurst No. 2 and the new Short Course The Cradle, and the Pinehurst Spa Experience. Lodging at the stately Carolina Hotel is included with your registration. Visit businessnc.com/ceosummit or more information.

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2021 PRESENTING SPONSORS

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Growing pains Developing a thriving N.C. cannabis industry follows a crooked path.

O

B Y E D WA R D M A R T I N

n a warm November day in 2017, the Asheboro mayor and several City Council members stood in front of a plate-glass storefront, applauding a new business in town. In the middle was owner Bob Crumley, a lawyer and commercial real estate man. His new store, Everything Hemp, would sell U.S. Food and Drug Administrationcertified snacks, dietary supplements, pet supplies and even clothing infused with cannabidiol oil, developed in partnership with Nufabrx, a Conover-based company experimenting with ways to resurrect the Tar Heel textile industry. Also known as CBD, the oil was a newly legal hemp derivative reputed to nourish, calm and potentially even cure diseases, though Crumley couldn’t say that with any lawyers hanging around.

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7/23/21 11:22 AM


Reflecting his investor group’s confidence, they created Founders Hemp, an Asheboro plant with five clean rooms and equipment for extracting CBD from locally grown hemp. They hired a chemist with a pharmaceutical Ph.D., got approval for hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and local job grants, and soon had 135 workers on the payroll. Three years and upward of $7 million later, Founders Hemp was defunct. “We were out of business by December 2020,” Crumley says. “There was no way we could compete with guys doing this in their garages and chicken houses.” By then, Founders Hemp was among more than 1,100 Tar Heel businesses licensed to extract cannabidiol oil and otherwise process hemp. The number has grown to 1,275 today. “There was one guy extracting CBD in the embalming room of a funeral home,” Crumley says. Another case came to light after a consumer got sick. It involved a woman bottling the oil in her kitchen where chickens pecked and a dog roamed. N.C. Department of Agriculture inspectors obtained a consent order shutting down the kitchen, and an accidental fire put the embalming-room lab out of business before they could act. Today, the Tar Heel hemp industry is in disarray. Scores of growers and processors have lost tens of millions of dollars because of overproduction and continued public confusion over the product’s kinship with illegal marijuana. Amid the tumult, reefer madness is still rampant in North Carolina. Cannabis, the scientific catch-all for psychoactive marijuana and its close, mostly legal non-psychoactive cousin hemp, is sparking widespread debate in political, medical and commercial circles. To some, the issue even has economic-development implications, with the state’s reluctance to open the door for cannabis countering efforts to portray North Carolina as a progressive magnet for business. Twenty states have legalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, including neighboring Virginia, which permits individuals to hold 1 ounce and grow four plants per household. The nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation estimates North Carolina leaves $180 million a year in excise tax revenue from marijuana sales on the table. A bill introduced by N.C. Rep. John Autry would legalize small amounts for personal use, under strict licensing and other controls. The Charlotte Democrat says it was dead on arrival in the General Assembly. “If we’ve learned anything in the last 80 years, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work,” he says. He notes that 2 million North Carolinians live “within a 30-minute drive of candyland.” N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a fellow Mecklenburg County lawmaker, adds that what’s about to become a cash crop for Virginia farmers “can still get you prison time in North Carolina.”

CHANGES AHEAD? Now, the N.C. General Assembly is on the verge of lighting a fire under the cannabis industry through a bill permitting use of medical marijuana. No decision was made at press time, but a bill is likely to pass because its sponsor, N.C. Sen. Bill Rabon, is the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. Another key supporter is Senate Majority Leader Kathy Harrington, who broke down during debate on the bill, citing how the product may assist her husband, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. After Rabon filed the bill in April, three industry-affiliated groups hired at least seven lobbyists in Raleigh to promote medical marijuana, the Insider newsletter reported. Questions remain if there’s a medical benefit, however. “We have a lot of anecdotal information about what medical marijuana can do, but we really don’t know,” says N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander Jr., sponsor of a medical-research bill. Despite testimonials, surprisingly little science exists on medical marijuana, says Chip Baggett, president of the 10,000-member N.C. Medical Society in Raleigh. Does it relieve pain, for example, or does its psychoactive chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, merely improve the sufferer’s frame of mind? “Our official position for a number of years,” Baggett says, “has been that we need additional research.” No other issue may reflect the state’s conflicted approach to marijuana and hemp as brazenly as policing. A task force to probe racial inequities in law enforcement, created in 2020 by Gov. Roy Cooper, urges decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and expunging court records of thousands convicted of such offenses. For now, recreational marijuana remains illegal. Attorney General Josh Stein and the task force urge local prosecutors to let minor possession arrests slide. “No, that’s not turning a blind eye, but we are encouraging them to deprioritize marijuana arrests and prosecutions,” he says. However, legal sources note that the pungent smell of marijuana is often an entree for law enforcers to search and even seize vehicles for harder-to-detect drugs such as heroin and contraband such as stolen jewelry or caches of drug money. The legalization debate has a clear racial element. An American

The N.C. hemp industry Year

Licensees

Processors

Acres

2017

124

NA

2,237

2018

438

322

6,077

2019

1,413

1,005

17,427

2020

1,521

1,183

14,543

2021

1,488

1,275

14,051

source: N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission

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Civil Liberties Union study concluded that Black or Latinx North Carolinians are 3.3 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white offender, though usage is about the same. “Those arrests have lifelong, life-changing consequences,” says Chantal Stevens, state ACLU president, frequently preventing employment or otherwise contributing to the cycle of poverty. “It’s time to decriminalize marijuana.” That view is shared by about two-thirds of North Carolinians, who favor legalizing recreational marijuana use, according to polling by Elon University political science professor Jason Husser. But it’s still a hot potato for politicians. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore did not respond to requests to discuss marijuana and hemp legislation. Crumley, a one-time candidate for attorney general and a lifelong Republican, says he understands. “Who are the 33% who don’t like it?” he asks. “They’re hardcore, older Republican voters who vote in primaries.” They can knock a candidate out of contention. “If they could make it through the primary, they would probably win in the general election.” More ingrained reasons, say Husser and other scholars, date to Prohibition and the state’s relationship with alcohol. From Colonial times onward, whiskey, beer and other alcoholic drinks were staples. In the late 1800s, the Temperance Movement caught fire, and in 1920, the 18th Amendment made alcohol illegal. That triggered more than a decade of speakeasies, illegal drinking, smuggling, gangsters vying for control of the illegal market, bootlegging and lawlessness. North Carolina has long been considered the nation’s moonshine capital. And until the repeal of prohibition in 1933, there were comparisons to today’s struggles with cannabis, Husser says. “We’ve seen different levels of regulation attempted, crime, organized crime and changes in public support. But the point where we diverge is in frequency and distribution of use. A lot more people are drinking alcohol regularly now then are smoking marijuana today.” A recent Gallup poll found about one adult in 10 regularly uses marijuana compared with about six in 10 who use alcohol at least once a year. Morality plays a role, too. “Bible Belt Republican states have been slow to legalize marijuana because of the older Republican voters,” Crumley says. He helped draft the state’s law that cleared the way for legal hemp six years ago. “But if you look at Southern states that have, most have had ballot initiatives,” referendums that take the heat off office-seekers. Other factors are at work. Some view marijuana as a “gateway” drug leading to hard-drug use, which is refuted by recent studies. But other research shows its use may contribute to more highway accidents. Few dispute that marijuana has had a devastating impact on North Carolina’s minority communities. In Wilmington, The Bottom is a neighborhood of peeling frame houses and weedy streets often lined with scraggly crape myrtle trees. Here, any of the trio of young Black men walking along Castle Street on a recent June afternoon is, according to ACLU research, much more likely to be

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jailed for marijuana than his white counterpart in one of the area’s prosperous beach communities. The ACLU’s Stevens and others say civil rights advocates are no longer willing to tolerate such inequities. “This,” she says, “feels like racism in Black and brown communities.” Studies suggest the legal cannabis market in the U.S. may top $22 billion. That could generate both robust tax returns for states and profits for marketers of CBD products. “Yet communities of color, the ones harmed by the overcriminalization of marijuana, are not going to be able to participate in the legal cannabis industry,” Stevens says. Civil rights advocates want profits plowed back into education and job training.

