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The picture of health

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The picture of health

Duke Executive Health Program provides a detailed look, but its
true value is what clients draw from the experience.
By Tim Gray

Lamplight glints off the stainless-steel coffee machine, one of those high-tech models that make a mug at a time. Beside it sits a basket of bagels and muffins, each tucked in a plastic bag tied with a silver bow. A bowl of organic pears and apples, perfect as a Renoir still life, snuggles up to the baked goods. Across the room are unruffled copies of today’s New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. A Bose Wave Radio murmurs nearby. A door at the back swings open, and Bobbie Wingate-Fisher presents herself. She’s wearing a clingy pink sweater and matching pumps. Her knee-length skirt reveals shapely calves. Flashing a toothpaste-ad smile, the brunette appraises the two 40-something guys slouched in soft chairs. Her gaze, friendly but firm, settles on one. She wiggles her fingers in a come-hither wave, says hi and beckons him to follow. “This is not good,” he thinks. “She’s come to take my vital signs, and my heart’s already racing.”

Yes, this is a doctor’s office, but, no, not a typical one. Duke Executive Health Program, a division of the university’s nationally esteemed hospital, offers a level of convenience and coddling rare in today’s health-care industry. The waiting room, like nearly everything about the program, underscores a message that’s straightforward but, in medicine, startling: We care about your business, and we’re here to serve you. In a typical doctor’s office, that notion would be shocking enough to send you into cardiac arrest. If it does so here, the folks at Executive Health want you to know you’ll be whisked up the hill to Duke University Hospital, ranked eighth in the nation in cardiac care by U.S. News & World Report. “It’s a way for them to practice concierge medicine,” says Curtis McLaughlin, an expert in the business of medicine and emeritus professor at UNC Chapel Hill. “It’s a way of maintaining relationships with a well-heeled population who’ll pay a premium to see a physician who gives them lots of time.”

Programs like this once were common, with the Mayo Clinic leading the way. “When my father-in-law was with Arthur Andersen, it used to be a big perk to send somebody to Mayo for a day at company expense,” McLaughlin says. They lost popularity as employer-provided health insurance expanded, but now with medical centers scrapping for every dollar in their ongoing smack down with managed-care insurers, they’re resurging. “If you bring in executives and they’ve got a leaky heart valve, where do they send them? Chances are to Duke. Imaging, orthopedic replacements and heart surgery are the most profitable things in health care. So this is another way of capturing and servicing profitable market segments.” With a full-time staff of nine, the Executive Health Program operates profitably, an unusual enough distinction in a major academic medical center, but its contribution is a pittance to an enormous operation such as Duke University Health System, with its $1.8 billion annual revenue and more than 20,000 employees.

The program’s other benefits might outweigh its financial contribution, says Charles Sanders, former CEO of Glaxo Wellcome and a cardiologist by training. Sanders, who has used the service himself, points out that clients may become donors. “That’s been proven at Duke with Roger Milliken and Dave Thomas.” The chairman of Spartanburg, S.C.-based Milliken & Co. provided one of the testimonials on the Executive Health Web site and contributed to Duke Eye Center. The late founder of the Wendy’s fast-food chain’s name is found on the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center.

I’ve come to Durham to learn firsthand what could make a tough textile baron like Milliken go gaga over Duke doctors. I’m the guy Wingate-Fisher summoned from the waiting room, and I’m here to find out what executives get for their money. The typical client — a man between the ages of 45 and 60 — pays $2,765 for his visit. The program doesn’t take insurance, though some who come submit the bill on their own and often see some reimbursement. Others have the fee paid by their companies as a fringe benefit. Each typically gets a physical, separate diet, fitness and stress assessments and a raft of chemical and digital evaluations, including an electrocardiogram, body-fat scan, chest X-ray and multiple blood and urine tests. Like the executives, I’ll devote a full day to meeting with a retinue of specialists who will assess everything from the rhythms of my heart to the soundness of my psyche. (Unlike some of them, I won’t spend the night at the luxurious Washington Duke Inn, just up the road, nor squeeze in a round of golf at its Robert Trent Jones-designed course.) I’ll be poked, prodded, measured and scoped to create the most complete picture of my health and physique I’ve ever had.

I’ve already had seven vials of blood drawn, and as Wingate-Fisher and I pad down the hall to the nursing station, a courier is shuttling them to a Duke lab so that I’ll get the results by that afternoon. Later, he and the program’s shiny silver SUV will be available in case I need a lift to the hospital to see a specialist. Even at the main hospital, Executive Health customers get VIP treatment. They often get to jump to the front of the line, instead of camping out with the common folk amid the blaring TVs and dog-eared copies of Car and Driver and Good Housekeeping. After Wingate-Fisher checks my vitals, she drops me off for an introductory chat with Kevin Waters, the program’s director and one of two physicians on its staff. He gives me the rundown of the day ahead and a piece of advice: “Don’t try to beat the treadmill,” he says, referring to the stress test. “We get a lot of competitive guys here, and sometimes they overdo it. The treadmill always wins.”

A few minutes later, I’m facing the treadmill and its imposing operator, exercise physiologist Rob Gray, who sports a nearly shaved head and the thick shoulders and broad back of a football player, which he once was. After explaining the test, he tells me to remove my shirt because he’s going to shave patches of hair off my legs, stomach and chest to attach the leads for the EKG’s wires. Soon my torso looks like a crazy quilt of farmland and forest as seen from an airplane. “A stress test can get you with in- cline or get you with speed,” Gray says as he does my resting EKG. “We choose to get you with incline. This thing tilts up to 23 degrees.” A smile flickers across his face, and I can’t help but think that he’s going to enjoy humbling me. He fires up the machine. Its wide belt starts to whir. Soon enough, I’m panting and he declares my test done. I say, sheepishly, that I believe that I could’ve gone longer. “Don’t worry,” he responds. “Everybody thinks that.”

