Posts tagged with "North Carolina"

Montana boomtown jumps to #1 on WSJ/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Market Index

July 22, 2021

Billings, Montana, is the new number one on The Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index—boosted by its affordability and appeal to remote workers.

The index reflects how the housing boom has ignited homebuying activity in smaller to midsize cities nationwide. The top 20 cities in the ranking have an average population size of just over 300,000.

In the latest index rankings published on Tuesday, July 20, smaller cities dominate. The number two metro area is Coeur d’Alene, the lakeside Idaho city that held the top position when the index premiered in April.

Rounding out the top five are Fort Wayne, Indiana; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

The index identifies the top metro areas for home buyers seeking an appreciating housing market and appealing lifestyle amenities. This quarter’s version added the new criteria of real-estate taxes, which caused some areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and Texas with higher property taxes to fall in the rankings.

The strengthening U.S. economy also played a role—rewarding cities where employment and wages grew the most. Rapid City and Raleigh each jumped by about 100 spots from the previous quarter.

Billings is the biggest city in Montana, with a metro-area population of about 184,000. This quarter, Billings rose from the fourth spot to the first, due to its low unemployment, affordability and booming housing market. Billings had a 3% unemployment rate in May, or about half the national rate.

Much of the strength in the Billings housing market has been driven by out-of-state buyers—from coastal states, from California and Washington to Kentucky and Texas, says Deb Parker, broker owner of Parker & Co. Real Estate Services in Billings. Many move to the area because they have the flexibility to work remotely, she said.

“I believe Montana’s truly been discovered,” Parker told The Wall Street Journal. “I’ve never seen so much cash in our market.”

About 65% of page views on Billings property listings came from outside the metro area in the second quarter, up from about 57% a year earlier, according to Realtor.com.

Smaller markets in Montana, including Bozeman, also saw an influx of buyers during the pandemic. Some of the top reasons out-of-state buyers chose Montana were safety and security, concerns about COVID-19, and the state’s smaller population, according to a survey of Montana real-estate agents by Montana State University .

The average single-family home-sale price in Billings and the surrounding area was $376,248 in June, up 32% from a year earlier, according to the Billings Association of Realtors.

Research contact: @WSJ

Spirited startup gives ice cream a kick

December 15, 2020

Five years ago, Kentucky native Jennifer Randall-Collins launched Liquorem Holdings—parent company of PRO/OF Alcohol Ice Cream—after getting her hands on an old family recipe for bourbon ice cream.

“In Kentucky, bourbon goes into everything,” Randall-Collins recently told Food Business News. “They put it in all kinds of food. I swear, they even put bourbon in their bourbon.”

Despite her roots in the Bluegrass state, she headed to South Carolina (where the regulatory environment allows for the combination of food and alcohol in one product) to launch a proof of concept. It started with taste tests in local bars and eateries.

“The first thing out of people’s mouth was, ‘Oh my God, where can I buy this?’” she said. “Initially, I was thinking on-premises in bars and restaurants, but the big response from people was that they wanted to buy it at retail.”

The first iteration launched in stores. The combination of classic ice cream flavors with bourbon, rum, or moonshine caught on quickly—and three years later Ms. Randall-Collins and her business partner Dirk Brown bought out their prior investors. They came back to market under the PRO/OF Alcohol Ice Cream brand with the vision of expanding across the country and internationally.

The company currently is in more than 80 stores throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, and is gearing up to ship internationally in South and Central America. Proof is sold in liquor stores and grocery stores, as well as online through the Touch of Modern e-commerce platform and a new direct-to-consumer website.

“One of the biggest things that fuels our success is getting the spoon in a consumer’s mouth,” Randall-Collins noted. “Once we get them to taste it, there’s returning revenue.”

The brand offers three permanent flavors, mocha chocolate moonshine, strawberry moonshine and bourbon caramel, along with a rotating selection of seasonal flavors. This summer saw the launch of coconut rum and cheesecake moonshine varieties. In September, the company introduced pumpkin spice and apple pie moonshine; followed by pistachio rum, bourbon chocolate cherry, and peppermint moonshine in November.

“Keeping that rotation and keeping the menu fresh and relevant to the seasons has been very helpful for us,” Randall-Collins said.

All the flavors are 7% alcohol by volume (ABV), making each serving akin to a high gravity craft beer. The relatively high alcohol content helps Proof stand out in the emerging alcohol ice cream category.

