Honoring health care heroes as reform debate still swirls

The Daily Record hosted its annual Health Care Heroes awards breakfast Wednesday morning at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore. It was a great event, and I’m not just saying that because The Daily Record pays my mortgage.

It’s a pleasure talking with the doctors, nurses, public health officials and other professionals working on the front lines in an industry so central to the state’s economy and so critical to the nation’s prosperity. Their commitment to their craft is inspiring.

I encourage you to check out the publication when it hits the streets and our website Friday.

That the event was held on the same day as the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the landmark health care reform legislation into law wasn’t lost on me, or others in attendance.

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Last call at Michael’s Pub

Another blow has been dealt to Columbia’s village center concept with the closing of Michael’s Pub.

Last call is Tuesday.

Since opening in 1986, Michael’s Pub has carved out a reputation as something of an anomaly in suburbia: a neighborhood bar. I’ve seen this firsthand, having lived in Columbia’s King’s Contrivance village — where Michael’s is located — for more than 10 years. The close proximity to the bar’s cold beer and buffalo wings has served me well, though my waistline might beg to differ.

As first reported by Patch and then the Columbia Flier, owner Shane Curtis said he is closing his doors due to financial strain.

About two dozen employees will lose their jobs at a place regulars describe as similar to “Cheers,” the fictitious TV bar where everybody knows your name.

Michael’s Pub will become a business cautionary tale, about government regulation, ill-timed expansion, the Great Recession and any other factors that may have led to its demise.

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Top 5: Where to store spent nuclear fuel?

The $1.8 billion East Baltimore development was back in the news, and the latest story by Melody Simmons on the massive project was the most-viewed story this week by The Daily Record’s business staff. Other popular stories included a Bethesda bottled tea company agreeing to be acquired by an industry giant, and an account of a little-known federal fund for spent nuclear fuel and how that impacts Constellation Energy’s bottom line.

1. E. Baltimore partnership barred from doing business in Md. – by Melody Simmons

Baltimore City Circuit Court records show that four of the seven members of the Presidential Partners-New East Baltimore Partnership LLC — Ronald H. Lipscomb, Dean S. Harrison, Owen M. Tonkins III and Brian D. Morris — owe a total of $809,582.68 in state and federal taxes.

2. Coca-Cola swallows Honest Tea – by Paul Samuel

The Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta has exercised its option to acquire the remaining portion of Bethesda-based Honest Tea Inc., an organic bottled tea company. Coca-Cola bought a 40 percent stake in Honest Tea in 2008 for $43 million. The companies did not disclose how much Coca-Cola paid to acquire the rest of the Bethesda company.

3. Country-themed bar, Baltimore Comedy Factory coming to Power Plant Live! – by Rachel Bernstein

PBR Baltimore will open Friday with an outdoor deck, two 150-foot long bars, as well as fireplaces and a dance floor. It will be the third Professional Bull Riders Inc. location, taking up 10,000 square feet. The first spot opened in Kansas City, Mo., in 2009, and the second in Las Vegas.

4. $24B fund for spent nuclear fuel repository unused since ’82 – by Ben Mook

When the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 was enacted, the U.S. Department of Energy began collecting money to create a central repository to store used fuel rods starting in 1998 — at the latest. The Nuclear Waste Fund now has more than $24 billion, but not a single spent fuel rod has been picked up and a central repository is only a possibility.

5. ShopRite grocery store project in Howard Park moving forward – by Rachel Bernstein

The BDC is proposing a land-disposition agreement with ShopRite of Liberty Heights Real Estate LLC for the development of a 67,659-square-foot store. The store will include produce, meats, a bakery, a pharmacy and 278 parking spaces. The project is expected to cost $13.5 million.

John Ferber talks ‘crowdfunding’

If you’ve been wondering what Advertising.com co-founder John Ferber has been up to down in Florida, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has Web video featuring one of Ferber’s projects, Microgiving.com.

Ferber describes it as a “crowdfunding platform” that enables anyone to raise money via the Web. The Milagro Center, a Delray Beach, Fla., education center for at-risk youth, is using the platform to raise money for programs.

“In the last few years the concept has really exploded and taken off,” Ferber says of crowdfunding in the video, which you can see by clicking here.

The online marketing wunderkind and his brother, Scott Ferber, sold Advertising.com to AOL in 2004 for $435 million in cash.

Microgiving.com is one of a number of Web ventures Ferber — now a Palm Beach County resident — has launched under the Vandelay Industries corporate umbrella (check your “Seinfeld” trivia for more on the name).

Signal problems

Responding to a rising chorus of complaints about rush-hour crowding and service breakdowns on the MARC Penn Line, the Maryland Transit Administration unveiled a plan to group the trains into six- and seven-car sets — compared with six, eight or nine cars — and run them more often.

The result would be about 1,000 additional seats per rush hour, MTA officials said. And given the negative fallout from the “hell train” incident last summer — when a Penn Line train broke down en route to Baltimore, trapping about 1,200 passengers aboard MARC 538 as temperatures approached 90 degrees — you could see where the MTA would be anxious to get the word out.