Wingate-Fisher ushers me into an examination room. She pauses for a little friendly banter, then tells me that the doctor will be with me in a couple of minutes. He soon arrives, settles into a chair and starts to quiz me on my medical and family history. I regale him with the whole sorry tale — the litany of clogged arteries, weak hearts and remorseless cancers. I’m relieved when he skips the mental-health questions — one side of the family alone could keep a psychiatrist busy for months. Lanky and loquacious, Waters has a bartender’s knack for knowing when to talk and when to listen. A natural storyteller, he riffs at length — about his stint as an Air Force medic, about his former life as a primary-care physician in New Mexico, about his family’s history of esophageal cancer. But he also waits patiently as I answer his questions. Seldom have I met with a doctor who seemed so unrushed.

“If you ask all the doctors what would make their lives better, they’ll say, ‘If I could spend more time with my patients,’” he says. “And if you ask the consumers, they’ll say, ‘If I could spend more time with my doctor.’” Working at Executive Health, he says, gives him the professional satisfaction of spending that time and really getting to know his patients. He even hands out his phone number and e-mail address. If his clients become patients of other medical departments at Duke, he coordinates their care, checking in with them and their specialists.

As the physical exam begins, he mentions that Wingate-Fisher had noted a slightly higher blood pressure — 130 over 70 — than is ideal for my age. He gets the same reading. “You look pretty healthy — your weight’s good. We’ll talk about this later, once I’ve seen all your test results. Meantime, talk about it with Gene, our nutritionist. He can tell you about the DASH diet.” DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension. Next come the usual body thumping and stethoscope listening. Waters checks my reflexes, eyes and ears, then he tells me to drop my drawers. “Do you know where your prostate is?” Unfortunately, I do. “They put it in a weird place,” he says. “I didn’t pick where they put it.” I hear his rubber glove snap into place and wonder if he’s pulled it on with just a tad too much glee. I know how many folks feel about journalists.

Dressed again, I soon find myself across the desk from nutritionist Gene Erb. He’s running down the food diary I completed online, tracking three days’ worth of what I shoved into my mouth. (Before coming to Duke, clients fill out lengthy questionnaires on their diet, stress levels and exercise routines.) He’s tallying calories, fat and food groups. Undoubtedly, he’ll chastise me for my affection for pale ales and dark chocolate. While he calculates, my eyes stray to the long blue case sitting atop his desk. It’s shaped like a carrier for a clarinet or soprano saxophone. He reaches over, pops the latches and lifts the lid, revealing dozens of rubber models of food, everything from a hamburger to hunks of rice, beans and spinach. “You say that you had some chocolate. Was the portion this big?” he asks, waving a fake candy bar before my face like a parent’s scolding finger.

“You’re not getting enough vegetables and low-fat dairy. And I saw that your blood pressure’s a little high, so you’ll want to be careful about sodium.” He asks if I’m familiar with DASH, adding, “I’m a big advocate of that. Some of the early work on it was done here at Duke, in the building next door. The keys are getting two to three cups of low-fat milk or yogurt a day along with plenty of fruits, vegetables and seeds. I’m a client of it myself.” Erb’s blood pressure popped up when he was around my age, 43, and he started taking medication. After adopting DASH, he was able to reduce his dosage.

The meeting with the dietician turns out to be deviously timed. Wingate-Fisher shepherds me back to the waiting room, takes time for another chat — maybe that’s why my blood pressure is up — and presents my lunch. It’s a grilled-salmon sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce and tomato, a mixed-greens salad with a splash of vinaigrette and a glass of water. After listening to Erb, I’m not expecting chips or pretzels. The food is surprisingly tasty, but the portions are meager. When Wingate-Fisher leaves, I sneak a big pear and a box of raisins from the snack bar. While munching, I check my e-mail on the PC provided for clients’ use. Across the waiting room, another guy pokes away furiously at his BlackBerry, then starts making rapid-fire cell-phone calls. He must not have gotten the stress lecture yet.

My stress lecture turns out to be, well, stressful. The therapist, social worker Eric Garland, first asks me to enumerate the stresses in my life, then whips out a multipage report based on the questionnaires that I filled out. “We use the gold-standard instruments for diagnosing stress, and what you’re saying is what we found with your surveys. We’re trying to connect stress with health. Some of the pioneering research on these connections was done here at Duke.” He zeroes in on one section of my report. “You seem to have a Type A personality with moderate levels for hostility and cynicism.” I try to laugh this off, pointing out that journalists are notorious cynics. But Garland, whose locked-on stare reminds me of Robert De Niro, won’t be deterred. “You need to keep an eye on these tendencies. They can contribute to heart disease.” He quizzes me on my “techniques for managing stress.” I play along without pointing out that the words techniques and managing imply a level of self-control that often eludes me when my temper crackles. I tell him that I try to hit the gym when stressed. I fail to mention that I’ve been known to yell and slam doors. He recommends a book: Anger Kills. As he concludes our chat, I’m ashamed to realize that I’m starting to get annoyed.

My next session, with fitness counselor Stacey Herrera, comes as a relief. As a bike rider and gym rat, I figure I’m going to glide through the hour with her. But she, too, manages to zing me for a shortcoming: I never stretch. “Flexibility is increasingly important as we age,” she says. “I highly recommend yoga.” Herrera has a cheerleader’s enthusiasm but an athlete’s build. She tells me that she’s going to show me a stability-ball workout. “It’s a really great way for someone with time constraints to work out. You can do it at home. It combines strength and balance.” She then peels off her navy blue Duke sweatshirt to reveal a white Duke Executive Health golf shirt and biceps bigger and tauter than mine. To demonstrate the routine, she pulls what looks like a giant beach ball from beneath her desk, drops onto her hands, props her feet on the ball and starts pumping out pushups at boot-camp speed. Soon enough, she has me atop the ball doing a series of moves that make me feel like a trained circus animal — or would if I had any coordination. With each, she tries to ensure that my positioning is just right. “I want your pelvis here,” she announces, firmly but sweetly, as I teeter atop the ball. “A little lower, no, just a little lower. Here, let me show you with my hands. Yes, yes, that’s it. Good, goood!” I begin to worry what someone who happens by in the hallway might think is happening in here.

My workout done, Herrera hands me a sheaf of guidelines, including a long list of instructional programs on TV and DVD so that I can try yoga on my own time. “Now you don’t need to go to the gym,” she notes brightly, having heard me complain that I’m pressed for workout time. As I slip the papers into my Executive Health folder, I realize that each counselor I’ve met has given me pamphlets and tip sheets on improving my health. I amble back to Waters’ exam room for my day’s wrap-up. He’s jovial, as usual, but has a stern message to deliver: Heart disease is by far the No. 1 killer of men over 40, and few of us take the simple steps needed to prevent it. As a result, we pay dearly. “Fifty percent of the people who have this disease, their first symptom is a bad symptom. Twenty percent, their first symptom ever is that they die. Thirty percent, their first symptom is that they have a heart attack. The best treatment for this disease is to prevent it.”

He then runs through the top risk factors, pointing out that only two of them — family history and age — can’t be controlled. Everything else — including cholesterol level, weight, physical activity, diet, even blood pressure and stress — remains, to a great extent, within the power of the patient. With this as the backdrop, he reviews my test results — the lab work, the stress test, the body-fat measurement — and, except for my blood pressure, pronounces himself satisfied. He suggests that I buy a home blood-pressure monitor and take measurements throughout the day to get an understanding of what influences my number. If, for example, it rises after I’ve had a couple of mugs of the high-octane coffee I favor, I might consider cutting back on caffeine. That works for some people, he says. Likewise, I might find that everything’s fine — seeing a doctor stresses out some people. Even if that proves to be the case, knowing your blood pressure and what influences it empowers you to manage your own health, he says.

“The most important person in your health-care plan isn’t me. Don’t tell Duke that I said this, but it’s not Duke, either. It’s you. You’re the one who has to do this stuff. What we try to do is motivate people with the team we have here. If they don’t know how, we want to make sure they know how.”

As he finishes, I’m chastened — that blood-pressure number has me down — but impressed. I’d assumed I was healthier than most — though I drink moderately, I’m thin, active and avoid junk food — and I had figured that, unless the folks at Executive Health managed to unearth some rare disorder, they’d tell me that. Instead, I’m leaving with a hefty list of stuff to improve — my blood pressure, my eating, my workout routine, even the way I respond to stress. On top of that, I have a bunch of numbers and test results that Waters encourages me to share with my physician. I run into Herrera on my way out of the building, and she shares a few final tips for integrating stretching into my life: “Stretch at your desk, stretch in the shower, stretch for two minutes at the end of every workout. Promise me you’ll do that.” If I weren’t trying to manage my hostile tendencies, I’d probably strangle her.

As my day at Duke attests, the Executive Health Program’s clients are treated well — they receive a high level of service and an exhaustive exam. Perhaps most remarkable in today’s health-care industry, they’re accorded basic respect and courtesy — they’re not barked at by the receptionist nor made to wait for an hour by the doctor. The convenience of the service alone would recommend it to many executives, says Sanders, the former Glaxo chief. “It’s one-stop shopping. It’s all done during the course of a day. It guarantees minimum waits. So for a busy executive, it’s exactly what you want. Companies want to ensure that their executives are in good health but don’t want to waste a lot of time with them away from the jobs.”

What Sanders wouldn’t offer an opinion on is whether the program’s clients are overtreated, that is, whether they’re receiving services they don’t really need. Does a healthy nonsmoker need a chest X-ray? Does a slim person need a digital body scan to determine his fat percentage? When pressed about his program’s multitude of tests and digital measurements, Waters cheerfully admits that several aren’t strictly necessary. Occasionally, a chest X-ray of a seemingly healthy person identifies a spot deserving additional exploration, he points out. And body-fat scans can give his figures-obsessed, driven clientele a number to strive for; Waters shows them how their measurement compares with the ideal range.

“I had this one guy who was about 40 pounds overweight, and his blood pressure was scary. He completely rechanneled everything in his life and got into this hobby of being a power lifter. He’s just won some big national contest in his age group.” Besides, Waters adds, the program’s core is low-tech — it’s the meetings with him and the diet, fitness and nutrition counselors. The main mission, he says, is education, and if some of the tests help in that, so much the better. “The philosophy is to teach. That’s what we did today. We measure things and check them, but we teach.”

Regional Report Western March 2008

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Western

FOES FEAR YOU CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES 

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. That also goes for value. Covering the landscape along a mountain road, trees are lovely to behold and create vistas that draw visitors — and their money — to western North Carolina. Thinned out, they provide prime habitat for many species of wildlife and a valuable source of timber. So the U.S. Forest Service plans to begin logging 212 acres south of Blowing Rock next year, despite the ill will the plan has reaped.

More than 1,000 people commented on the Forest Service’s initial proposal. Watauga County, Blowing Rock and Boone opposed it — an uncommon move for local governments — and passed resolutions supporting a special designation to protect the scenic views that help drive the region’s tourism industry. The Forest Service revised its plan and says it has bent over backward to accommodate complaints.

The harvest will be scattered throughout an 11,225-acre section of Pisgah National Forest, with no clear-cutting allowed. That will increase costs and reduce revenue for whoever wins the bid to cut the trees, says Bob Slocum, executive vice president of the North Carolina Forestry Association, which represents timber companies and related interests. “That type of harvest is what the Forest Service has gone to because of environmental pressure from various groups.”

