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N.C. House looks to define smokable hemp as marijuana

As the debate over the 2020 Farm Act continues, the North Carolina House of Representatives is looking to define smokable hemp as marijuana. Under the proposal, processed hemp products and extracts such as CBD oil would remain legal. Hemp farmers say the smokable flower is the most profitable part of their business, accounting for 20% of overall sales. Smokable hemp was federally legalized last year when the government loosed its restrictions in an effort to boost the wider hemp industry.

Duke University to increase grad student pay

Starting in 2022, Duke University will raise the stipend for graduate students to $31,160 from $23,400 and will cover tuition for six years instead of five. The university will also extend family leave and move up its pay schedule to cover students’ first weeks in Durham following their move. Raising the stipend for all 2,400 Duke graduate students will cost the university $19 million a year. The news comes after many Duke grad students unionized to protest for pay increases, although the university says planning for the change has been underway since 2016.

Duke Energy sued for 2014 coal ash spill

North Carolina, Virginia and the federal government requested a court to declare Charlotte’s Duke Energy, the country’s largest electricity company, liable for environmental damage from a 2014 spill that left miles of Dan River coated in hazardous coal ash, seeking to hold the company responsible for harming wildlife. In 2015, Duke Energy plead guilty to federal environmental crimes and agreed to pay $102 million. The company claimed it found no long-term effects from the spill after testing in 2017; the government contends there’s no doubt serious harm was done. Duke Energy claims the expanded excavation requirement would double its cleanup costs to $10 billion and take up to 30 years to complete.

Gov. Cooper pushes White House for $168M in disaster relief funds

During a visit to the White House on Thursday, Governor Roy Cooper expressed concerns about how long it’s taking disaster relief grants to reach North Carolina. State officials have been waiting for more than a year for a $168 million package that was awarded in April 2018 for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts, which struck in October 2016. North Carolina is also waiting for $336.5 million in Hurricane Florence recovery funds, which were awarded earlier this year in May. Although the recovery funding was approved, state officials cannot access the money until a Federal Register is posted.

Senior living projects totaling $84M underway in Triad

Roanoke, Va.’s Smith/Packett Med-Com has two senior living projects underway in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. In Greensboro, a 177-unit project totaling $38 million is under construction on 6.5 acres behind the Westridge Shopping Center. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem’s Harmony at Brookberry, a 190-unit project on 10 acres on Meadowlark Road, is expected to cost $46 million. Harmony Senior Services, a sister company of Smith/Packett, will manage the developments. Both Triad facilities will have sections for independent living, assisted living and memory care. Features at both include a fine dining, theater, fitness and therapy center, a library, and hair services.

N.C. farmers get $105M to offset losses from trade war

The federal government has distributed $105 million across 3,000 North Carolina farmers to offset damages from Chinese retaliatory tariffs. North Carolina received the 19th largest state bailout. Cox Brothers Farms received $633,000, the most in the state, but it still wasn’t enough to recoup the company’s losses. Altogether, 60% of the money went to individual farmers. The USDA estimates tariffs on Chinese goods last year caused $11 billion in damages to American farmers.

AvidXchange invests $41M to expand HQ, add 1,200 jobs

Charlotte’s AvidXchange Inc., an automatic-payments provider and the state’s second-largest jobs creator, announced it’s investing $41 million to expand its corporate headquarters north of downtown. The second 200,000-square-foot building will be an extension of AvidXchange’s current development on the 32-acre property. AvidXchange plans to add upward of 1,200 jobs over the course of the five-year investment period.

BB&T beats earnings, revenue estimates

BB&T reported record earnings for the second quarter, topping analysts’ expectations. Net income was $842 million, up 8.6% from the same period last year. Earnings per share were $1.09, up roughly 10% over the year, compared to analyst estimates of $1.07 per share. Reported revenues of $3.1 billion also topped the analysts’ consensus of $3.01 billion projected revenues. The positive earnings news was announced ahead of BB&T’s imminent merger with SunTrust Bank.

N.C. mass layoffs down in 2019

Mass layoffs, which include job cuts of more than 100 employees, are down across the state. For the first half of 2019, more than a dozen companies disclosed notices of the substantial layoffs. More than 30 notices were filed during the same period last year, although 13 of those notices were filed by Kroger as it shut down operations across the state.

Triad CarMax property sells for $26.8M

The 11.6-acre CarMax property in Greensboro has been sold for $26.8 million. The new owner, NNN Auto Owner VI, an LLC managed by California’s Apollo Net Lease Capital Corp., secured more than $443.1 million in funding according to separate records filed with the Guilford County Register of Deeds, making it unclear if more than the property was included in the transaction. The property’s building, constructed in 2001, has a tax value of $15.89 million.

Charlotte’s Vertigo Media raises $5.9M in debt

Charlotte-based Vertigo Media raised another $5.9 million in debt, bringing the company’s total haul to nearly $14 million. The firm hoping to raise the remaining $6 million of the $20 million funding round. According to the filing, $2.2 million of the offering proceeds may be used as employee compensation. Vertigo develops a social media platform for the creation and exchange of user-generated content and marketing research revolving around music. The company’s tech allows users to invite friends and followers to listen to curated songs layered with live video, audio and chat, allowing the followers to experience the music with them in real time.

Raleigh ranked as nation’s 9th-fastest gentrifying city

According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Raleigh is the 9th-fastest gentrifying market in the nation, with 21.3% gentrifying. The Fed’s report quantified gentrification and looked at the rise in different markets where college-educated people with high incomes are seeking to live in central urban areas. The report notes that there are numerous benefits to gentrification, including reduced exposure to poverty, rising home values and increased exposure to neighborhood education and employment levels.

Wake Forest Baptist Health receives $25M grant

The Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Health, received its second Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. The five-year, $25.4 million grant will be used to fund training within its research workforce, engage with stakeholders to provide improved clinical processes, and develop informatics systems to enhance speed and quality of research that can be implemented into clinical care. Wake Forest Baptist researchers are currently working on solutions to medical issues including diabetes, obesity, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and addiction.

Bayer moving crop-science division, 500 jobs to Missouri

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG is closing its crop-science North American division headquarters in Raleigh and moving 500 jobs to the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur. Timing wasn’t detailed, and Bayer spokesman Chris Loder said the company’s environmental-science business will still have a Raleigh operation. Bayer completed its $63 billion purchase of St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. in June.

BofA’s profit beats expectations, revenue lags

Bank of America reported record earnings for the second quarter, topping analysts’ expectations. Net income was $7.35 billion,  increasing 8% from the same period last year, and surpassing estimates of $6.81 billion. Earnings per share were 74 cents per share, versus a 71 cent estimate, However, BofA fell short on revenue. Analysts predicted $23.16 billion in revenue, while the company reported $23.08 billion.

Internet provider SmartSky raises $25.6M

SmartSky Networks, which provides in-flight internet service, raised $25.6 million in equity, ahead of the upcoming launch of its new air-to-ground communications network. Founded in 2011 by North Carolina investors, Morrisville-based SmartSky raised $75 million in debt in February, and another $17.4 million in private equity last November. Since 2012, the company has attracted more than $365 million.

BB&T, SunTrust announce $60B community investment plan

BB&T and merger partner SunTrust Banks announced a three-year, $60 billion plan to invest in affordable housing, small business and financial wellness. The Truist Bank Community Benefits Plan includes $31 billion for home purchase mortgage loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers; $7.8 billion for lending to small businesses with revenues of less than $1 million; $17.2 billion to support affordable housing development; $3.6 billion for the Community Reinvestment Act for philanthropic endeavors. Regulators still must approve the merger that will create Truist Financial.

Winston-Salem apartment complex sells for $28M

The View at 5010 apartment complex in Winston-Salem has been sold to a Colorado real-estate investment group for $28 million. The 433-unit complex of one-to three-bedroom apartments was built in 1984 and renovated in January 2007. The View at 5010 is the most expensive of at least 24 existing apartment complexes that have been sold in Forsyth over the past 12 months.

N.C. schools chief bypassed committee to award $8.3M testing contract

Newly released records show State Superintendent Mark Johnson ignored his evaluation committee’s recommendations to award a multimillion dollar contract to a different company to test reading skills of K-3 students. Johnson sealed a three year, $8.3 million deal to switch to the computer-based Istation program, rather than using the committee’s recommended Amplify mClass program. Johnson says the rankings that put Amplify on top were based on “misstatements of facts” by members of the evaluation committee.

NCRLA issues statement in support of Senate Bill 290

The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association has issued a statement supporting the passage of Senate Bill 290, which includes several reforms to the state’s ABC liquor control system. “We applaud the passage of Senate Bill 290 and want to express our gratitude to the bill’s sponsors Sen. Rick Gunn and Rep. Chuck McGrady for leading the charge on this reform as the bill moves to the governor for his signature. S.B. 290 brings much-needed reform to our state’s outdated and inefficient Alcohol Beverage Control laws, creating greater convenience and choice for North Carolina’s businesses and consumers. While we believe there is still much work left to be done, we celebrate this impactful milestone and look forward to continuing the discussion on modernizing the state’s ABC system,” says Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the NCRLA. The bill is now headed to Governor Cooper for final approval.

Lincolnton’s Carolina Trust BancShares to be acquired in $100M deal

Lincolnton-based Carolina Trust BankShares will be acquired by Charleston, S.C.-based Carolina Financial Corp. in a deal valued at $10.57 a share, or $100 million. Carolina Trust owns Carolina Trust Bank, one of the Charlotte region’s largest community banks with 11 branches and one loan production office. Carolina Trust had assets of $621 million, gross loans of $474 million and deposits of $523 million as of March 31. Carolina Financial is the holding company of CresCom Bank, which has more than 60 locations in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Dry, hot summer hurting Pitt County farmers

Pitt County farmers are seeing suffering, damaged crops due to hot, dry weather, with corn being the hardest hit. Officials say farmers have lost 50-75% of their corn crop’s potential yield. The weather has also affected the growth of sweet potatoes, soybeans, tobacco, peanuts and cotton. Nearly all of the 391 farms in Pitt County are family-owned.

Mississippi-based furniture-maker to add jobs in Triad

Mississippi-based United Furniture Industries, an upholstery and case goods furniture company, is hiring up to 500 new employees at plants in North Carolina, California and Mississippi. The Triad plants in Archdale, High Point, Lexington and Winston-Salem are expected to expand their production capacity, along with seven plants in Mississippi and one in Victorville, Calif. UFI is hiring upholsterers, springers and frame builders, among other positions, with experienced workers making upward of $25 an hour with benefits. The private company currently has about 3,500 employees.

Choice USA to move Sun Drop manufacturing plant from Gastonia to Charlotte

Choice USA Beverage, which has bottled drinks in Gaston County for more than 100 years, is moving its manufacturing operations from Gastonia to Independent Beverage Co.’s campus in Charlotte. Choice USA VP of sales says the manufacturing consolidation will allow the company to be more competitive in the marketplace. It currently employs 250 people at its four facilities, at the company headquarters in Lowell, a sales and warehouse facility in Shelby, a distribution center in Gastonia and the bottling production facility on East Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia. The Gastonia bottling plant, which employs 36 workers, will become another warehouse and distribution center for the company’s products.

BofA CTO in talks for head Wells Fargo job

Bank of America’s Chief Technology Officer Cathy Bessant is in talks with Wells Fargo about taking over its chief executive role. Wells Fargo has been searching externally to fill its top position to replace former CEO Tim Sloan, who stepped down in March. The company is dealing with the aftermath of  various scandals surrounding improper business practices. Others being considered for the role include Gordon Smith, COO at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Gary Cohn, former president and COO of Goldman Sachs; and Charlie Scharf, CEO of the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Bessant has served as BofA’s chief operations and technology officer in 2015 and has led the global technology operations since 2010.

Nationally acclaimed Raleigh chef to start her own chicken chain

Raleigh’s Ashley Christensen, the nation’s reigning James Beard Outstanding Chef, announced she’s starting a chain of chicken-sandwich restaurants in the Triangle. The chain has yet to be named, but the first locations will open in Durham and Cary by the middle of next year, with the Durham store at University Shopping Center serving by next spring. Christensen is partnering with MDO Holdings on the development. The chain marks Christensen’s first expansion beyond downtown Raleigh. Her popular restaurants in the area include Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, and Death & Taxes.

Tobacco manufacturers have 10 months to comply with new FDA regulations

A federal judge has given the Food and Drug Administration a 10-month timeline for tobacco manufacturers to apply to meet planned regulation enhancements regarding electronic cigarettes and cigars. The new regulations will require companies to file premarket applications for electronic nicotine products, while the FDA considers its risks and benefits to the population as a whole. Under current rules, products can remain in the marketplace for up to a year from the application submission date without being subject to FDA enforcement actions. The six-month application extension will make it more feasible for manufacturers to meet the deadline, a four-month period was originally proposed. Critics say the FDA timeline could limit competition from smaller e-cigarette-makers and benefit the larger producers.