An e-mail hit my inbox Monday at 9:41 a.m. about a “significant Penn Line schedule change” effective March 14, pending approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works. At 10:09 a.m., I got another e-mail — this one about the MTA website “operating very slowly or not responding at all” thanks to heavy traffic to the site sparked by the Penn Line announcement.

Sure enough, #marcfail tweets filled Twitter in short order. “#MARCfail = not making prior arrangement for extra server capacity for the @MTAmaryland website prior to a major schedule change email,” wrote @insidecharmcity, a persistent MARC critic.

A tweet by @mtamaryland at 10:16 a.m. informed followers — and @insidecharmcity specifically — that the site was back up and running.

Sometimes the Maryland Transit Administration must feel like it can’t catch a break.

Online advertising’s past, present and future?

AOL was all over the news Monday for its $315 million purchase of the Huffington Post, a move analysts are calling a bold bet on CEO Tim Armstrong’s strategy to transform the dial-up Internet giant into a Web 2.0 (or are we in 3.0?) content king.

More interesting to me is this report in Ad Age Sunday about AOL subsidiary Advertising.com. The Baltimore online advertising company — a cornerstone of the region’s high-tech economy coming out of the Internet bust of 2000 — is said to be in “rapid decline.”

Revenue was down 43 percent in the fourth quarter, Ad Age reported. The decline was attributed by analysts to shifts in the online advertising industry, away from buying and selling ads via an ad network to doing this with an ad exchange.

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‘Too Big To Fail?’ on WBAL

Daily Record Reporter Melody Simmons was on WBAL Radio Monday morning talking about Part 1 of the five-part series running this week on the massive East Baltimore redevelopment, called “Too Big To Fail? Betting A Billion on East Baltimore.”

Simmons and Joan Jacobson spent five months investigating the project, known as “America’s new model for urban development.” They found that the project is lagging far behind its timetable in their work conducting the first comprehensive public examination of its finances, leadership and accountability.

Click the link below to hear Melody talk about the first day’s installment as well as give a preview of what you can expect to see the rest of the week.

If the Flash audio player above does not work, click below to listen to the mp3

Melody Simmons on WBAL Radio (mp3)

Top 5: Apologies, expectations and avoiding the electric chair

Last week’s list of the five most-read business stories by Daily Record staffers was topped by the latest twist in the Cafe Hon contretemps. Also cracking the list was a local reverberation of the auto industry’s troubles in Detroit, and the latest push to get Maryland’s horse racing industry on the right track.

1. Cafe Hon’s Whiting apologizes for ‘hon’ trademark controversy
Denise Whiting did not apologize for getting a trademark on the word “hon,” and did not say she planned to drop the legal protection she has on the well-known Baltimore term of endearment, Ben Mook reported. Instead, she said she was sorry for comments she made to the media that led to confusion that the trademark would limit people’s right to use the term in conversation.

2. Baltimore Travel Plaza bus terminal could become conference center
After years of declining business despite its proximity to Interstate 95, the multi-bay bus terminal at the Baltimore Travel Plaza will close for good, according to the story by Melody Simmons.

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Feeling under the weather? Please stay home

A survey released Wednesday by CareerBuilder finds that 72 percent of workers — nearly three out of four on an organization’s payroll — go to work when they’re sick.

More than half of those surveyed — 55 percent — said they feel guilty when they call in sick.

Workplace pressures and something called “presenteeism” were cited as factors motivating those suffering the effects of the cold and flu season to come on in to work anyway. Not surprising, perhaps, given the state of the economy the past two years and the tenuous grip people feel they have on their careers.

I’m as qualified as anyone here in The Daily Record’s newsroom to blog about CareerBuilder’s findings because I was out the last two days with the flu. There’s nothing like 36 hours in bed to catch up on sleep and TV.

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Score one for Under Armour in BCS title game

Under Armour defeated Nike in the BCS title game Monday night.

That’s one storyline playing out since Auburn University vanquished the University of Oregon, 22-19, for the NCAA college football championship.

To locals, the backstory is pretty well known, but many sports fans nationally may not have been aware of Baltimore-based Under Armour’s rivalry with athletic shoe and apparel giant Nike.

I started covering Under Armour a bit in 2005, right around the time the company was thinking of going public (they executed a well-received IPO that November, raising about $120 million). No one at Under Armour at that time would speak on the record of any rivalry with the Swoosh — because the company was on an SEC-mandated quiet period, and by that point many of Under Armour’s top executives, including CEO Kevin Plank, were no longer making themselves very accessible to the local business media.

But, in conversations at the time with industry analysts and market watchers, it seemed to be all anyone could talk about. I remember one local attorney, over lunch in Fells Point, remarking that, IPO or no, he expected one day soon to see “the Nike Death Star” hovering over Under Armour’s Tide Point campus, ready to buy the upstart.

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