The trees might be cut in stages over a decade, and those in popular scenic areas are more likely to be spared. “We’re leaving probably twice as many trees as we normally would,” Forest Service spokesman Terry Seyden says.

That might not be enough to appease opponents. At least one, Charlottesville, Va.-based Southern Environmental Law Center, isn’t ruling out a lawsuit that could delay or derail the project. It contends that the plan doesn’t adequately protect views or old-growth trees. Spokeswoman Cat McCue says the group will continue talking with the Forest Service in hopes of avoiding legal action, but that dialogue has gone on for several years. “We are willing to hear from the Forest Service again, but the community is very strongly behind a designated scenic area. And we support that.”

Even before the influx of neohippies, mountain folk had a tradition of doing their own thing. It has long been part of the highland charm. Bumper stickers urge: Keep Asheville Weird, and visitors seem to like the vibe. Downtown Asheville on a Saturday night can feel as lively as uptown Charlotte. But it’s not the only place with a freaky streak. In nearby Haywood County, a state trooper discovered a small amount of marijuana in a car driven by the county tourism director. She says it wasn’t hers. Even so, this could be an opportunity to plunder Asheville’s thunder with another bumper sticker: Keep Our Mountains Smoky.

MARION — Superior Machine Company of South Carolina plans to add at least 25 workers this year at its factory here, which employs nearly 55. The Florence-based company may add another 25 if there are enough qualified applicants. The plant specializes in repairing rock-crushing equipment.

GRANITE FALLS — Charles Snipes, 74, retired as CEO of Bank of Granite. The title went to Scott Anderson, 52, the president and chief operating officer. Snipes, who has worked at the bank 25 years, plans to quit as chairman in April. He succeeded John Forlines as CEO in 2005.

FOREST CITY — Ultracoat, a subsidiary of Shelby-based Ultra Machine & Fabrication, plans to open a factory here to paint military vehicles. The $2 million plant, scheduled to begin production in May, will employ nearly 50 by the end of 2009. Ultra Machine employs about 400 in two factories in Cleveland County.

MARION — Swift Galey let go about 150 of 525 employees at its fabric plant here. The Atlanta-based textile maker blamed Asian competition.

CULLOWHEE — Student applications for the fall 2008 semester at Western Carolina University totaled 5,352 in mid-January — up more than 62% from last year. Officials credited targeted recruiting.

Regional Report Triangle March 2008

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Triangle

TAX SUCKS LIFE OUT OF BIOFUELS 

For nearly three years, Stan Bingham has been driving around in a Volkswagen he modified to run on used vegetable oil, which the Republican state senator from Denton gets free from the General Assembly cafeteria. His bug gets more than 40 miles a gallon on it, but he has to filter the oil and start trips on diesel until the engine heats it up enough to use as fuel. A few miles before stopping, he has to remember to switch back to diesel to flush the fuel lines. Otherwise, the oil cools, gels and clogs them. “It’s really quite a chore to do this,” the lawmaker admits.

But weaning folks from fossil fuels onto biofuels — those made from renewable biological sources — could make North Carolina more self-sufficient and create jobs. So lawmakers pushed through the Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership in 2006. It mandates that, by 2017, 10% of liquid fuels sold in the state — about 560 million gallons, using current consumption levels — come from biofuels grown or produced here. Even Bingham is skeptical. “I don’t know that we’ll ever meet those goals — we’ll just have to change them.”

The legislature appropriated $5 million to start the nonprofit Biofuels Center of North Carolina, which opened earlier this year in Oxford. It’s supposed to support research, improve production, train workers and shape public policy and perception. It has a long row to hoe. Automakers don’t build vehicles that run on pure vegetable oil, though diesel vehicles will run on biodiesel blends. Biofuels often cost more than gasoline, and they’re not widely available.

As if that weren’t enough, the state taxes them the same as gasoline, unless users recycle or make their own. If they, say, buy a jug of vegetable oil at the grocery store, they’re supposed to pay 30.15 cents a gallon, one of the highest rates in the nation. After all, those taxes pay for the roads used by all drivers, so why shouldn’t biofuels users pay their fair share?

Calculating and enforcing such a tax is difficult, and state revenue officials, used to an orderly system where fuel is measured and taxed before it hits the pumps, aren’t apt to expend a lot of energy tracking down the small number of scofflaws buying and using pure biofuels in their vehicles. But those caught face a $1,000 fine and a bill for back taxes.

The center wants the state to eliminate or reduce the tax on biofuels, but that’s not likely to happen in the upcoming legislative session, Bingham says, because the highway budget is too tight. “It’s going to be a hard sell to take away from the motor-fuels tax.”

Executive Moves

Raleigh-based Red Hat, which sells and services the Linux computer-operating system, hired James Whitehurst, 40, as CEO. The former chief operating officer at Atlant-based Delta Air Lines took over for Matthew Szulik, 51, who will remain as chairman…Cary-based Bandwidth.com, which sells phone and data services, hhired Matthew Petzold, 42 as chief financial officer…Chris Viehbacher, 57, was hired as chief executive of the North Carolina Technology Association. he had been presidnt of Hermann Associates, a Kansas City consulting company. He replaces Joan Myers, who left in AUugst for a job at Cary-based software maker SAS Institute…Guy Campbell, 61, will retire in June as CEO of Morrisville-based Harris Stratex, which sells wireless-network equipment. No successor has been named.

RALEIGH – The State Bureau of Investigation and the state Department of Insurance are investigating the finances of The Castleton Group, which provided payroll, health-insurance and other human-resources services for more than 100 small and mid-size businesses. Castleton closed and filed for bankruptcy in late December. The company, which had about 30 employees, says its liabilities exceed its assets by $6.1 million.