“When I brought it to market in 2015, to my knowledge and to our intellectual property attorney’s knowledge, there was nobody in the space at the retail market,” Ms. Randall-Collins told Food business News.. “There were folks that were doing what I would call ‘infused ice cream,’ where it’s more of a flavor and not an actual appreciable amount of alcohol.”

Nestle’s Häagen Dazs, for example, offers alcohol ice cream under its Spirits Collection line. The products are made with ingredients like whiskey and rosé wine but are less than 1% ABV.

“We are distinctly different,” Randall-Collins commented. “Alcohol is not a main ingredient like it is in our products. We have had some folks follow us into the market and try to imitate us, which is very flattering and it’s good market validation.”

Research contact: @prooficecream

Airbnbee? This company rents you a beehive for your backyard

November 5, 2020

Across the Triangle in North Carolina—a region that includes Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—at least 55 residents have voluntarily devoted a section of their backyards to bees. These residents aren’t beekeepers themselves, but pay a fee to Buddha Bee Apiary to host the hives, Fast Company reports.

For its part, Buddha Bee Apiary, based in Durham, installs each hive, visits monthly to inspect and care for the bees, and harvests the honey.

The honeybee population in the U.S. has been declining; beekeepers here lost 37% of their colonies in 2019—a matter of concern, experts say, because of how crucial these bees are to pollinating crops and wild plants. Beekeeping can help build that population (and even help wild bees) to pollinate your local flora, but can be expensive and time consuming to get into. That’s where Buddha Bee Apiary, founded in 2020 by Justin Maness, comes in, to bring the benefits of bees to people without them needing all the equipment or any knowledge of beekeeping.

Buddha Bee Apiary also harvests the honey, and the host gets half for his or her own family’s consumption and use. But Maness says that’s not the main draw. “There’s some folks who are interested in the honey and some who are not,” he says. “I think the real big value that people get out of it is the fact that they can get invested in the hive, learn more [about bees], and also know that they’re contributing back to something that’s going to be good for our environment.”

Before you can host a hive, an expert from Buddha Bee Apiary will assess your yard to see if it’s suitable for bees. The biggest needs, Maness says, are enough space for the two-by-three-foot hive and about an eight-foot low-traffic radius around it to give the bees some calm. Sunlight helps, too, because it can keep away a pest called the small hive beetle (it’s important that you don’t use mosquito sprays on your lawn).

Once a yard is hive-approved, Buddha Bee Apiary makes the installation an event—a “welcoming of the bees,” Maness says—telling the host to invite family and friends. Neighbors or friend groups have gone in on the $150-per-month fee for a hive together, too. Some of the hosts eventually want to take over the beekeeping duties, and Buddha Bee Apiary will help with that transition. Others don’t, but want their kids to be involved in the inspection; for those groups, the beekeeper will bring an extra protective jacket so they can get up close.

“Once people get invested into the bees, their health, and the hive as a whole, it’s interesting to see people take on projects of converting their yard,” Maness says. “Taking a green space and completely digging it up and planting wildflowers, or taking a list [of plants] that we send them and removing some of these plants so that they can put in plants that are pollinator-friendly.”

Grass lawns aren’t that environmentally friendly, since they’re a monoculture that requires a lot of care (and grass is pollinated by wind, not bees). A side effect of bringing beehives to backyards, Maness says, is that people have been transforming their grass yards into something more impactful for the environment.

The bees pollinate plants within a three-mile radius of their home. With 55 installations of 60 hives, and each hive home to about 45,000 bees, Maness estimates the company has helped install more than 2 million bees all over the region, Fast Company notes.

Buddha Bee Apiary isn’t the only company to do a host-a-hive program. Maness started the company after working with Bee Downtown, which installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in North Carolina. “It was amazing to experience this one-on-one interaction with people who have never had this experience with bees, and see their eyes light up and just be absolutely in awe at how beautiful the inner workings of a beehive are,” he says.

He wanted to bring that directly to people at their homes. Other beekeepers have done the same. Best Bees manages hives for both corporations and residential homes in Boston, Houston, Chicago, and other cities. Hive hosting also has taken off across Australia and in the U.K.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Supreme Court declines to diminish extended ballot deadlines in North Carolina, Pennsylvania

October30, 2020

New Justice Amy Coney Barrett, still getting up to speed, didn’t participate in either case—but, on October 28, the Supreme Court “declined to disturb” extended ballot deadlines in the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania—leaving the states more time to receive mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, The Wall Street Journal reports.

In the North Carolina litigation, the justices denied Republican requests to block a decision by state elections officials to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots until November 12, a six-day extension of the date set by the legislature.