WILD WEST To understand the potential for profit — and problems — return to cannabis’ roots in North Carolina. The state’s farmers produced enough hemp to even export small amounts until marijuana was outlawed in 1940. The state’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program brought production back in 2017. About 1,000 acres were planted during the first year, but word quickly spread that fortunes awaited. The next year, farmers were licensed to plant 6,000 acres, and by 2020, more than 14,000 acres. Similar growth occurred in greenhouse production and processors, after Founders Hemp became the state’s first in 2017. “The hemp industry is still kind of the Wild West,” says David Suchoff, alternative crops extension agent and professor at N.C. State University. “People were talking about how much money could be made growing hemp for extraction. Folks were promised contracts, and everybody and his brother jumped into it. Then the bubble burst.” Crumley blames the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission for licensing too many producers and processors. “They said, ‘Come on, anybody who wants to grow it,’ and they flooded the market. Two years ago, a pound of hemp was about $50. Now I can buy it all day for $4 or $5 a pound.” Suchoff says he “personally [knows] of more farmers still trying to get rid of the crop they grew in 2019 than I know of farmers actually growing it this year.” Proponents say North Carolina’s cannabis landscape doesn’t have to be like this. South Boston is a Virginia tobacco town, 17 miles north of the state line that could easily pass for Rocky Mount or Tarboro, with a late-1800s historic district of brick-front stores and nearly 50-50 racial demographics. Sterling Edmunds grew up among lush green tobacco fields and tin-sided sales warehouses. He describes the company he co-founded, Golden Piedmont Labs, as Virginia’s first hemp processor when it opened in October 2020. “This is the old Tobacco Belt,” Edmunds says. “You can throw a rock from here across the North Carolina border. We’ve got 85 farmers on contract, and this is an opportunity for them to grow another crop they can feed their families with.” About half are in North Carolina. Unlike many now-troubled North Carolina processors, Golden

C A R O L I N A

7/23/21 10:56 AM


PHOTOS COURTESY OF GREEN RIVER BOTANICALS

▲Sarah and Brad Martin opened Green River Botanicals in Candler in 2006. The nursery produces organic hemp for CBD oil, salves and other products.

Piedmont eased into the industry as the Old Dominion’s legislature ironed out the kinks in the state’s new laws. It has about 15 employees but recently went to double shifts. About half of its oil and other products, which range from tinctures and salves to shoes, are exported. “It’s legal now to possess marijuana here but not [to] sell it,” he says. Virginia’s law went into effect July 1. “That puts us between a rock and a hard place. Right now, it’s illegal for an industrial company like ours to sell marijuana, but the only difference between industrial hemp and marijuana in the field is that the amount of hallucinogen — THC — can’t be over 0.3%.” If Golden Piedmont is one glimpse of North Carolina’s cannabis future, a four-hour drive across North Carolina offers another. In Asheville, Blake Butler is executive director of the Southeast Hemp Association, a trade group with more than 700 members in 11 states. Hemp, he says, has enormous potential. It’s long, strong, stringy fibers, for example, have been used to make rope since biblical times, but new uses are being found constantly. The fibers are already being used in “hempcrete,” similar to concrete, flooring and similar items, and the potential is unlimited. He foresees its oil becoming as common on drugstore shelves as fish oil is now, valued for its Omega 3 content. He excoriates the FDA for indecisiveness, long failing to clearly classify CBD as a dietary supplement, drug or otherwise. Reefer madness has, he says, sullied hemp’s promise. “We had a lot of processors come online at the same time two or three years ago, and we’ve got a lot of people with hemp still hanging in the barn.” Suchoff, the N.C. State extension agent, has modest expectations for hemp and cannabis.

“The FDA has been dragging its feet on how to handle cannabinoids for years,” he says. “So they’re not regulated like most other products, and they’ve left it up to states to do their own regulations. That’s why you have such a patchwork.” Cannabinoids are various plants from the marijuana family. “Hemp certainly has a place in North Carolina agriculture,” he says, “but it will never be what tobacco was.” In the view of Suchoff and others, the future of hemp is already here. In the shadow of Mount Pisgah, 30 miles southwest of Asheville, Brad and Sarah Martin began their Green River Botanicals nursery some 15 years ago to raise native plants. When the state passed the hemp bill in 2017, they were among the first licensed. Today, about two acres of their 20-acre nursery is devoted to producing organic hemp for CBD oil, salves and other products under their own Green River label. They’re vertically integrated, which is the secret, Suchoff says, to success in today’s hemp market. Unlike the massive, tobacco-like spreads agriculture officials first envisioned for eastern North Carolina, most western hemp operations like this are small, combining greenhouse and outdoor production. About a third of Green River nursery’s total sales of $300,000 are from hemp products, typical of small, often familyowned western North Carolina operations. For now, they wait for North Carolina and the FDA to bring order to the current reefer madness. “The laws keep changing,” Brad Martin says. “Is smokable, legal-limit hemp going to be legal in North Carolina? Medical marijuana?” So Green River stays on the safe side. “We’re marketing ourselves as the natural, organic alternative to pharmaceuticals,” he says. “We’re about helping people, not getting high.” ■

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Record rebound Shares soared as the pandemic waned.

Don’t panic when stocks collapse. That investing maxim proved absolutely correct during the rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic panic of early 2020. Remarkably, shares of 57 of the 75 largest North Carolinabased public companies increased by at least 30% during the year ending June 30. Five tripled in value, while another 12 doubled. The star performer was Belmont-based Piedmont Lithium, which shot up more than 11-fold, aided by a big contract to supply electric automaker Tesla. Only four of the 75 stocks lost ground during that period. We expanded this annual list from 50 companies to 75 this year, reflecting the market’s increased bullishness. A dozen companies are new to the list, led by No. 7 Trane Technologies, which was spun off from Ingersoll Rand. Trane is based in Dublin, Ireland, but senior executives work in Davidson. Five newcomers emerged after initial public offerings: nCino, Driven Brands, Krispy Kreme, Bioventus and Fathom Holdings. Other newcomers include companies that relocated their headquarters. Hayward Holdings moved from New Jersey, Phreesia from New York, and Avaya from California. Departures included Raleigh-based BMC Stock, acquired by Builders First Source, and Charlotte-based Extended Stay America, which was sold to Blackstone and Starwood Capital. Old Dominion Freight Line, SPX, PRA Health and Cree repeated as four of the best stock market performers over the past five years. PRA was acquired in July by Ireland-based Icon, while PPD and Select Bancorp have also announced plans to be sold. We appreciate great support in compiling this report from Matt West of Capital Investment Cos. of Raleigh.