RALEIGH – Optimal Technologies, which makes software that it says can prevent blackouts and lower utility costs, moved its headquarters and 20 employees here from Calgary, Alberta. The company plans to create 125 jobs within a year and add 200 more by the end of 2010. If it does, it will receive $650,000 in state and local incentives. The average salary for the new jobs is more than $71,000 a year.

RALEIGH – Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance plans to close a call center here by the end of the year, laying off about 60. It will cut about 40 other local jobs as well, part of about 1,000 it is shedding nationally. It will still have about 700 employees here.

RALEIGH – RBC Centura Banks, based here, will change its name in April, dropping Centura. The trade name will become RBC Bank. Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada kept the Centura name when it acquired Rocky Mount-based Centura Banks in 2001 and made RBC Centura its U.S. banking subsidiary. The holding company for the bank will be RBC Bancorporation (USA). The new name will identify it more closely with its parent.

OXFORD – Granville County commissioners have withdrawn support for a $450 million animal-disease research center that the federal Department of Homeland Security is considering building in Butner. Commissioners say they are frustrated because Homeland Security will not answer questions about the center. The department, which is considering four other locations, is scheduled to pick a site this fall.

DURHAM – Motricity, which makes software for downloading games, ring tones and other content to mobile phones, sold its electronic-books division and eReader.com Web site to Chatham, N.J.-based online book retailer Fictionwise. Terms were not disclosed.

CARY – Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM plans to buy Arsenal Digital Solutions, which stores, manages and protects data for other companies. The purchase price was not disclosed. IBM says it plans to add to the 100 employees at Arsenal, which will become part of its Global Technologies Services division. The sale was scheduled to close in the first quarter.

CARY – Qimonda plans to close its design center in Burlington, Vt., and consolidate operations at its North American headquarters here. The German company makes microchips for cell phones and other electronics. The shift will result in a net increase of about 40 jobs here, bringing employment to about 340.

CHAPEL HILL – Pozen expects to hear by mid-April whether its migraine treatment will be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. In August, the agency requested further study of whether Treximet, formerly known as Trexima, could cause genetic damage. Pozen submitted the latest study to the FDA in March. Treximet would be its first product.

DURHAM – Carlsbad, Calif.-based Invitrogen plans to buy CellzDirect, which supplies liver cells and other cell-based products for drug research, for $57 million. Invitrogen sells more than 25,000 products used to research diseases and drugs. About half its 90 employees work here, with the rest in Austin, Texas. CellzDirect does not expect any layoffs.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Clinipace, which makes software used by drug companies to collect and manage data generated by clinical trials, raised $2.6 million in a funding round led by Durham-based Hatteras Venture Partners. It plans to use the money to add 10 to 15 employees this year to the dozen it already has.

CHAPEL HILL – London-based WPP Group, a global public-relations and marketing company, purchased Yankelovich Holdings, which conducts market research. Terms were not disclosed. Yankelovich employs about 45 at its headquarters here and nearly 25 others in offices in New York, Atlanta and Dallas. No layoffs are expected.

Regional Report Triad March 2008

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Triad

FURNITURE MAKING MAY COME BACK – LITERALLY 

All three events occurred within a week. Asheboro-based Klaussner Furniture Industries said it was closing a plant in its hometown. Norfolk, Va.-based furniture importer Ison International announced it was moving to Thomasville. Chinese manufacturer Dream Rooms revealed it was shifting its American headquarters from Los Angeles to High Point. More evidence that, battered by foreign competition, the mighty Triad furniture industry was dwindling into warehouse and office jobs?

Maybe not. Klaussner, which will shed 130 jobs by the end of this month, blames the closing not on cheaper foreign goods but on the woes of two of its largest customers, retailers Sofa Express and Levitz Furniture. And while the region’s boosters welcome Ison International, which will hire at least 25 in Thomasville, and American Dream Rooms, which will employ 40, they are not resigning themselves to recruiting only distribution centers. They claim furniture manufacturing is making a comeback. Steve Googe, executive director of the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, acknowledges that his county has lost about 5,000 furniture-making jobs since 2000. But he believes the tide is turning. “We’re working with a British company right now that makes high-end furniture and is looking to locate here. We’ve had several Chinese companies here looking for sites to build projects.”

The reason is simple, says Andrew Brod, director of UNC Greensboro’s Office of Business and Economic Research. “Thank you, weak dollar. We’ve been reading for some time about the weak dollar encouraging foreigners to be tourists in the U.S. But productive assets are also cheaper for foreigners when the dollar is weak.” Foreign manufacturers want to sell goods to American consumers, and that’s cheaper when they are made in the U.S. instead of imported. “You’ll take a big hit on the capital investment for the construction, so why not do that when the dollar is weak?”

Googe cites another factor. “We have a lot of lumber processors that were processing lumber for the furniture industry here. They never moved.” Some manufacturers pay to have lumber shipped to the offshore factories, then pay to have the finished product sent back to the U.S. “When oil prices were $40 a barrel, that made sense. Now, with prices more than $90 a barrel, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Loren Hill, president of High Point Economic Development Corp., confirmed that Chinese and European furniture makers are looking in the region. “We’ve not had any international manufacturers opening up yet, but we’re talking to them.” Brod is not surprised by renewed interest in domestic furniture manufacturing. “Particularly in case goods, the rush to Asia is slowing a bit. It’s not as easy to monitor the process, and any intellectual property that you might have is not as secure.”

BURLINGTON GoldToeMoretz plans to close its factory here by the end of June, idling about 425, and expand production offshore. The Newton-based sock maker will still employ about 850 in North Carolina.