North Carolina elections officials said they extended their deadline “to keep voters from having their votes thrown out because of mail delays that the Postal Service had explicitly warned the state about.”

The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the GOP state lawmakers, and others challenged the deadline extension and other changes—saying those officials improperly rewrote unambiguous rules set COVID -19 pandemic.

The high court didn’t explain its reasons for rejecting the requests, the Journal notes. Three of the court’s conservatives, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, registered objections and said they would have granted the challengers’ request to roll back the deadline. Justice Gorsuch wrote that the pandemic wasn’t the kind of natural disaster that gave the state board of elections a license to change voting rules.

The Supreme Court in the Pennsylvania matter refused to expedite a Republican challenge to a state court order providing three extra days for the state to accept absentee ballots mailed by Election Day.

The court’s order in that case included no noted dissents, although the same three conservative justices issued a statement indicating they were open to considering the case after Election Day.

On Friday, October 23, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, backed by the Trump campaign, asked the Supreme Court to hear and decide its challenge before Election Day, November 3. The motion was unusual in that, only days earlier, the Supreme Court, by a 4-4 vote, had refused to block the three-day extension.

In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended to 5 p.m., November 6, the deadline to accept absentee ballots, from 8 p.m., November 3. The court credited guidance from the Pennsylvania secretary of state that the three-day extension would adequately account for processing backlogs in elections offices and postal delivery delays related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats, who sued for public-health accommodations in accepting ballots, had asked for a weeklong extension, equivalent to the deadline federal law sets for accepting ballots mailed by military families and Americans overseas.

Although it leaves intact, for now, the Pennsylvania court order, Wednesday’s decision indicated that at least four justices are skeptical that state courts can alter election regulations adopted by state legislatures for presidential and congressional elections.

In its 4-3 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had likened the coronavirus pandemic to a natural disaster, which allows state courts to alter voting procedures should it occur on Election Day. The state justices invoked their power under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free and Equal Elections Clause, which the state high court has found more protective of voting rights than corresponding provisions in the federal Constitution.

In last week’s decision, Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh voted to block the Pennsylvania court’s three-day extension. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberal members, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to leave the Pennsylvania order in

Justice Alito issued a statement saying “there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution,” but the proximity of Election Day made it impractical to decide the issue now. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined the statement; in a separate case from Wisconsin on Monday, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued an opinion expressing similar views.

The court indicated that the justices may issue additional opinions in the case. The Supreme Court could still decide to hear the case after the election, particularly if the outcome depends on Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.i

Research contact: @WSJ

North Carolina throws threat back at Trump; requests public health plan for GOP convention

May 28, 2020

President Donald Trump needs to “feel the love” at the GOP convention, August 24-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina. That means he wants 50,000 Trump MAGA  acolytes in the arena, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, to cheer his nomination on—and to provide testament to his popularity.

Indeed, according to a report by Politico, the president threatened on Monday, May 25, to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if state officials don’t roll out the red carpet soon.

But on Tuesday, North Carolina pushed back. Officials there said they would put the onus on national Republicans to show they can pull off a 50,000-person event safely, the news outlet said.

In a letter to Marcia Kelly, the president and CEO of the convention, North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen acknowledged the president’s warning and requested a public health plan for the event.

“The status of Covid-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve [so] it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation,” she wrote. “[M]easured and careful planning efforts are important not only to convention-goers, but also to the North Carolinians who rely on us to protect the public’s health.”

The missive came as Republicans held conference calls Tuesday to decide how to proceed with plans for the convention. People familiar with the discussions said an array of options were considered, including holding the event in a different state. The three most frequently mentioned states include Florida, Texas and Georgia, all of which have Republican governors. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp have said they would welcome the convention.

Trump has implied that North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is motivated purely by politics—and not by concern for his electorate during the pandemic.

“We have a governor who doesn’t want to open up the state,” Trump said. “He’s been acting very very slowly and very suspiciously.”

But Republicans involved in convention planning say there remains strong interest in holding the event in North Carolina, a critical swing state. They also acknowledge privately that

Fueling the GOP’s angst is a perception that Cooper is unlikely to lift restrictions to accommodate them. With cases rising in the Charlotte area, Republicans say they’re skeptical that the Democratic governor will allow a mass gathering.

Charlotte City Council member Malcolm Graham, who represents the city’s business district, called Republicans’ plans to host a fully attended convention “literally insane,” citing the number of attendees, vendors and volunteers it would require.

“Obviously, that’s not going to happen in Charlotte, nor would it happen in any other city that they’re going to move it to,” Graham, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Research contact: @politico