The docs who ditched Atrium aren't looking back

Plus: State tourism numbers looking strong again; Hedge fund complains about Coke Consolidated; Fast-food chicken fight on Twitter

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Interview: A year after after starting an independent medical practice, Tryon Medical CEO forecasts growth — and slams ‘hospital-controlled healthcare’ as a ‘failed system’

Nearly a year ago, a group of about 90 doctors with Mecklenburg Medical Group left parent company Atrium Health to launch an independent practice — Tryon Medical Partners.

It was one of the Charlotte area’s biggest healthcare stories of the year, as it defied the trend toward industry mergers and consolidations.

The doctors pushed Atrium to allow them to leave by filing a lawsuit that claimed the hospital system was “self-serving” and “monopolistic” and run by a “bloated management bureaucracy.” They thought they could run an independent medical practice better and more cheaply, with more focus on patients.

Now, a year later, Tryon Medical CEO Dr. Dale Owen tells the Ledger his medical group — the largest primary-care practice in the Charlotte region, with 300 employees and eight offices — has big plans for growth. The experiment of separating from big medicine is attracting attention in national trade publications and from doctors around the country who want to replicate the experience.

This month, Owen discussed setting up the practice, his growth plans, the relationship with Atrium, the future of healthcare and what he calls the failure of hospital-controlled medical systems.

The full interview is available on the Ledger’s website. Here are a few highlights:

On winning over patients: “About 94% of our patients have already registered with our group. We sent out 115,000 letters with Atrium, and we have 108,000 already. That’s a big deal. … We’re the doctors. Patients don’t follow hospital administrators. Patients follow physicians, people who really care about them and who went to school to prove it.”

On why more doctors don’t leave big hospital systems: “Fear is the main problem here. Fear of not having a hospital to go to. Fear of doctors leaving a hospital system because they don’t know a stable platform to jump onto. It’s all about control based on money and fear. This group didn’t listen to all of that. We did it our way. We can tell you it’s not something to be afraid of.”

On Big Medicine: “You can’t keep doing the same thing the wrong way and expect a different outcome. Hospital-controlled healthcare is a failed system. It’s been demonstrated over and over and over again.”

On the business model of big hospital systems: “They are trying to gobble up physician groups so they can garner all of their referrals. When you’re a hospital system, do you think that you are lauded for referring to the hospital across the street? It’s essentially a captive referral system, which is why they try and grow bigger and bigger, so they can dominate markets.”

On the future of healthcare: “It is really important that other physician groups see that this succeeds and that it is a stable platform to jump onto or there’s a similar platform for their local area that they can jump onto. It can’t be about what’s best for big business. It has to be about what is best for patients — always. Doctors have to lead this.”

Read the full interview with Owen here.


Dueling plans for uptown bus depot

Two developers have submitted proposals to the city to redevelop the Charlotte Transportation Center uptown, across from the Spectrum Center, the Observer and Biz Journal (paywall) reported Tuesday.

CATS had asked for bids. According to the publications, the two competing proposals are:

BPR Properties

  • 20-story office building

  • 22-story tower with residential units and eight-story hotel

  • low-rise buildings with retail and residential units, including affordable housing

  • public plaza running through the site, with the bus station moved underground and an entrance to it in the middle of the plaza.

White Point and its partner, Texas-based DART Interests:

  • Option 1: 20-story office tower, with a hotel and ground-floor retail, with the bus facility on the ground floor.

  • Option 2: 30-story tower, move the transit center one block to the southwest

The timeline for selecting a winning bidder is unclear. CATS is “looking to select a group that adds something ‘creative and new’ to the site that provides required transit infrastructure and has the financial capacity to develop the project,” the Biz Journal said.


Tourism spending and HB2

New state tourism spending numbers from 2018 are in, and they show that the rate of growth was the highest statewide and in Mecklenburg County since 2014.

In each case, tourism dollars increased by nearly 6% over 2017.

Source: Ledger analysis of Visit North Carolina figures

The figure is significant because it might help give a little clarity to the economic effect of HB2, North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” that led to well-publicized tourism boycotts and decisions by companies not to invest in the state.

Still, the conclusions from the new data aren’t clear-cut. Looking at the chart above, you will see that there was clearly a drop in the rate of tourism growth between 2015-2017. HB2 was in effect from March 2016 to March 2017.

  • Statewide, in the last seven years, the year of slowest tourism growth was 2015 — before the law took effect.

  • In Mecklenburg, the year of slowest tourism growth was in 2016 — when the law was in effect for most of the year. Was that because of HB2?

In 2017, the Associated Press tallied the cost of HB2 at $3.76B over 12 years. In 2019, a nonpartisan economist with the General Assembly concluded that “if HB2 had any positive or negative impact on the State’s economy and specifically direct visitor spending for tourism, the impact was too small to be detected by the available data.”