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Best five-year returns

Worst five-year returns

Old Dominion Freight Line

538%

Asensus Surgical

(80)%

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals

457

vTv Therapeutics

(61)

Live Oak Bankshares

322

NN

(48)

SPX

311

Culp

(41)

PRA Health

296

Cato

(38)

Cree

293

Tanger Factory Outlet

(38)

Best one-year returns

Worst one-year returns

Piedmont Lithium

1252% LendingTree

Asensus Surgical

487

BioDelivery Sciences

(18)

Live Oak Bankshares

308

Glatfelter

(10)

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals

233

G1 Therapeutics

(10)

Kontoor Brands

221

vTv Therapeutics

1

Premier

4

Cornerstone Building Brands 201

(27)%

Through June 30, 2021

C A R O L I N A

7/23/21 10:33 AM


2021 2020 Company, Ticker, HQ

Industry

Market value

Price and stock performance

Net income

6/30/21 value Change from (billion) 6/30/20

Stock price

1-year total return

5-year total return

Latest fiscal Change from year (million) previous year

1

1

Bank of America, BAC, Charlotte

Financial services

$355

72.4%

$41.23

76.6%

232.0%

$17,894

(35)%

2

3

Honeywell, HON, Charlotte

Diversified

153

50.4

219.35

54.3

106.5

4,779

(22)

3

2

Lowe’s, LOW, Mooresville

Hardware stores

137

34.7

194.05

45.5

157.4

5,835

36

4

4

Duke Energy, DUK, Charlotte

Utilities

76

29.1

98.64

28.3

36.3

1,270

(66)

5

5

Truist Financial, TFC, Charlotte

Financial services

75

47.3

55.50

52.6

77.8

4,482

39

6

6

IQVIA, IQV, Durham

Pharmaceutical services

46

71.5

242.44

70.9

271.2

279

46

7

-

Trane Technologies, TT, Charlotte***

Diversified

44

88.3

184.14

109.5

277.6

854.9

(39)

8

7

Old Dominion Freight Line, ODFL, Thomasville

Trucking

29

46.5

253.80

50.1

537.9

672.7

9

9

11

Nucor, NUE, Charlotte

Steel

29

129

95.93

131.0

110.0

721.5

(43)

10

8

Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, LH, Burlington

Medical testing

27

67.2

275.85

66.1

111.8

1,556.1

89

11

10

Qorvo, QRVO, Greensboro

Semiconductors

22

74.1

195.65

77.0

254.1

733.6

119

12

9

Martin Marietta Materials, MLM, Raleigh

Building materials

22

70.9

351.81

71.4

88.4

721

18

13

12

Ingersoll Rand, IR, Davidson

Industrial goods

20

74.3

48.81

81.1

NA

(33)

(121)

14

16

Albemarle, ALB, Charlotte

Chemicals

20

138.4

168.46

119.4

121.3

375.8

(30)

15

15

PPD, PPD, Wilmington

Health care services

16

73.2

46.09

72.0

NA

120.2

120

16

14

Dentsply Sirona, XRAY, Charlotte

Medical supply

14

43.1

63.26

44.5

6.1

(83)

(132)

17

13

Advance Auto Parts, AAP, Raleigh

Specialty retail

13

36

205.14

45.2

28.8

493

1

18

17

Cree, CREE, Durham

Semiconductors

11

76.6

97.93

65.5

292.7

(191.7)

49

19

18

PRA Health Sciences, PRAH, Raleigh

Pharmaceutical services

11

72.1

165.21

69.8

295.6

197.0

(19)

20

19

Syneos Health, SYNH, Raleigh

Pharmaceutical services

9

51.5

89.49

53.6

134.7

192.8

47

21

20

Sealed Air, SEE, Charlotte

Packaging

9

76.2

59.25

82.4

35.9

502.9

91

22

22

First Citizens BancShares, FCNCA, Raleigh

Financial services

8

99

834.01

106.4

225.0

491.7

8

23

23

HanesBrands, HBI, Winston-Salem

Apparel

7

65.8

18.67

70.7

(14.1)

(75.6)

(113)

24

-

Hayward Holdings, HAYW, Charlotte****

Electronic components

6

NA

26.02

NA

NA

43.3

409

25

-

nCino, NCNO, Wilmington**

Computer software

6

NA

59.92

NA

NA

(40.5)

(47)

26

-

Vontier, VNT, Raleigh*

Industrial machiner

6

NA

32.58

NA

NA

342

(22)

27

-

Driven Brands, DRVN, Charlotte**

Automotive services

5

NA

30.92

NA

NA

(4.2)

(154)

5

30.7

118.76

33.8

44.7

201.4

(35)

28

26

Curtiss-Wright, CW, Charlotte

Aerospace and industrial equiptment

29

24

Highwoods Properties, HIW, Raleigh

Real estate

5

21.7

45.17

26.1

3.9

347.4

154

4

166.5

21.31

154.9

(31.3)

(573.4)

38

30

33

CommScope, COMM, Hickory

Telecommunications equipment

31

21

Premier, PINC, Charlotte

Health care services

4

(4.5)

34.79

3.7

8.7

292.2

3

32

28

Brighthouse Financial, BHF, Charlotte

Financial services

4

49.8

45.54

64.5

NA

(1,061)

(43)

33

29

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, COKE, Charlotte

Soft drinks

4

75.2

402.13

75.9

176.1

172.5

1416

34

27

Bandwidth, BAND, Raleigh

Software

4

15.4

137.92

8.6

NA

(44)

(1863)

35

37

Kontoor Brands, KTB, Greensboro

Apparel

3

219.3

55.92

220.7

NA

67.9

(30)

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2021 2020 Company, Ticker, HQ

Industry

36

-

Phreesia, PHR, Raleigh****

Managed health care

37

-

Krispy Kreme, DNUT, Charlotte**

Specialty retail

38

25

LendingTree, TREE, Charlotte

39

41

40

Market value

Price and stock performance

Net income

6/30/21 value Change from (billion) 6/30/20

Stock price

1-year total return

5-year total return

Latest fiscal Change from year (million) previous year

$3.1

439.4%

$61.30

116.8%

NA%

$(27.3)

70%

3

NA

17.00

NA

NA

(60.9)

(79)

Financial services

2.82

(25.3)

211.88

(26.8)

139.9

(48.3)

(371)

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, BCRX, Durham

Pharmaceuticals

2.76

234.1

15.81

232.8

456.7

(182.8)

(68)

31

SPX, SPXC, Charlotte

Industrial equipment

2.76

50.7

61.08

48.4

311.3

97.2

49

41

35

SPX Flow, FLOW, Charlotte

Industrial equipment

2.76

72.8

65.24

74.5

150.6

5.9

106

42

34

Jeld-Wen, JELD, Charlotte

Building products

2.6

60.7

26.26

63.0

NA

91.6

45

43

47

Live Oak Bankshares, LOB, Wilmington

Financial services

2.54

332.4

59.00

307.7

322.1

59.5

230

44

42

Cornerstone Building Brands, CNR, Cary

2.29

199.1

18.18

200.5

13.7

(482.8)

(3037)

45

-

Avaya, AVYA, Raleigh****

2.28

66.2

26.90

117.6

NA

(680.0)

(1)

46

38

EnPro Industries, NPO, Charlotte

Industrial goods Retail: computer software and peripheral equipment Industrial equipment

2

97.9

97.15

99.7

129.8

184.4

381

47

46

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, SKT, Greensboro Shopping centers

1.9

185.3

18.85

169.3

(38.4)

(36.3)

(141)

48

36

Sonic Automotive, SAH, Charlotte

Car dealerships

1.86

35.8

44.74

41.5

170.6

(51.4)

(136)

49

-

Piedmont Lithium, PLL, Belmont

Precious metals

1.23

3332.5

78.00

1251.8

NA

(6.2)

39

50

43

First Bancorp, FBNC, Troy

Financial services

1.17

60.1

40.91

66.1

147

81.5

(11)

51

40

Ingles Markets, IMKTA, Asheville

Grocery stores

1.1

26.8

58.27

36.8

65.1

178.6

119

52

-

Bioventus, BVS, Durham**

Medical instruments

1

NA

17.60

NA

NA

4.4

765

53

39

G1 Therapeutics, GTHX, Durham

Pharmaceuticals

0.92

0.8

21.94

(9.6)

NA

(99.3)

19

54

45

Aerie Pharmaceuticals, AERI, Durham

Biotechnology

0.75

9.4

16.01

8.5

(9.0)

(183.1)

8

55

-

Asensus Surgical, ASXC, Morrisville

Medical instruments

0.74

671.9

3.17

487.0

(80.0)

(60.0)

61

56

48

ChannelAdvisor, ECOM, Morrisville

Software

0.73

62.3

24.51

54.7

69.2

18.8

441

57

50

Precision BioSciences, DTIL, Durham

Pharmaceuticals

0.72

66.6

12.52

50.3

NA

(109.0)

(17)

58

51

Barings BDC, BBDC, Raleigh

Financial services

0.69

81.0

10.56

42.1

(27.5)

8.2

(86)

59

-

Chimerix, CMRX, Durham

Pharmaceuticals

0.69

300.9

8.00

158.1

103.6

(43.5)

61

60

52

Insteel Industries, IIIN, Mount Airy

Building materials

0.62

69.4

32.15

77.1

27.7

19.0

240

61

44

Glatfelter, GLT, Charlotte

0.62

(12.7)

13.97

(9.6)

(15.2)

21.3

199

62

53

Akoustis Technologies, AKTS, Huntersville

0.54

78.6

10.71

29.0

155.6

(36.1)

(24)

63

-

Fathom Holdings, FTHM, Cary**

Paper products Telecommunications equipment Real estate

0.48

NA

32.79

NA

NA

(1.3)

67

64

55

HomeTrust Bancshares, HTBI, Asheville

Financial services

0.46

70.4

27.90

76.3

54.9

22.8

(16)

65

57

Unifi, UFI, Greensboro

Clothing

0.45

89.3

24.36

89.1

(10.5)

(57.2)

(2430)

66

54

Southern Bancshares, SBNC, Mount Olive

Financial services

0.42

48.6

5,200.00

48.6

225.0

44.6

(22)

67

59

Apparel retailer

0.38

94.5

16.87

119.1

(38.4)

(47.5)

(232)

68

49

Pharmaceutical services

0.35

(19.3)

3.58

(18.3)

51.7

25.7

268

69

58

Cato, CATO, Charlotte BioDelivery Sciences International, BDSI, Raleigh Investors Title, ITIC, Chapel Hill

Specialty insurance

0.33

44.4

174.63

57.8

129.1

39.4

25

70

-

NN, NNBR, Charlotte

Industrial machinery

0.32

58.9

7.35

55.1

(47.5)

(100.6)

(115)

71

60

Select Bancorp, SLCT, Dunn

Financial services

0.28

88.9

16.12

98.0

99.5

8.2

(37)

72

-

9 Meters Biopharma, NMTR, Raleigh

Biotechnology

0.28

359.2

1.10

92.0

NA

(60.9)

(138)

73

-

Culp, CULP, High Point

Textiles

0.2

85.8

16.30

89.3

(41)

(28.7)

(625)

74

-

vTv Therapeutics, VTVT, High Point

Pharmaceuticals

0.19

178.6

2.28

1.3

(60.7)

(8.5)

53

75

-

Novan, NOVN, Morrisville

Biotechnology

0.19

49.2

10.09

108.9%

NA

(29.3)

4

* Vontier was spun off from Fortive provided by: Capital Investment Cos. and Nottingham ** nCino, Driven Brands, Krispy Kreme, Bioventus, Fathom Holdings had IPOs *** Trane Technologies is based in Ireland for tax purposes, but senior executives are in N.C. **** Hayward Holdings moved from Berkeley Heights, N.J.; Phreesia moved from New York City; Avaya moved from Santa Clara, Calif.

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C A R O L I N A

7/23/21 10:51 AM


PHOTO COURTESY OF KONTOOR BRANDS

F Corp.’s spinoff of Kontoor Brands in 2019 felt a bit like the cool kids kicking the nerds out of a party. CEO Steven Rendle naturally wanted to exploit the growth of VF’s faster-growing athleisure and outdoor apparel brands such as The North Face, Timberland and Vans. So the company pivoted away from its iconic Wrangler and Lee names that are leaders in the denim jeans mass market, picking a variation of the word contour. Rendle also wanted to pivot from Greensboro, which VF entered by buying Wrangler owner Blue Bell in 1986. Blue Bell’s history in the Gate City dates to 1904. That deal doubled the size of VF, which had become a big denim rival when it bought the Kansas City-based Lee brand in 1969.

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With steady profit from denim acting as the engine, VF moved its headquarters from Wyomissing, Pa., to Greensboro in 1998 and diversified with a variety of clothing lines. Under CEOs Mackey McDonald and Eric Wiseman, who led the company for a combined 21 years, it became the largest U.S. publicly traded clothing manufacturer. Rendle moved up in VF because of the rapid growth of The North Face brand, which tripled in revenue while he was president from 2004 to 2011. He succeeded Wiseman as CEO in 2017. Upon announcing Kontoor’s spinoff, he said VF’s headquarters would move to Denver, a bigger city with a reputation as an outdoor sports hot spot. Two years later, the nerds are looking a lot more like cool kids, upsetting the narrative that denim was fading and lacked much growth potential. Shares of Kontoor had a total return of more than 100% since they started trading in May 2019, while the company has produced more than $600 million in cash flow. Shareholders have received an average 5% annual dividend yield, and loads of debt have been retired. Meanwhile, VF shares have returned less than 5% in that same period. Kontoor’s gains came despite an 18% decline in revenue in 2020, mostly due to the impact of COVID-19. “I didn’t know that our people wanted to win this much, but we are competing so well,” says Kontoor CEO Scott Baxter. “We’ve had really nice success.” Several factors have spurred the gains: ■ An unexpected crisis. No one in May 2019 knew that most of the world’s offices would shut down in early 2020 because of a global pandemic. Overnight, a lot of people’s apparel choices centered on comfort instead of dressing to impress bosses and clients. For many, nothing is more comfortable than denim. ■ A united, highly motivated staff. “We wanted to create a culture of empowerment, diversity, trust and taking care of each other,” Baxter says. It’s important not to exaggerate any rivalry with VF. There’s mutual respect. But the CEO says, “Our brands were being used for different purposes, and we were kind of living a cash cow experience,” referring to the corporate practice of reinvesting profit from a core business into new, faster-growing areas. ■ A Chinese push. Wrangler was introduced in China last fall, and Kontoor improved its operations there. It now expects to boost Chinese sales to reach 10% of revenue by 2023, up from 7% now. ■ Marketing. Wrangler and Lee have long been staples at mass marketers such as Walmart and Kohl’s and continue to add market share there, Baxter says. Wrangler says it is the U.S. market share leader in men’s denim,

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casual pants and shorts, and woven shirts. But more recently, the company has enjoyed success at Nordstrom, Free People and other specialty retailers. More than 1,000 H&M stores globally now sell Kontoor apparel. Sweden’s H&M is a leader in “fast fashion,” selling inexpensive products tied to the latest trends. ■ A little luck. Jennifer Lopez showed up on the May cover of InStyle magazine, lounging on a beach wearing a white tank top and Lee jeans (specifically, its Ultra High Rise Tapered Jeans). Kontoor wasn’t involved in her clothing decision or the photo shoot, Baxter says.

Baxter, 55, a native of Sylvania, Ohio, attended the University of Toledo and later got an MBA at Northwestern University. He held corporate jobs at PepsiCo, Home Depot and Nestle before joining VF in 2007. He moved to Greensboro in 2011 to head the jeans business, then relocated to California in 2016 to oversee VF’s Americas West group, overseeing the outdoor brands. But he and his wife, Donna, never sold their Greensboro house, and he says he couldn’t wait to get back to the Gate City. The spinoff has been a boon for Greensboro because Kontoor merged Lee’s Kansas City headquarters with the N.C. operation and added hundreds of jobs to fill roles previously covered by VF. “Our brands are working together under one roof and now in close proximity,” which Baxter calls a huge benefit after decades of operating separately. To boost Wrangler’s appeal to younger females, the company hired Georgia May Jagger, the daughter of rock star Mick Jagger and supermodel Jerry Hall, as a model and spokesperson. Jagger, 29, had been a Wrangler fan and grew up in her mom’s home state of Texas, where the brand’s core rodeo market is part of the region’s culture, Baxter says. (Wrangler started promoting its jeans for rodeo cowboys in the late 1940s and won’t stop as long as Baxter, a big fan of the sport, is the boss.) Rodeo isn’t a thing in China, but camping, hiking and other outdoor activities are gaining popularity. The company projects that Wrangler sales growth there will accelerate over the next two years. It’s not that VF didn’t try hard in China, where Lee jeans are the market leader after 30 years. About 670 stores carry the products. But before the spinoff, it was losing market share, lacked a strong strategy and had “challenged profitability,” company leaders said at a May investor conference. Two years later, Baxter says things are humming with new leadership, better partners and franchisees, and “dramatically improved” profitability.

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF KONTOOR BRANDS

Closer to home, many office workers are heading back to their cubicles as the pandemic fades, which might suggest a tougher outlook. But Baxter thinks relaxed dress codes mark a tailwind for Kontoor. “Denim has become very acceptable in multiple places including work and going out in the evening,” he says. “People think they can create more when they are comfortable. Denim is versatile and people love it.” Kontoor isn’t sticking just with what it calls bottoms, however. Its goal is to double sales of other apparel including jackets, T-shirts and work clothes over the next three years and add $200 million in revenue. Wrangler Workwear is a competitor of the Dickies brand, which VF bought in 2017 and retained after the spinoff. While marketing gets much of the buzz, success in apparel manufacturing also requires skillful production and supply chain operations. Like virtually all companies, Kontoor is boosting spending on digital efforts. Directto-consumer sales through its websites and about 200 company-owned or concessionaire stores made up 12% of revenue in 2020. The company is also seeking to raise efficiency by reducing the number of plants and countries in which it operates, officials said in May. As of 2020, Kontoor made about 36% of its products at its 10 manufacturing plants in Mexico and Nicaragua, with the rest coming from about 224 sites owned by global contractors in Bangladesh and other nations. Overall, five nations make up about 85% of production. Making its own products costs more but allows for more flexibility and shorter lead times, according to company filings. For example, Kontoor’s own plants can produce denim jackets and have them on store shelves within three weeks versus 20 weeks when sourced from Asia, Karen Smith, an executive vice president, said at the investor meeting. Only a few specialty products are made in the U.S., which isn’t likely to change. “We’re happy with our supply chain,” Baxter says. Kontoor is also happy to be the denim kingpin of “Jeansboro,” a name coined in 2015 to celebrate the Gate City’s denim history dating to the 19th century. It’s the secondlargest public company based in Greensboro, ranked by market valuation, behind Qorvo, and it employs more than 1,000 people in Guilford County, plus more than 350 at a Davie County distribution center. “We’re proud to call Greensboro home. We are absolutely committed to the community, region and North Carolina,” Baxter says. ■

Kontoor sees big growth potential in China and expanding beyond its core Lee and Wrangler business.

HQ: Greensboro CEO: Scott Baxter Payroll: 14,000 employees 2020 revenue: $2.1 billion Net income: $67.9 million Market cap: $3.3 billion, July 15 U.S. sales made up 78% of revenue in 2020.

2023 targets versus 2020 actual Revenue: $2.7 billion from $2.1 billion Gross margin: 46% from 41% Operating margin: 15% from 10.9% Earnings per share: $5 from $2.61 Total stockholder return: 15% annually from 8% to 10% China’s share of revenue: 10% from 7% Outdoor, workwear, tees share of revenue: 15% from 9%

33% annualized return, 5/9/19 through 5/6/21 $600 million in cumulative cash flow since May 2019 $575 million in reduced debt over last year 5% dividend yield average

Project 25% annual growth over next three years Add $150 million in annual revenue Will make up 10% of sales in 2020

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The Catawba Indian Nation rolls the dice on a Cleveland County casino project with a hefty potential payout.

BY SHANNON CUTHRELL

A

visit to Kings Mountain makes clear that the city of about 11,000 residents takes great pride in its battlefield heritage. City signage, churches and small businesses make references to the historic Revolutionary War victory against British loyalists in 1780. Bat-

tleground Road, Battleground Community Church, Battleground Collision — all are reminders of the area’s patriot ghosts. A different sort of battle waged more recently may lead to a higher profile and new image for the Cleveland County town. Within city boundaries, a chunk of tribal land the size of 12 football fields is being developed into a Las Vegas-style casino and resort. A fenced-in construction area off Exit 5 of Interstate 85 houses a 14,706-square-foot temporary site of Two Kings Casino, which South Carolina’s Catawba Indian Nation wants to expand into a $273 million development. Several hundred slot machines started ringing July 1 at the makeshift site, while a permanent 56,000-square-foot building is expected to open next year. The full build-out depends on if Two Kings reaches its revenue targets, which initially call for $72 million in revenue in the first year and $150 million within five years. As many as 2,600 people could be on the payroll if the project excels.

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C A R O L I N A

7/23/21 11:34 AM


PHOTO COURTESY OF CATAWBA NATION

▲ Catawba Indian Nation Executive Committee member Dwayne Rogers, left, Secretary/Treasurer Rod Beck, Chief Bill Harris, Assistant Chief Jason Harris, and Executive Committee member Sam Beck at the July opening of Two Kings Casino

The 6,000-year-old Catawba Indian Nation is no stranger to the Kings Mountain area. The Two Kings’ name is a nod to Catawba Chief King Hagler, who reigned from 1750 to 1763, and the city’s longtime friendship with the tribe. The Catawba people fought alongside the patriots in the Revolutionary War. Located about 50 miles southeast in South Carolina’s York County, the 3,534-member Catawba Indian Nation shows dwindling membership and little prosperity. According to U.S. Census estimates, about 12% of the workforce was unemployed in May, and 21% of people live below the poverty level, much higher than York County’s unemployment rate of 3.4% and poverty rate of 8.6%. Some roads around the 700-acre reservation are in disrepair, several mobile homes have seen better days or appear abandoned, while others remain in well-kept condition. Catawba Indian Nation Chief Bill Harris says a portion of the tribe’s 1993 landmark agreement with South Carolina impeded the tribe’s growth by placing restrictions on its economic endeavors. He contends the tribe hasn’t benefited from significant economic development since the 17th century, when Catawbas were part of the East Coast trade market. “In the early days, it was all about trying to survive what was coming from Europe — assimilation means you gave some of yourself away in order to survive,” Harris says. “As we came along further, the government of South Caro-

lina was not very receptive to its indigenous community once it became the powerhouse. If your goal is to conquer somebody and keep them down, you can do that.” The tribe had total revenue of $9 million in 2019, including $7.2 million from federal grants, and a total fund balance of about $19 million, according to its latest annual report. The money pays for government activities, transportation, education, child care and other functions. “There truly is no economic growth within the nation,” Harris says. “[Opening the casino] is basically the fulfillment of the 1993 treaty: Being able to provide the economic stability that all communities need, because once you have economic stability, you have the ability to guide your future. Without that, you can make plans, but you’re at the mercy of someone else, or you’re unable to fulfill those plans.” Catawba leaders kicked off their effort in 2013, applying to take a portion of their land into trust near Kings Mountain in North Carolina. South Carolina wouldn’t let the tribe run a gaming operation because of laws banning most gambling except for bingo, raffles and the state lottery. Since then, a legal and political battle has played out between the Catawbas and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a 16,018-member tribe that runs North Carolina’s only casinos in Cherokee and Murphy on the state’s western edge. The Cherokees in July estimated an annual revenue decline of $100 million from the new competition

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but insist the fight is about much more than money. Kings Mountain, which once acted as a “buffer zone” between the Catawba and Cherokee tribes before European settlers arrived, is again in the middle of a battle.