BURLINGTON – Medical tester Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings purchased Utah-based clinical researcher Tandem Labs. Terms were not disclosed. Tandem will become part of LabCorp’s clinical-trials group. The deal was expected to close in the first quarter.

WINSTON-SALEM Krispy Kreme Doughnuts named James Morgan, 60, to replace Daryl Brewster as president and CEO. Morgan also will remain chairman. Brewster, 51, resigned, citing personal reasons. He had been CEO since March 2006. Morgan was chairman and chief investment officer of Covenant Capital, a Charlotte-based hedge fund.

GREENSBORO RF Micro Devices, which makes power amplifiers for cell phones, plans to buy Filtronic Compound Semiconductors for about $24.8 million. The company, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Filtronic, is one of RF Micro’s sup- pliers. The deal was expected to close by the end of the month.

WINSTON-SALEM Hanesbrands plans to close plants in Advance and Asheboro by the end of June, idling about 120. The plants make elastic fabric used in waistbands for women’s underwear. The apparel maker plans to outsource production. It will still employ about 6,700 in the state.

WINSTON-SALEM Pace Airlines has begun adding about 70 employees at its heavy-maintenance base at Smith Reynolds Airport. The jobs, with annual salaries averaging $50,000, will bring the commuter airline’s employment to about 425.

MADISON – Gun and ammunition maker Remington Arms bought North Haven, Conn.-based Marlin Firearms, which makes rifles and shotguns. The family-owned company also owns the Harrington and Richardson, New England Firearms and LC Smith brands. Terms were not disclosed.

Regional Report Eastern March 2008

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Eastern

CURRITUCK: THE SHOW DOESN’T HAVE TO GO ON 

In late December 2005, a lawyer representing the brother of superstar Dolly Parton pitched a deal to government leaders wanting to expand the local economy: build a 1,500-seat theater that would be the linchpin of an entertainment district that could produce thousands of jobs and expand the tax base. No, this wasn’t Roanoke Rapids. That city didn’t get the offer until Currituck County had turned it down.

Not that it proved to be much of a deal. Roanoke Rapids is saddled with repaying $21.5 million it borrowed to build The Randy Parton Theatre. It fired Parton as a performer in December and is trying to get out of paying him $1.25 million during the next five years. In its first four months, the theater averaged only 200 ticket sales per performance, far short of the 1,000 per show that had been promised. City officials hope the venue, renamed The Roanoke Rapids Theatre, will do better under new management, which took over in November.

Paul O’Neal, chairman of the Currituck commissioners in 2005, says it could have happened there. “Conceptually, we were behind the project 100% from the beginning.” Commissioners thought the county would benefit from side businesses and entertainers attracted to the theater district it would anchor near Moyock. County officials even talked to Chesapeake, Va., leaders about contributing to the project. The problem came, he says, when it discussed finances with Parton’s lawyer, Ernie Pearson of Cary. ”The letter he presented us with was all, ‘You’re going to do this, this and this.’ It was all what Currituck was going to do.”

When the commissioners balked, Pearson and other backers of the project lambasted them, O’Neal says. “They called a news conference and said we were hard to work with.” He believes that’s why he lost re-election — by 35 votes — the following year.

N.C. State University economist Michael Walden says it’s easy for local and even state leaders to be attracted to projects that promise lots of jobs over a short period. That’s particularly true in Eastern North Carolina, where the state is still waiting on repayment of $32 million in loans for the Global TransPark, an airport business park in Kinston that was supposed to generate thousands of jobs. “Think about it. You’ve got a geographical area that is being challenged economically. Elected leaders are asked to provide answers. People can grasp on this and see it, as opposed to saying, ‘We’re going to work on public schools and wait to reap the results.’ It pushes them toward the short-term approach.”

GOLDSBORO – The city and Wayne County each approved $100,000 of incentives for AT&T, which is opening a broadband technical-support call center. Plans called for the San Antonio, Texas-based telecommunications company to begin operations this month with 50 employees and expand to 350 by the end of the year.

GOLDSBORO – Wayne, N.J.-based GAF Materials closed its local shingle plant, idling nearly 110. The company cited the housing slowdown.

WILSON – Carson, Calif.-based Leiner Health Products plans to shut its plant this month and outsource production to India. About 170 will lose jobs.

WILMINGTONQuintiles Transnational plans to open a local office. The Durham-based contract-research organization, which helps drug companies perform clinical trials, would not say how many it will hire.

SWANSBOROBrunswick plans to close its Hatteras Yachts plant here this month, idling about 200. The Lake Forest, Ill.-based company plans to consolidate production of the brand in New Bern.

WILMINGTONCape Fear Bank’s board of directors rejected shareholder Maurice Koury’s offer to buy the bank holding company for $12 a share — a 13% premium at the time of the offer. Koury, president of Carolina Hosiery Mills in Burlington, has clashed with Cape Fear’s management over compensation and other issues.

Regional Report Charlotte March 2008

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Charlotte

DETENTION CENTER SLIPS ACROSS RIVER TO GASTON 

Hey, Mecklenburg County: You snooze, you lose. Gaston County has taken center stage as the possible site of a detention center for illegal immigrants after the project’s main proponent, Rep. Sue Myrick, announced that “insurmountable obstacles” were dragging out the process in her home county.

So what, exactly, has neighboring Gaston won? A chance at hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in federal money, if other centers are anything to go by. In return for building and running the 1,500-bed center, Gaston would be reimbursed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for housing undocumented aliens detained all over the South. The nearest of the agency’s 16 centers is in Lumpkin, Ga. Though it’s early in the project and no details have been set, other communities have grossed $78 to $130 per person per night. A 2,000-bed center, about 500 beds bigger than the one proposed for Gaston County, brought in $954,000 its first year to the Texas community that hosted it, according to Willacy County Treasurer Ruben Cavazos.