It’s possible both assessments are accurate, since the state’s annual economic output is more than $450B, and there are many factors that account for business investment and tourism spending.


The chicken sandwich Twitter war

From Business Insider:

Chick-fil-A and Popeyes set off a chicken-sandwich debate on social media on Monday when Popeyes quote-tweeted an apparent subtweet from Chick-fil-A.

Then Wendy’s jumped in:

… which prompted a smackdown with “Popeyes calling Wendy's ‘thirsty’ and Wendy’s describing Popeyes’ food as ‘dry.’”

Then along came Shake Shack

… and Church’s Chicken

… which prompted a response from Charlotte-based Bojangles’, which might have misfired:

In other words, all the more reason to stay off Twitter.


Hedge fund tastes the feeling of betting against Coke Consolidated

If you held a stock that has doubled in price in 2019, you probably wouldn’t complain.

But a London hedge fund is griping that the Charlotte region’s best-performing stock — that of soft-drink bottler Coca-Cola Consolidated — is doing well mostly because investors are confusing it with the Coca-Cola Co.

In an 12-page open letter to Coca-Cola’s CEO, Pedro de Noronha of Noster Capital says he objects to the Charlotte bottler’s name change this year from “Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated” to “Coca-Cola Consolidated,” worries about CEO Frank Harrison’s “potentially controversial political donations” and frets about the bottler’s “explicitly religious messaging” in its statement of purpose (“to honor God in all that we do”).

He adds that Coke Consolidated’s stock ticker symbol — “COKE” — fuels much of the confusion and points out that the bottler’s stock performance this year has outpaced all other bottlers as well as Coca-Cola. Coke Consolidated’s shares are up a stunning 106% in 2019.

“When a company trades under the ticker COKE and changes its name to ‘Coca-Cola Consolidated’, confusion in the market is inevitable,” de Noronha wrote.

Not surprisingly, he also admitted his firm is a short-seller, which means it makes money when share prices fall. Whoops.

Asked if the name was confusing, Coke Consolidated told the Ledger in a statement: “Our decision to change our Company’s legal name earlier this year was for simplification and reflects how we are known in the marketplace, which is Coca-Cola Consolidated. Our stock has been offered to the public under the Coke ticker symbol since 1972.” 


In brief

  • Tennis, anyone? Ballantyne Country Club is considering selling its small tennis and swim location on Summer Club Road near Community House Middle School and building new tennis courts at its main club. David Lee, the club’s general manager, tells the Ledger the idea is “very much at the beginning stage as we have not even decided if it is best to possibly sell the property and what the cost would be to replace the courts on our existing property.”

  • PSL fire sale: The Panthers have offered some fans a chance to buy PSLs “at 1995 prices.” “To mark our 25th anniversary, we’re offering two Permanent Seat Licenses for $25 a month” for 48 months, according to an email the team sent Tuesday. PSLs are only as “permanent” as the existing Panthers stadium, the future of which is in doubt.

  • Gastonia fabric icon: “Mary Jo’s Cloth Store, the iconic Gastonia fabric store that attracted customers from across the region for more than six decades, will permanently close its doors at the end of the month.” (Gaston Gazette)

  • Virtual hearings: Charlotte-based software and telecom company Cloverhound won two awards for its technology that allows government agencies to conduct hearings with people over the web.

  • Tiffany’s for men: Tiffany’s announced last week that it is launching its first luxury men’s line. “Think stereotypically macho stuff remade as luxury goods, such as sterling silver necklaces that resemble military dog tags, a silver-encased compass, and a cocktail mixer in crystal and sterling silver.” Sales of men’s luxury fine jewelry have risen 22% in the last five years. (Quartz)


Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Ready or Not (R) (90% on Rotten Tomatoes): Bride plays deadly game

  • Angel Has Fallen (R) (50%): Secret Service agent accused

  • Overcomer (PG): Youth coach finds inspiration

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Blinded by the Light (PG-13) (90% on Rotten Tomatoes)

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (R) (85%)

  • Dora and the Lost City of Gold (PG) (82%)

  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (PG-13) (81%)

  • Good Boys (R) (79%)

  • The Angry Birds Movie 2 (PG) (76%)

  • Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (PG-13) (67%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $76 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Sept. 19-22.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $65 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Sept. 27-30.

  • Charlotte to Madrid, $450 round-trip on United (one-stop), Sept. 29-Oct. 8.

  • Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, $79 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Oct. 25-28.

  • Charlotte to Newark, $105 round-trip on American (nonstop), Oct. 31-Nov. 4.

  • Charlotte to New Orleans, $152 round-trip on American (nonstop), Dec. 13-16.

  • Charlotte to Montreal, $246 round-trip on Delta and American (one-stop), Jan. 10-13.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.


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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.