Day: June 3, 2016

In Appliance Park sale, a long chapter in local history comes to a bittersweet conclusion

Construction underway on GE Appliance Park in 1952, in this aerial view from the University of Louisville Photo Archives.

China’s Haier Co. may close on its $5.4 billion purchase of the iconic 65-year-old Appliance Park as soon as Monday. Built during the rapidly growing post-World War II economy, the 1,000-acre park churned out dishwashers and other home appliances for the burgeoning baby boom generation. Construction started in 1951.

With Ford and other big local manufacturers, GE launched a solid middle class that became the foundation of Louisville’s economy. At one time, the park employed 25,000 workers. It was a self-sufficient city providing many of its own needs, right down to mail handling. (In 1953, it got its own Zip Code: 40225.)

But that started to ebb in the 1970s, as manufacturers sought cheaper labor by moving production overseas. Appliance Park now employs only 6,000 workers. Service jobs have become the fastest-growing part of Louisville’s economy. But they’re often part-time and don’t pay as well as factory work once did.

GE women working
Women work on the pickling and spray booth line in this 1953 photo, also from the photography archives.

Manufacturing employment last peaked in the Louisville metro area in 1999, when there were an average 95,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It then fell to a low of 60,900 in 2010, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession. The better news is that it’s crept up every year since, to 76,500 last year. But it’s extremely unlikely it will ever return to the glory days of 1951, when Appliance Park was king.

Factory jobs

Texas Roadhouse is the biggest Louisville-based restaurant chain you’ve never heard of

Texas Roadhouse
Founded in 1993, the company now has nearly 500 restaurants and 48,000 employees.

Boulevard focuses on news about some of Louisville’s biggest employers, nonprofits, and cultural institutions. This is one in an occasional series about them.

Put your books away; it’s time for a pop quiz!

Ever heard of a Louisville-based restaurant chain called KFC? Of course you have. Papa John’s? Certainly.

Now, what about that other big Louisville-based chain: Texas Roadhouse. Not so much?

KFC (15,000 restaurants in more than 125 countries) and Papa John’s (4,700 stores, 37 nations) are better known in Louisville at least partly because they’re older, and promote themselves more locally. There’s the KFC Yum Center downtown, and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville. And who hasn’t seen Papa John’s founder John Schnatter in one of his ubiquitous TV commercials?

Kent Taylor

But Texas Roadhouse has come a long way, too — and in a relatively short time. Chairman and CEO Kent Taylor started the steakhouse chain in 1993 with a single restaurant in southern Indiana. Some 23 years later, it’s grown to nearly 500 company-owned and franchised restaurants in 49 states plus five foreign countries, and 48,000 employees.

That three big restaurant companies are all based in Louisville isn’t a huge surprise given an economic principle with an unwieldy name: agglomeration. That’s where companies beget other companies in the same industry nearby, all benefiting from the increasingly specialized labor pool and economies of scale: for example, intellectual property attorneys experienced in the fast-food trade.

Peanut shells
Western theme peanut shells.

Taylor, for one, started out as a KFC manager in 1990, when he returned to his Louisville hometown. Three years later, he opened the first Texas Roadhouse, in Clarksville, Ind. The restaurants are known for their western themes, line-dancing servers, peanut shell-strewn floors, and Texas Red Chili and ribs.

The company went public in 2004. Its headquarters is at 6040 Dutchman’s Lane.

Now 60, Taylor is the biggest individual stockholder, with 4.4 million shares, or 6.2% of all, according to the 2016 shareholders’ proxy report. His stake was worth more than $200 million in June 2016, when shares were trading at a record high of $46 each.

What Papa John’s, Apple and Google have in common. (Hint: many of you own one)

Boulevard focuses on news about some of Louisville’s biggest employers, nonprofits, and cultural institutions. This is one in an occasional series about them.

John Schnatter

Some of the most successful U.S. companies got launched in garages, and Papa John’s story begins there in 1984 — sort of. It involves a car, specifically founder John Schnatter‘s prized gold 1972 Camaro Z28. After graduating from Ball State University with a business degree, Schnatter sold it for $2,800 to help save his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, from bankruptcy.

“He knocked down the broom closet of Mick’s Lounge,” the company says on its history page, “purchased used restaurant equipment, and began delivering pizzas out of the back of the bar.”

Schnatter's Camaro
The famous car.

Only a year later, Schnatter opened his first Papa John’s in Jeffersonville, Ind. More than 30 years later, it’s now a fast-food giant with 4,700 restaurants worldwide — including more than 1,200 international restaurants in 37 countries and territories. It has 750 employees in Louisville, and another 21,000 across the globe. The company went public in 1993.

The company’s success has made Schnatter — born Nov. 23, 1961, in Jeffersonville — one of Kentucky’s wealthiest residents. His 10.5 million shares were worth well over $600 million in June 2016, enough to buy naming rights to 55,000-seat Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville.

And, of course, there’s his famous Anchorage home: a 40,000-square-foot castle on 16 acres. It features a 22-car underground garage (complete with an office for valet parking, a car wash and even a motorized turn able to move limousines), and a 6,000-square-foot detached carriage house, according to Curbed. The real estate site called it “utterly bonkers,” and posted this aerial photo:

John Schnatter's house

The photo doesn’t appear to show the helicopter landing pad WDRB said spurred neighborhood noise complaints last month.

And the prized Camaro? In 2009, Papa John’s announced a $250,000 reward for the car, leading to its recovery. A replica now sits in the lobby of Papa John’s headquarters at 2002 Papa John’s Blvd.

New $13B Aetna bonds prime Humana buy; 再见, GE!: $5.4B deal may close Monday; PepsiCo CEO in Yum spinoff dies at 71

Appliance Park aerial
An aerial view of the mammoth GE Appliance complex.

A news summary, focused on big employers; updated 9:52 a.m.

HUMANA: Aetna sold $13 billion of new bonds yesterday to pay for its $34 billion purchase of Humana, the latest sign of growing confidence anti-trust regulators will OK the deal. Shares of both insurance giants jumped on the news, narrowing the discount at which Humana trades to the original $230 cash-and-stock offer price. That gap, around 17% at yesterday’s close, is the smallest since early April (Wall Street Journal). Humana’s stock surged 5.5% to $187.23; Aetna, up 4% to $120.05. Aetna’s CEO said recently that he expects the deal announced last July will close in the year’s second half. Humana employs about 12,500 workers in Louisville, part of its nationwide workforce of 50,000; that figure would double under the Aetna deal. More about Humana’s history.

GE: Haier Co. is expected to close on its $5.4 billion purchase of the iconic 50-year-old Appliance Park as soon as Monday. That would “sever Louisville’s half-century ties to General Electric,” The Courier Journal says, “and turn over ownership of one of the community’s flagship employers to a major Chinese appliance and consumer electronics maker” (Courier-Journal). The complex employs 6,000 making dishwashers and other home appliances. Still, GE is advertising jobs there starting at $15.51 and hour, or $32,000 a year (company website).

(Here’s how Google translates our GE news summary in simplified Chinese: 海尔股份有限公司有望尽快结束其$5.4十亿收购标志性的50岁的家电园区,截至周一。这将“切断路易斯维尔半个世纪关系到通用电气,”信使杂志说,“和社会各界的旗舰雇主之一的所有权移交给大中国家电和消费电子制造商”(信使报)。复杂的员工6000人。 GE尚广告工作开始出现在$15.51和时间,或每年$32,000.” Our headline should say: Goodbye, GE!)

Watch an inside tour of Appliance Park:

Roger Enrico

YUM: Retired PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico, who spun off the company’s restaurant division into what is now Yum Brands, died suddenly Wednesday while on vacation with his family in the Cayman Islands. The cause of his death wasn’t immediately known. He was 71 (The Drum). CEO from 1996-2001, Enrico was known for turning Pepsi-Cola into a pop-culture leader with groundbreaking sponsorships with Michael Jackson and Madonna in the “Choice of a New Generation” campaign (The Wall Street Journal and AdAge). Watch one of the Jackson commercials. Yum’s history in Louisville started with KFC founder Harland Sanders.

AMAZON: About 40 bike messengers employed by Amazon contractor Fleetfoot Messenger Service have been laid off, effective today, as the company rethinks the way it makes quick deliveries in its corporate hometown of Seattle. The messengers carried packages and groceries for Amazon Prime Now, a popular one- to two-hour service seen as one of Amazon’s big bets to beat brick-and-mortar retailing (Seattle Times). Geekwire said the number laid off was closer to 60, and quoted one saying: “A lot of people, including myself, are thinking, ‘Why are we going to stick around and bust our ass and put our lives on our line when they don’t give a shit?’ They just cut our jobs. A lot of us just walked out” (GeekWire). Expectations were high for the couriers — with heavier-than-normal loads, fast delivery times, careful tracking, and demands for near-perfect execution (GeekWire, earlier). Elsewhere in Amazonia, the company blows away all competitors in time spent on their mobile websites by a long shot; mobile visitors spent an average 103 minutes on Amazon vs. Target’s 20 minutes and Walmart’s 14 (Business Insider).

BROWN-FORMAN: Billy Walker, who sold the BenRiach Distillery Co. scotch whiskey business to Brown-Forman for $405 million million, has been named entrepreneur of the year in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards; the deal closed Wednesday (Herald Scotland).

CHURCHILL DOWNS: Hosting a party at the iconic racetrack runs from casual to a formal sit-down meal surrounded by historic racing décor (press release via Insider Louisville).

In other news, U.S. employers added only 38,000 workers in May, a significant slowdown in hiring that could push back a decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates (New York Times). Wall Street wasn’t keen on the report; all major stock indices retreated (Google Finance) and the 11 big employers in Boulevard’s Stock Portfolio all tumbled.

Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali
Ali last year.

Finally, Louisville native and humanitarian Muhammad Ali has been hospitalized again and is being treated for a respiratory issue in Phoenix, where he lives. Ali, 74, has been battling Parkinson’s disease for years. The Associated Press said last night that his condition may be more serious than in his previous hospital stays (ESPN). His $80 million Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville in 2005.

We like to remember him for his stunning Sonny Liston knockout punch after 104 seconds on May 25, 1965:
Embed from Getty Images