WHOSE LAND? About 140 miles west of Kings Mountain, the Cherokees started in 1997 with a video poker business that has expanded into Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, now comprising more than 1,100 hotel rooms and suites, 2,100 slot machines, 160 table games and a new sportsbook venue. In 2015, they opened Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, about 57 miles southwest of Cherokee. It has 180 hotel rooms, 700 slot machines and 180 table games. Both properties are managed by Nevadabased gaming giant Caesars Entertainment and employ a combined 3,300 people, representing 10% of Cherokee County’s workforce. The two casinos averaged about 161,000 trips in March, April and May, with the older Cherokee site making up about two-thirds of the business, says Brian Saunooke, regional vice president of marketing for the Harrah’s Cherokee resort. Revenue distributed to casino owners decreased from $424 million in 2019 to $341 million in 2020. About 90% of the tribe’s government expenditures are subsidized by the casino and tourism enterprises, accord-

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ing to its 2018 report, so losing ground to a rival close to Charlotte is a troubling prospect. But leaders say that’s not why they’ve been working to block the project. They contend that the 16-acre parcel in Cleveland County is historic Cherokee land ceded to the state of North Carolina by treaty, and the Catawba, who also claim historic land rights, aren’t eligible to offer games across the state line. “There’s an entire section of federal law that just deals with Indian tribes and Indian gaming,” says Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band. “What the Catawba are trying to do is what’s commonly known in Indian country as ‘reservation shopping,’ where a developer comes in and says to a tribe, ‘We’ll foot the bill for everything,’ and the developer gets a percentage of the revenue if they’re successful.” Criticism of the Cherokees being primarily interested in upholding their monopoly power is unfair, he says. “From a business perspective, any business is concerned about their market share, so I don’t think it’s fair for people to hang their hat on that. It’s way more complex.” The Cherokee argument initially drew support from more than 100 N.C. state lawmakers of both political parties, who signed a letter in 2013 disapproving of the Catawba casino proposal. Signers included former N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and other powerful leaders. The Cherokees also secured opposition from many other key lawmakers such as state Senate President Pro Tem

PHOTO COURTESY OF CATAWBA NATION

▲ A 14,706-square-foot temporary Two Kings Casino site opened in July, boasting several hundred slot machines.

C A R O L I N A

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Phil Berger, along with county commissions and city councils. Those efforts held up the Catawbas’ plans until 2019, when U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a bill to bypass the Department of the Interior’s approval and put the site into federal trust. “The Catawba Nation has been treated unfairly by the federal government, and our legislation rights that wrong,” Graham said at the time. In a surprising shift, Graham’s bill was co-sponsored by his Republican peer Tillis, who was elected to the Senate in 2014. While the Senate never passed the bill, the Interior Department took the land into trust and allowed the casino to move forward. The Cherokees are fighting in court, but in April 2020, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg of the District of Columbia ruled in the Catawbas’ favor. “First and foremost, [the Cherokee have] not shown that it is likely that Cherokee historical artifacts even exist at the Kings Mountain site,” Boasberg wrote. In January, Gov. Roy Cooper stamped his approval on a gaming compact by which the state would receive a percentage of the casino’s revenue, estimated at $5 million to $10 million per year, for the right to offer table games. The Catawbas also agreed to form a foundation that will contribute as much as $7.5 million annually to benefit the tribe. Tillis declined an interview request and hasn’t explained what changed his mind. Cherokee leaders contend that it’s the result of campaign donations from Wallace Cheves of Skyboat Gaming, a Greenville, S.C.-based casino company that partnered with the Catawbas to develop the project. Cheves, who also declined to be interviewed, donated about $77,000 to Tillis’ various campaign committees between 2015 and 2019, according to the N.C. Policy Watch website. By comparison, the Eastern Band gave Tillis about $8,500 between 2014 and 2020, according to OpenSecrets. org, which tracks political donations. Overall, the power pendulum in Raleigh appears to have shifted from the Cherokees to the Catawbas. Tillis’ successor as House Speaker is Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain lawyer who once did legal work for Skyboat Gaming. He is no longer part of the project and declined comment. Former N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, who once championed Cherokee causes, is a Raleigh lobbyist for Skyboat. So are former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer and Franklin Freeman, a McGuire Woods lawyer who was a top aide to former Gov. Mike Easley. Berger is a rarity among N.C. leaders in voicing opposition to the Catawba casino, but he downplays his authority. Berger sent objections to federal and state policymakers and offered other public statements, says spokesperson Pat Ryan. “Ultimately, the North Carolina General Assembly does not have the authority for approving or rejecting the casino,” he says.

In March, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, an influential South Carolina Democrat, introduced a bill to affirm the Interior Department’s decision allowing a Catawba reservation in North Carolina. The Cherokees’ Sneed says the bill shows that congressional representatives “know the decision rendered by the Department of the Interior was incorrect, because if they were so confident it was the right thing to do, they’d allow the appeals process to run its course.” While the Cherokees press their legal fight, the tribe is expanding its gaming business outside North Carolina. In December, the tribe agreed to buy a casino in Elizabeth, Ind., near Louisville, Ky., from Caesars for $250 million. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS Gaming centers don’t always benefit economic development, as evidenced by Atlantic City, N.J., where nearly 40% live in poverty. Churches and some Kings Mountain residents criticized the Catawba casino plan for years because of concerns about increased crime, gambling addiction, traffic and other problems. The N.C. Family Policy Council and some other groups remain vocal, but much of that dissent has faded. Local leaders now mostly welcome the project and say that Kings Mountain is devoted to making sure that the impact is positive. The city has invested in various infrastructure projects including an improved downtown streetscape, new water lines and smart electric meters. The city-owned electrical system expects solid business from the casino. “We’re so lucky this is being developed two or three miles out of town, and I think it will be a situation where we have two city centers instead of one,” says Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler, a staunch casino advocate. “I look forward to the possibility of it growing up into what it can be, and at the same time, we’re planning so we have a clean slate: A place where people really want to come and feel good about being here.” The new casino jobs may blunt the impact of a recent plant closing. Swiss-based industrial products giant ABB is shuttering its 265-employee Kings Mountain auto-parts plant over the next month. The Catawba casino has already hired about 250 employees after a job fair drew about 800 attendees. While Cleveland County benefits from its proximity to the Charlotte and Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., metro areas, it is deemed a Tier 1 economically distressed county under N.C. economic-development guidelines. More than a quarter of its residents were living in poverty as of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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FAST FACTS

Native American casinos in the Southeast Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Resort; Cherokee Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino; Murphy

524

North Carolina

Native American gaming operations in the U.S., owned by 245 federally recognized tribes

Alabama

29

Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama Creek Casino Montgomery; Montgomery, Ala. Creek Casino Wetumpka; Wetumpka, Ala.

States with Native American gaming operations

Florida

$ 34.6

Seminole Tribe of Florida Seminole Casino Coconut Creek; Coconut Creek, Fla. Seminole Classic Casino; Hollywood, Fla. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood; Hollywood, Fla. Seminole Casino Immokalee; Immokalee, Fla. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa; Tampa, Fla. Seminole Casino Brighton; Okeechobee, Fla.

billion

2019 revenue from Native American gaming operations, a 2.5% increase from 2018

Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida Miccosukee Resort & Gaming; Miami, Fla. source: 500 Nations

source: National Indian Gaming Commission

THE CAROLINAS’ NATIVE AMERICAN NATIONS Tribe

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Catawba Indian Nation

Headquarters

Cherokee

Rock Hill, S.C.

Enrolled members

16,018

3,534

Land trust/ reservation

Qualla Boundary, 57,000 acres

Catawba Reservation, 700 acres

Total assets

$1.1 billion (2018)

$27.8 million (2019)

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Hotel & Casino, Cherokee Tribal Bingo

Casinos, bingo halls

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Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort (under construction)

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Catawbas and Skyboat to run the business, Neisler says. The company operates 10 U.S. casino venues and reported $1.45 billion in revenue in 2020, down 61% from the previous year because the pandemic slowed the hospitality business, according to The Buffalo News. Buffalo’s Jacobs family owns Delaware North, which handles concessions at 11 Major League Baseball stadiums and five NHL and NBA arenas. It also operates food services at airports and theme parks including Disney World. “I have all the trust and confidence Delaware North will run a first-class operation, and that’s something we’re going to be proud of because it will be a resort area, not just a casino,” the mayor says. “Obviously we want growth, but at the same time, we do have people who want Kings Mountain to keep the same charm and quality of life we’ve always had, and that’s something we want to guard.”

▲ Rendering of Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort

RICHES AHEAD?

NEW GAME IN TOWN

Potential impact if North Carolina opened up for gambling — and cracked down hard on illegal gaming. Revenue estimates are based on a March 2020 study that assumes nine commercial non-Native American casinos. None exist today. Year 1 (billion)

Year 3 (billion)

Year 5 (billion)

Casino gaming

$1.6

$2.1

$2.2

Video poker

0.48

1.9

2.5

Internet gaming

0.12

0.2

0.3

Sports betting

0.11

0.35

0.37

RENDERING COURTESY OF FRIEDMUTTER GROUP

source: Spectrum Gaming Group

More visitor traffic is good news for restaurants, hotels and other retailers. Cheves is planning several hundred apartments, townhomes and single-family houses over the next few years on an 118-acre site near the casino. Local officials expect “additional revenues and capital investments tied to the casino will be quite high,” says Kristin Reese, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Partnership. Hound’s Drive-In, an outdoor movie theater two miles from the casino, expects its business to eventually double. The three-screen theater is adding 200 recreational vehicle campsites to its existing 60. “Many families have never been to a drive-in theater, so I am hopeful that when they visit the casino, they will also catch a movie and get the full drive-in experience,” owner Preston Brown says. Making sure the casino has a positive impact is largely up to Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North, hired by the

The Two Kings casino will raise North Carolina’s profile in the gaming industry. Beyond the Cherokee sites, other legal gambling channels are the North Carolina Education Lottery, charitable bingo, lowstakes beach bingo and raffles. How much that profile increases depends on if lawmakers in the ninth-most populous state reverse their historic aversion to gambling. An economic impact statement commissioned by the state-chartered lottery agency last year estimated North Carolina has capacity for nine commercial, non-Native American casinos that could spark more than $2 billion in annual revenue within three years. Those ventures would bring in more than $450 million in annual taxes, assuming the state gets about a fifth of overall revenue. That’s a typical levy in other states. The report estimated that the Cherokees’ two casinos generate annual revenue of $900 million and pay about $7.3 million per year to the state. The Cleveland County project could be a lifeboat for the Catawba tribe, which wants to convert its winnings to build schools, buy land, and create businesses and jobs, Harris says. “It’s like two double-hinged doors that are going to be kicked wide open.” This opportunity is long overdue, he adds. “From the beginning of European contact, the Catawba has always been a good neighbor. And we have proven over and over through history that we are that good neighbor. No matter how many times we were wronged, we kept coming back with an open hand, not a closed fist.” ■

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A strong economy is built on connections. Not just connections to global markets, but also between industries, businesses and people. At North Carolina Ports, we build all types of connections every day. We’re proud of the effect they’ve had on our state’s economic health, and we’re excited about where they can take us next. With locations in Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina’s ports serve as vital links between our state and the world. In fact, our locations are within 700 miles of 70% of the U.S. industrial base. That proximity drives job creation at home and supports industries with a long heritage in North Carolina, like agriculture, manufacturing, consumer goods, pork and poultry, and forest products. But we’re not just focused on connecting industries. We pride ourselves on connecting with people to better understand what they need. With the fastest turn times on the East Coast, low congestion and personalized service, we strive to be an approachable, efficient partner that’s easy to work with. We believe a more customized and accommodating relationship is the gateway to better business. In order to meet our standards of service, speed and efficiency, we’ve also been strengthening our connections at home. A berth renovation to accommodate larger vessels, a state-of-the-art container gate complex to move trucks more efficiently and an expanded refrigerated container yard are just a few of the improvements we’ve recently completed at the Port of Wilmington. At our Morehead City location, we’ve had a record year, with approximately 1.1 million short tons of cargo passing through the port—and we’ve just begun planning for a new 75,000-square-foot warehouse. However, there’s much more on the horizon. The recent approval of our fiscal year 2022 budget will bring even more efficiencies to our gate and terminal operating systems, intermodal services, and infrastructure technologies. When fully authorized, our Wilmington Harbor Navigation Improvement Project will deepen the harbor to 47 feet, allowing it to accommodate even larger vessels and continue to be a port of call for U.S. East Coast-Asia services. But no matter how many connections we make, we must always remember the reason for building them: the continued economic prosperity of North Carolina. We look forward to working with you in support of this goal, because a thriving state is beneficial to all who live within it.

Brian E. Clark North Carolina State Ports Authority Executive Director

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A SHORE THING Tourism still shines bright in North Carolina’s coastal counties. But the picturesque shores are also proving attractive for research, higher education, startups and real estate.

John Harris sells adventures propelled by salt air and the sea — kiteboarding, parasailing, hang gliding, fishing charters and more. He’s president and CEO of Kitty Hawk Kites, which has 10 locations on the Outer Banks, two on the Crystal Coast and seven more across Florida, Virginia and New England. “The Outer Banks is a recreational mecca, and people don’t realize it until they’ve lived here or spent quite a bit of time here,” he says. “It’s a ribbon of land, and our purpose is to teach the world to fly. It’s a fun job.” Plenty of people had fun over Memorial Day, when Kitty Hawk Kites set records for sales and customers. “Just ballparking here, but on Sunday that weekend, it was cloudy, and we probably had 5,000 people come through our stores,” Harris says.

The Outer Banks was a one-season destination when Harris started his company in 1974. “There was very little here,” he says. “It was an impoverished area, and there was fishing and tourism from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and that was it.” Now he scurries between his Nags Head location and warehouse in Kill Devil Hills, keeping pace with growing demand for rentals, family excursions and charter gigs. “We want people to visit us, and we hope that they sign up for one of our outdoor adventures,” he says. “They will have an uplifting experience.” North Carolina’s more than 300mile coastline, where sandy beaches and clear water abound, is first and foremost a tourist destination. But it offers more than fun in the sun. Its location and amenities, including the state’s two ports and access to top-

tier health care, have been economic boons, attracting talent, investment, research and startups.

WELCOMING VISITORS Tourism is big business in Currituck County, where wild horses wander through Corolla and visitors climb 220 steps to the top of the 162-foottall Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The Currituck County Department of Travel & Tourism says $12.7 million in occupancy tax revenue was collected for fiscal year 2018-19. VisitNC, the tourismdevelopment arm of the N.C. Economic Development Partnership, says the county saw more than $253 million in 2019 visitor spending, up 43% from five years earlier, supporting 2,130 jobs. “We’re expecting another excellent year,” says Currituck County Economic Development Director Larry Lombardi. A U G U S T

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COASTAL It’s a similar situation in neighboring Dare County, where visitor spending was $1.3 billion in 2019. The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau says that keeps about a third of county residents employed and offsets taxes by more than $3,100 per resident each year. But last year wasn’t a typical year. Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles says the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the region’s reliable revenue source. “Dare County’s Outer Banks closed completely to visitors for two months last spring,” he says. “Local businesses were panicked: When were they going to reopen, could they survive until then and what was going to happen to the health of the community once we did reopen? It turns out the things that had made the Outer Banks a popular choice for years — the 100-plus miles of wide-open shoreline, the abundance of vacation rental homes and the fact that we’re a drive-to market for much of the U.S. population — took on a whole new meaning with the virus. Visitors could control their exposure to the outside world while still enjoying a much-needed vacation.” Nettles says hotels and motels finished 2020 at 20% below their forecast, and restaurants were capped at 50% capacity. But the year wasn’t all doom and gloom. He says Dare County has set lodging gross-sales records every month since reopening in May 2020. A big reason for those was rental homes, whose popularity funded about 80% of occupancy tax collections. Unlike in hotels, guests could isolate from people they didn’t know, greatly reducing COVID exposure. The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau offered them more protection. “[It] created a comprehensive local safety campaign, coordinating efforts with local businesses and with the county’s public health and emergency management agencies,” he says. While the pandemic spurred some tourism-related businesses to records,

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it devastated others. “The dichotomy between segments … was one of the most unusual aspects of the past year,” Nettles says. “Like the rest of the world, our area has experienced tremendous stress and heartache over the last year and a half, but despite the emotional toll, Outer Banks tourism has once again shown itself to be remarkably resilient. All told, we’re extremely fortunate to be where we are now.” The rising tide hasn’t reached every facet of the coast’s tourism trade. As is the case nationwide, help-wanted signs are ubiquitous. Harris, for example, struggles to fill retail, crew and management positions. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to staff our operations, because it’s hard to find people to work,” he says. “It’s like a double-edge sword: We have this incredible business [volume] like we’ve never experienced before in the Outer Banks. There are so many visitors here. And now we’re having trouble finding staff to serve them well.”

EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE The Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system covers more than 30,000 square miles; only Chesapeake Bay’s system is larger. Here freshwater and saltwater mix, agitated by ocean currents. Just off the barrier islands, the warm Gulf Stream meets the cool Labrador Current, marking the northernmost limit for many southern plant and animal species and the southernmost point for many northern ones. “We are a doorway to the natural world,” says Liz Baird, director of the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The aquarium, which hosts about 35,000 visitors annually, is one of four operated by N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. It’s part of Carteret County’s marine cluster, which combines ecotourism, teaching and research. “If you think about the goals of education, we want to reach people wherever they are, at whatever level of understanding they have and however

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they want to grow,” Baird says. “When you look at the Crystal Coast, we are very fortunate to provide opportunities for people throughout their lives, from elementary to adult education.” Aquaculture is next on the aquarium’s lesson plan. Baird says that includes building a lab, where a glass wall will allow visitors to watch the study of fish eggs and larval fish captured from and released into the surrounding waters. “We can provide learning experiences to help people understand the marine environment,” she says. “We have ways for our youngest guests to be inspired, and you see graduate students in the labs, and you hope one day those children will grow up to be those grad students. A large focus is on conservation. We not only want to help tell the story, we want to preserve and conserve our natural resources.” Baird says the aquarium is seeking a $155,000 grant from Washington, D.C.based Institute of Museum and Library Services to pay for the aquaculture project. A decision is expected next month. “One of the things I’m looking forward to is the opportunity to partner with and collaborate to enhance our impact,” she says. “We have partners in the universities and colleges who will help us if this project is funded.” The Duke University Marine Laboratory and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab are on Pivers Island in Beaufort. The N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, Carteret Community College and UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences dot the Morehead City waterfront. “It’s a huge contributor to our local economy but perhaps even more importantly is the work that’s being done here has tremendous value and benefits to the state of North Carolina and our coastal communities,” says Don Kirkman, Carteret County’s economic development director. Carteret County’s marine research SPONSORED SECTION

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COASTAL and education sector contributes $83 million in economic activity and supports 1,063 jobs with an average annual salary of $68,024, which is more than the countywide annual average of $39,816, according to a 2018 economic impact study. “We have one of the largest concentrations of marine science and research in the nation,” Kirkman says. “Increasingly, as we face issues related to climate change, sea-level rise and storm events such as hurricanes, it’s important to manage how coastal communities become more resilient in the face of these challenges. And these labs also are leading efforts to address these challenges. There are new technologies and innovations that are coming out of these laboratories in the aquaculture industry. There are efforts starting at the community college and the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences on substrate material that can support living shorelines and cutting-edge research on food safety and testing for

contaminates in foods. We take great pride in having this resource here.” Steph Jeffries is a teaching associate professor at N.C. State University and coordinator of field instruction and forest management for its Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. Students in her forest communities class, for example, spend one week in the mountains and one week at the coast. “For every site we visit, we’ll teach a deep understanding of the forest type, the environmental factors that shape it, how it changes through time, and the natural and human threats to its continued existence,” she says. “Our forest management students will leave with a better understanding for how to manage and conserve these forest types in the face of climate change and coastal development.”

FOSTERING STARTUPS Diane Durance preaches what she has practiced. The director of UNC

Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship came to the coast in 2016 from Michigan, where she started three businesses and was director of Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest, which connects entrepreneurs with investors. “When I first started a business back in the 1990s, I didn’t know there were organizations to help entrepreneurs, so now it’s my mission to see that everyone starting [a business] has support,” she says. “Here in Wilmington, we have a lot of support organizations that help startups and provide services, and a lot of times entrepreneurs don’t know about them.” Durance assembled Coalition of Small Business Resource Organizations in 2017. It began with six startups and entrepreneurial organizations. “We have 13 organizations now in the coalition, and it provides free or low-cost services,” she says. She also works with several groups, including Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, the NC Idea Foundation and 1 Million Cups, a collaboration that meets weekly to brainstorm ideas. More than 100 UNC Wilmington faculty members are involved in marine sciences and ocean preservation, so Durance recently launched All Blue, The Alliance for the Blue Economy. It works to establish southeastern North Carolina as a global leader in the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth. “We’re looking at offshore wind, oyster aquaculture, marine engineering, analytics and marine biology and how we can build those fields and attract businesses, get some international companies to locate here, because we have the workforce and the geography,” she says. Durance received a $90,000 matching grant from NC Idea in December to fund a collaboration with N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, creating a semester-long

Jim Roberts, founder of Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, was interviewed on PBS’ Start Up, highlighting four Wilmington entrepreneurial businesses.

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COASTAL marine-engineering and informationtechnology program. She also supports NEW’s efforts with PreCelerator, funded by a grant from NC Idea. “[It] takes ventures in the early stages and puts them through a three-month program that provides intensive support … so some of them are in a position to be competitive,” she says. NEW founder Jim Roberts says Wilmington has many first-time entrepreneurs who want to be successful but have yet to assemble the complete package. “They may have an expertise in sales, marketing or operations but lack some of the other skills,” he says. “The purpose of the PreCelerator is to even out the bumpy skillsets of our first-time entrepreneurs.” Roberts sees Wilmington and New Hanover County as parts of a coastal corridor whose reach stretches inland to Raleigh and Research Triangle Park. “Wilmington is no closer to the Triangle than Charlotte or Greensboro and Winston-Salem, but we have worked very hard to develop those relationships. Over 60 investors have made the trip to the coast. Yes, the beach is a magnet, but the ecosystem did not begin to grow until the opening of CIE in 2013.”

SETTING RECORDS Brunswick County lays claim to five barrier islands, six beaches and 10 communities from the state line to the Cape Fear River. It also is home to one of the state’s best real estate markets. The number of units sold in the county this year through May is 50% more than in the same period in 2020. And the number sold in May is 133.2% more than in May 2020 and higher than any May in the past 20 years, says Jennifer Brown, president of Brunswick County Association of Realtors and managing broker at Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage’s South Brunswick and Holden Beach offices. “The real

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The population of Southport has grown to 4,176 from 2,833 over the past decade.

estate market in Brunswick County is just super hot right now,” she says. “Brunswick County has been ranked as one of the fastest-growing counties multiple times and just continues to grow.” Leland, for example, had 26,984 residents last year, up from 13,527 a decade ago. The population of Southport grew to 4,176 from 2,833 in the same period. “Most of our buyers are retired or looking for a place to retire in a few years, or people buying second homes,” Brown says. “However, since COVID started, we have had a surge in people that are now able to move out of the metro areas due to the fact that they are working from home. I feel like Brunswick has totally been ‘discovered,’ and while the market won’t always be like it is today, it will continue to be a hot spot.” Brunswick has always been attractive. “We have seen the migration happening over the past few years — due to weather, beaches, golf, lower taxes and cost of living,

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slower life, no traffic, etc. … and that has definitely escalated [with the pandemic],” Brown says. “We also see a lot of buyers coming from other parts of North Carolina.” Brunswick County’s median home price was $199,900 in 2018. Now, most of its homes have a property value of $300,000 to $400,000. Several homes in Southport and Oak Island sold for upward of $1 million last year. The highest on Bald Head Island was $3.2 million. “I feel like I’m running out of descriptive words and adjectives to describe the continuously red-hot market that we are experiencing,” says Cynthia Walsh, CEO of the Realtors group. “Prices are up, sales figures are off the charts, and available inventory and the absorption rate are amazingly low. These numbers are astounding.” ■ — Kathy Blake is a writer from eastern North Carolina.

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