The project also would mean jobs — between 300 and 400 based on its size — and not just for guards. Because centers are supposed to be self-contained, they employ doctors, nurses and clerical staff. It would be a welcome development for the county, which has lost more than 8,000 textile jobs in the past 10 years. “Any time you can bring in a potential of 400-plus jobs to the county, that’s got to be a good thing for the economy,” says Chief Deputy Tim Farris of the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department, which would run the center. But the centers can come with some unforeseen costs. Though Willacy County used a bond to pay the $60 million construction tab, it fell behind on payments when the number of detainees dropped by an average of 500 a day.

And the “insurmountable obstacles”? Providing a place to lock up illegals plays much better in Gaston, where Myrick’s fellow Republicans have taken a tough stance, denying illegal immigrants public services and refusing to do business with companies that hire or support them. The drawn-out controversy over replacing Mecklenburg’s sheriff also made her camp leery. “The current presidential administration is in favor of the project,” spokesman Andy Polk says. “But with the elections coming up, we’re not sure which choices the next administration will make. Our take on that is that we might have a limited amount of time.”

MONROE – Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System hired Michael Lutes, 36, as president and CEO of its Carolinas Medical Center-Union hospital. Lutes is the former CEO of Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in West Virginia. He replaces interim CEO John Sullivan, who took over in July.

HICKORY – Nissan Joseph, 43, resigned as CEO of Hickory Brands, which makes shoe polish, cleats, insoles and laces. He took a job as chief operating officer of Birmingham, Ala.-based sporting-goods retailer Hibbett Sports. Hickory Brands, which has about 90 employees, hadn’t named a successor.

CHARLOTTE – Cogdell Spencer, a real-estate investment trust, agreed to pay $247 million for Madison, Wis.-based Marshall Erdman and Associates, which specializes in the planning, design and construction of health-care buildings. The trans-action was scheduled to close by the end of February. Erdman will keep its name and become a subsidiary of Cogdell Spencer.

GASTONIA – Parkdale Mills purchased Rio Rancho, N.M.-based US Cotton, which makes private-label cotton balls, pads and other products at factories in Charlotte, Cleveland, Montreal and Rio Rancho. Terms were not disclosed.

CHARLOTTE – Gainesville, Fla.-based medical-device maker Exactech acquired Altiva, which makes spinal implants and related products, for $25 million. Altiva will operate as a subsidiary of Exactech and plans to add five workers this year to bring employment to 18. It had revenue of about $13 million in 2007 and expects to become profitable in 2008.

CHARLOTTE – Le Sueur, Minn.-based Cambria, which makes quartz countertops, flooring and other products, opened a factory that will employ about 80 here. The company says it spent $4 million on the plant.

CONCORD – Speedway Motorsports plans to complete construction of its $60 million drag strip near Lowe’s Motor Speedway here in time for a National Hot Rod Association event Sept. 11-14. The drag strip was a source of controversy between Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith (“Old and in the Sway,” January) and Concord officials, who balked at its construction because of noise concerns but relented after Smith threatened to move the speedway.

CHARLOTTE – Nexxus Lighting, which uses light-emitting diodes to make traffic lights, electronic signs and other products, agreed to buy Maple Grove, Minn.-based Lumificient, which makes LEDs. Terms of the sale, expected to close by the end of April, were not announced.

CHARLOTTE – Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Entertainment Group, which owns and operates movie theaters, plans to purchase competitor Consolidated Theatres for $210 million. The sale, scheduled to close in the first half of the year, will add 28 theaters with 400 screens to Regal’s 6,355 screens in 526 locations.

CHARLOTTE – Saying that it wants to diversify, Lance purchased a minority stake in Hyannis, Mass.-based Late July Snacks. Late July makes organic versions of crackers, sandwich cookies and other snacks. Lance also started making lower-fat versions of some of its snacks.

CHARLOTTE – Johnson C. Smith University named Ron Carter, 59, to succeed Dorothy Cowser Yancy, 63, as president, effective July 1. Yancy, who has led the school since 1994, announced last year that she would retire June 30. Carter, a High Point native, has been provost and chief operating officer at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.

CHARLOTTE – Goodrich purchased Fort Worth, Texas-based Skyline Industries, which makes military helicopter seats and armor. Terms weren’t disclosed. Skyline and its 40 employees will become part of the aerospace manufacturer’s Interiors division, which makes lighting, life rafts and other products.

CHARLOTTE – Chelsea Therapeutics is in the middle of second-stage clinical testing on a drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The three-month test of CH-1504 is scheduled to end in April. Chelsea believes its drug is as effective as existing treatments and has fewer side effects.

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Up Front: March 2008

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In a piece he recently wrote for The Washington Post, David Simon — the former cops reporter who is the creative force behind what many consider the best-written show on television — recalls what it was like as one of the “starry-eyed acolytes of a glorious new church, all of us secular and cynical and dedicated to the notion that though we would still be stained with ink, we were no longer quite wretches[.]”

The time was the late ’70s, post-Pentagon Papers, post-Watergate. “When I was in J-school,” Simon says, “the argument was that the siren-chasing would be ceded to television, but newspapers, to thrive, would become magazines — thoughtful, stylish, comprehensive. And magazines? To compete with newspapers they were going to be recruiting literary and investigative giants.”

Though I’m older than Simon, I, too, was a true believer. Fortunately, I left newspapers, where I had made a living since my teens, a decade before he did, departing long before market forces and technology combined to grind the dream into debris. So I don’t feel betrayed and bitter the way he does, as evidenced by the portrayal this season of The Baltimore Sun, where he had worked a dozen years, on HBO’s The Wire. It was not buyouts or cutbacks or corporate greed that made me bid adieu to daily deadlines; it was the opportunity to try my hand at that “thoughtful, stylish, comprehensive” work he mentions.