N.C. State AD Boo Corrigan’s contract contains extension tied to NCAA probe

Boo Corrigan, athletic director for N.C. State University, has a unique clause in his contract, should the school be punished by the NCAA for violations connected to former basketball star Dennis Smith Jr. According to the contract, Corrigan would get an automatic contract extension if the men’s basketball program receives certain penalties from the NCAA for “matters occurring prior to May 1, 2017. The NCAA delivered a Notice of Allegations to the university last week, outlining four recruitment and benefits violations occurring during former coach Mark Gottfried’s tenure from 2014 to 2017. Corrigan signed the five-year deal worth $1.05 million annually in April.

Wilmington chef Vivian Howard to star in PBS series

Wilmington chef and former star of A Chef’s Life Vivian Howard is set to star in a new PBS series airing in winter or spring 2020. The six-part series, South by Somewhere, will feature Howard as a culinary tour guide, exploring dishes that unite cultures and creating new traditions across the American South. Howard has begun filing the series with Durham-based production company Markay Media, which produced the Emmy Award-winning series A Chef’s Life. Markay owner and filmmaker Cynthia Hill is directing the series.

UNC professor, colleagues land $1.5M grant to study human, computer interactions

Mohit Bansal, a UNC Chapel Hill assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and director of the UNC NLP Lab, received a $1.5 million grant from the Google Focused Research Award in natural language processing, which focuses on the interactions between computer and human languages. The award, which he will split equally with a fellow investigator from Cornell University, will fund research into spatial language understanding, analyzing how to program computers to process large amounts of natural language data. This work will be beneficial for improving voice-activated virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.

North Carolina ranked 7th best state to retire

North Carolina has been ranked the 7th best state to retire according to a new study by Bankrate.com, which examined 11 public and private datasets across five categories: affordability, crime, culture, weather and wellness. Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota and Florida were rated the top five states to retire, according to the study’s metrics. New York, Alaska, Illinois and Washington took up the last spots on the list, with Maryland ranked the worst state to retire in.

Ikea eliminates 300 jobs, shuts down Danville facility

Ikea, an international furniture manufacturer, will be shutting down its nearly 1 million square-foot manufacturing facility in Danville, Va., just north of the North Carolina border. The closure will put approximately 300 employees out of work by December. The high cost of raw materials made it increasingly difficult to maintain the plant’s competitiveness, says site manager Bert Eades.

Burlington fabrics manufacturer to close, erasing 68 jobs

Decorative Fabrics of America, known in the Triad as Burlington Manufacturing Services, will be shutting down operations on August 15 after the dyeing and finishing facility was unable to refinance its debt and turn a profit. The shutdown will eliminate 68 jobs in the Triad. N.C. Works and the state Department of Commerce have programs for those displaced by the closure, including retraining and other services.

City of Charlotte recommends funding 8 affordable housing projects

The city of Charlotte is recommending that eight affordable housing projects receive funding from the Housing Trust Fund as part of its strategy to create or preserve affordable housing by investing in older complexes that may be soon sold to investors. Pending approval from the City Council, the projects would cost a total of $12.8 million. Three of the projects are requesting city-owned land, which comes with a $4.9 million price tag. There are 950 affordable-housing units across all eight projects. 198 units, or 21%, would be set aside for residents who earn less than 30% of the area’s median income.

Duke awarded $129M for HIV vaccine development

The Duke Human Vaccine Institute received a seven-year, $129 million federal grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, with the potential to be awarded an additional $18 million. The DHVI was previously awarded two federal grants for $350 million in 2005 and $139 million in 2012, which fund the Duke Consortia for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Development initiative. Duke will also be the site for a manufacturing facility producing the vaccines, the first and only site at an academic medical center dedicated to HIV vaccine production.

Bill would stop cities, counties from regulating residential rentals

A General Assembly bill would stop cities and counties from regulating residential rentals through sites such as Airbnb. Under the proposal, any city or county ordinances governing short-term and vacation rentals would be nullified, including registration and inspection requirements for those rental units. Asheville, Raleigh and Nags Head have adopted restrictions on short-term rentals for zoning and public safety reasons.

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