What a med school means for Charlotte

Plus: Double check tax returns to ensure state payment; CMS student wifi needs now met; City to buy Eastland parcel; Boomers gone wild in Cornelius

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Charlotte is poised to add health startups and cutting-edge research; ‘most transformative initiative’ in Charlotte history, McColl says

A medical school may lead to more medical tech companies in Charlotte, which would diversify the region’s economy. Atrium CEO Gene Woods said Friday that Atrium’s expansion “is uniquely positioned to create a Silicon Valley for healthcare innovation.” (Photo by Louis Reed/Unsplash)

by Tony Mecia

For Charlotte, there’s a lot to like in the announcement late last week that Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health have completed their merger and plan to put a medical school campus here.

Aside from the obvious that we’ve gleaned from TV series over the years — that it will translate to an influx of good-looking but flawed young doctors in white lab coats, as in “E.R.” and “Grey’s Anatomy” — there are other advantages to Charlotte, too.

It’s not every day that former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl is quoted as saying something like this: “This new School of Medicine and Innovation District will be the most transformative initiative in the history of Charlotte.” Atrium released that quote from McColl, who presumably knows a thing or two about transformative Charlotte events.

The main upside would be what an academic medical center could do to transform Charlotte’s economy and beef up our street cred as a research center. Charlotte is rightly known as a finance center, and more recently we’ve been attracting more tech jobs — particularly in financial technology, or fintech. Although some companies are doing research in University City, Charlotte lags behind peer cities in research jobs. How many Charlotte scientists do you personally know?

No respect on Google: Interestingly, when you Google “Raleigh scientist,” the first result is a biography of explorer Sir Walter Raleigh followed by links to jobs in machine learning and pharmaceuticals. Google “Charlotte scientist” and the first result is a link to a children’s book on Amazon called “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished” about a cartoon rabbit who wants to use the scientific method but is stymied by her many brothers and sisters.

Paging Dr. McDreamy: The Atrium-Wake Forest Baptist merger, announced Friday, could lead to more young doctors around town. It might also mean more healthcare startups and medical research.

In announcing the completed merger with Wake Forest Baptist, Atrium CEO Gene Woods said Friday he hopes the combination will become “a catalyst for health innovation and economic development”:

The new Atrium Health is uniquely positioned to create a Silicon Valley for healthcare innovation. Spanning from Winston-Salem to Charlotte, physicians, inventors, scientists and visionaries will be able to collaborate on new technologies, techniques and treatments that make lives better in North Carolina, in Georgia, throughout the Southeast and the nation.

We will attract a broad range of investors, including Fortune 100 companies, to our innovation center. … Our collective vision is that we will become the desired destination hub for healthcare companies and entrepreneurs around the globe.

How it would work

A med school could add high-paying research jobs, over time. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually people who are doing academic medical work here would license technology or spin off companies.

“Clearly, having a medical school here would shift the balance a little bit in terms of the types of individuals in Charlotte,” says Greg Brown of Cardinal Finance, who has been a venture investor and is active in Charlotte’s startup scene. “As important as the research and the building going on here is just the different voices and mindsets and profiles it brings into our community. It makes us a little less homogenous in terms of our makeup and our financial-services orientation.”

He told The Ledger a medical school could lead to more early-stage medical tech companies here — companies that build medical devices, discover new drugs, create new diagnostic technologies and associated medical tech firms.

By the numbers: The Charlotte region has more than 60 biotech- or bioscience-related R&D centers, manufacturing companies, testing labs and support services, the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance says. Many are in the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. Healthcare manufacturing, R&D and biopharmaceuticals account for about 7,600 jobs in the region. The Raleigh-Durham area has about five times as many biotech and related companies as the Charlotte region does, according to the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

Growth in that sector and related medical fields would help diversify Charlotte’s economy, Brown says: “A few more builders and a few less spreadsheet jockeys would be good.”

New strategy needed? Brown also said a new med school might require a refreshed economic development strategy for Charlotte. The city has done a great job attracting new corporate HQs. But it might need to change focus and try to attract more R&D facilities — which might be fewer overall jobs but help build Charlotte into more of a research hub.

But where will it go?

Atrium and Wake execs were mostly in celebration mode at a news conference on Friday. They released few specifics about the actual Charlotte portion of the combined medical school. The company didn’t say where it would be, when it might open or how many students it would have.

Everyone in town assumes the med school will be at or near Atrium’s Carolinas Medical Center site, which Atrium is starting to expand following a rezoning this summer. That rezoning gave Atrium flexibility to build a medical school and dorms on most of its 70-acre CMC site, though those cannot be built on the land Atrium owns that’s closest to East Boulevard, where there are nearby single-family houses.

Atrium, though, hasn’t actually said where the med school will be. We’re told Atrium had been scouting possible sites in the University City area, which would have the advantages of being close to other research and perhaps cheaper land. But the focus seems to have shifted back to the CMC site or Midtown.