And that, for the 21 years I’ve been this magazine’s editor, is what Business North Carolina has strived to make its specialty — the in-depth profile, the long-form article, the story that takes thousands of words after maybe months of reporting to tell. That our staff has had some success at this, the loyalty of our readers, not to mention scores of awards that cover the walls of our conference room, can attest. But a magazine must be more than the contents of its feature well. Even the short stuff carries great weight.

That’s why we have expanded the space devoted to our Regional Report, which since its introduction in 2000 has proved to be one of the magazine’s most popular sections, providing readers, no matter where they live, a chance to keep up with business news in other parts of the state. In addition to more news briefs, you’ll find our staff’s take on trends and events that are shaping each region. Of course, those who don’t want to wait until your copy of BNC arrives each month can log on to our Web site’s Daily Digest at BusinessNC.com.

The big story that paints a vivid portrait of North Carolina will always be at the heart of this magazine. But sometimes the best way to see the big picture is through a multitude of snapshots. You’ll get both with BNC.

 

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Kym Hougham

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Personnel Fle – March 2008: Sports

Kym Hougham, Director
Wachovia Championship, Charlotte

Kym Hougham announced his arrival with 32 bottles of Dom Perignon. It was 2003, and he had just been hired as director of the fledgling Wachovia Championship. He needed to draw top players — a tournament’s success hinges on its field. So he flew to Hawaii, where players had gathered for the Mercedes Championship and left the bubbly in their lockers with a note inviting them to play in Charlotte.

The stunt, plus the top-notch course at Quail Hollow Club and plenty of prize money, worked. The first year, he got most of the top pros and then, in the second, hit a hole-in-one when Tiger Woods agreed to play. “We all know Tiger’s the main draw. If he’s in, a tournament’s elevated.” Like a pro golfer, Hougham — pronounced Huff-um — obsesses over details. He takes his staff to the Masters each year. “A lot of people around here belong to Augusta National. We know what we’re being judged against.” He hands out thousands of surveys to Wachovia Championship attendees.

Hougham, 54, played college golf at University of Illinois, then started selling insurance, taking over his family’s agency in Iowa after his dad had a stroke. On the side, he organized charity golf tournaments. Liking that better than peddling policies, he took a 25% pay cut in 1996 to head the slumping John Deere Classic in nearby Moline, Ill. Its turnaround caught the attention of the Wachovia’s organizers, who had landed a plum date in May, between the Masters and the U.S. Open. These days, he rarely gets to swing a club — his handicap has crept from scratch to 6 — but calls the trade-off worthwhile: “When I play now, I get to play great courses.”

Judy Rose

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Personnel File – March 2008: Sports

Judy Rose, Director of Athletics
UNC, Charlotte

Fans love an underdog, whether it’s a stubby hoopster like former Charlotte Hornet Muggsy Bogues or a no-way-they-can-win Super Bowl champ like the New York Giants. Count Judy Rose, 55, as someone to cheer for, too. She hopes to win approval this fall from UNCC’s board of trustees to start a football team by 2012. A special committee recommended to Chancellor Philip Dubois that UNCC do so — but warned annual operating costs could total about $5.9 million.

Why UNCC needs big-time football: “It’s a rallying point for students and alumni. And institutions that are I-A get a heavier-weighted vote within the NCAA. Without it, your voice isn’t as loud.”

First job at UNCC: She coached women’s basketball and tennis, oversaw intramurals and taught phys ed in 1975 — all for $8,000 a year. The Winthrop grad, who got her master’s at Tennessee, has been UNCC’s AD since 1990.

Her retort to Title IX skeptics: “Canceling men’s sports because of Title IX is a cop-out. You don’t need 85 scholarships to field a football team. Raise money and reallocate what you have, and you can keep all your men’s teams.”

Sporting events attended annually: “In the fall, I attend every volleyball match and men’s and women’s basketball and soccer game. In the spring, it’s harder with contests during the day, but I get to baseball, men’s and women’s tennis and one or two track meets.”

How to recognize her at games: She’ll be the well-dressed lady sitting near the court and hammering away on her BlackBerry.

John Swofford

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Personnel file – March 2008: sports

John Swofford, Commissioner
Atlantic Coast Conference, Greensboro

Some critics called John Swofford greedy. Others labeled the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference a fool. Leaders at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill questioned whether his expansion plan would hurt their student-athletes, as administrators piously insist on calling them. That had to sting someone who likes to believe that he works for the good of the kids.

But 2½ years after the league’s addition of Boston College and 3½ after bringing aboard University of Miami and Virginia Tech, expansion looks like a success; complaints, at least, have quieted. The league entered two big media markets — New England and South Florida — and muscled up for negotiations with broadcasters. Administrators insist that a carefully crafted schedule prevents athletes from missing too many classes. “There’s no question that we’re in a much stronger position — in the marketplace, competitively in all sports and from a revenue standpoint,” says Swofford, who has been the ACC commissioner since July 1997, when he took the job after 17 years as athletic director at Carolina.

Looking back, he understands his critics’ concerns. They worried about the league’s record of combining Top 25 sports with academic excellence, which few schools can do. Boston College fit but seemed too far away. Miami, however, was distant from the Carolinian core of the conference and dogged by a reputation as a party school. “The surprise to many people was how far the University of Miami had come academically,” Swofford says. U.S. News & World Report ranks it 52nd in the nation, ahead of ACC charter members Clemson and Maryland.

Swofford, 59, says that he little minded the sometimes tetchy debate that led to expansion. Playing diplomat is part of his job. “This isn’t a dictatorship. You’re constantly working with 12 institutions and their presidents, faculty, athletic directors and coaches. You have to spend a lot of time and energy putting yourself in other people’s shoes.”