Higher prices ahead?

The partnership between Atrium and Wake continues the trend toward hospital consolidations. Also last week, Atrium rival Novant Health received a key approval to buy a hospital system in Wilmington.

Mergers often lead to questions about increased costs for consumers. The Observer quoted a Duke law professor saying patients “can expect higher prices and expect higher insurance premiums” as a result of the Atrium merger.

And state Treasurer Dale Folwell told the Winston-Salem Journal that the Atrium merger is “about higher reimbursements and profits.” He added:

Evidence will show that at the end of the day, possibly politicians and a separately a handful of people will personally make millions off this transaction, while the quality of health care from the world-renowned Baptist Hospital will decrease and prices will go up.

Many of the studies showing higher hospital prices, though, examine reduced consumer choice within a single market, as opposed to mergers between hospital systems serving different markets.

Related Ledger articles:

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Parents: Check N.C. tax return to ensure you get your coronavirus money

Parents in North Carolina might want to check their state tax returns this week to make sure they’ll get a $335 payment from the state.

The N.C. Department of Revenue warns that a quirk in third-party tax software might prevent parents from receiving a coronavirus relief payment approved last month.

Here’s what to do: If you are the parent of one or more kids age 16 or younger, check your N.C. state tax return, form D-400, line 10a (“Enter the number of qualifying children for whom you were allowed a federal child tax credit”). If it says “0” instead of the number of qualifying children you have, you need to file an amended return by Thursday (Oct. 15) in order to get your money.

The money is expected to be sent out by Dec. 15.

More information: Here’s the notice from the state revenue department. —Michelle Crouch


An article in Friday’s newsletter about Sonic Automotive CEO David Smith erroneously described the composition of the company’s board of directors. It is not an all-male board. The company appointed Keri Kaiser to the board in August. The board has 10 men and one woman. The Ledger apologizes for the error.

In brief:

  • In memoriam: The founder of the Charlotte anti-violence group Mothers of Murdered Offspring, Judy Williams, died Saturday after battling lung cancer. She started the group in 1993. She told WFAE last year that she wanted to be remembered as “part of the solution”: “Charlotte is my hometown. I want people to know that this is still a good city. Yeah, we’ve gotten some bad elements in it, and people have made some bad decisions, but overall Charlotte is a wonderful place.” (WFAE, Agenda)

  • Wifi needs now met, CMS says: Heading into the ninth week of school, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools says all students should now be able to connect to the internet for remote learning. About 8,200 hotspots have been distributed using state and private money. CMS had earlier said 16,000 students were unable to connect to the internet, but Sonja Gantt, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Foundation, says that higher figure was only a projection based on census and research data plus estimates from schools. (WFAE)

  • New flights: Southwest Airlines is adding daily flights from Charlotte to Denver and Phoenix. (Biz Journal)

  • Paid to vote: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Truist and PNC Bank are among more than 700 employers who plan to give workers up to three hours of paid time off to vote. (WFAE)

  • Railroaded: Mecklenburg County commissioners voted last week to spend $60,000 for 0.16 acres of land with a tax value of $2,475 that’s needed for a greenway project in Seversville. The land is owned by CSX railroad, which means that county might not be able to use eminent domain to get the land at a lower price. Commissioner Pat Cotham said the railroad, which had initially sought $75,000 for the land, was “greedy” and that “they were there to rob us.” Developers frequently complain about trying to work with railroads, which have a lot of legal rights and protections. (WSOC)

  • Housing development in doubt: A plan to build affordable housing near South End appears to be in jeopardy, with the developer of New Brookhill failing to be recommended for city and private funds needed to move forward with the project. The plan by Lookout Ventures had called for 324 apartments in Brookhill Village, at South Tryon Street and Remount Road. (Biz Journal, Agenda, Observer)

  • Restaurant closure: Ilios Noche is closing its Quail Corners location on Park Road. The Mediterranean restaurant opened eight years ago. Its other locations remain open. (CharlotteFive)

  • Eastland land buy: The city of Charlotte plans to spend up to $2.9M to buy an 8-acre parcel of land on the Albemarle Road side of the old Eastland Mall. The city’s meeting agenda tonight says the parcel is “a key component of the city’s vision of the Eastland Mall redevelopment to create a more transformative and catalytic redevelopment.”

  • Party time in Cornelius: The latest nightlife video that could prompt outrage over not taking Covid seriously was posted to Reddit over the weekend. It shows an older crowd with no masks packed into a bar and dancing cheek to cheek as a cover band played Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” A chalkboard in the background indicates the video was shot at Bin 110. A commenter on Reddit said the video showed a “bunch of stupid-ass boomers” while another described Bin 110 as a “hunting ground for Lake Norman cougars.” (Reddit)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith