December 21, 2014
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Family Dining

Western Rib-Eye & Ribs provides a familiar dining environment for locals and newcomers
David Nix, left, and his brother, Dan Nix, are owners of the newly remodeled Western Rib-Eye & Ribs.

It’s safe to say that Western Rib-Eye & Ribs takes care of its customers like it does its employees. It should — most of them are related. The builders and former owners, Harold and Carolyn Nix, are husband and wife. The current owners are their sons, David and Dan Nix. Two of the servers, Linda Miller and Shannon Whitledge, are sisters. Linda Miller’s husband, Gerald, is the bartender, and most of these employees have had children, nephews, and nieces work at the restaurant.

“The Nixes are such wonderful people to work for. We are like a close family,” says Linda Miller, 59, who has worked for the Nixes since 1986.

Being a family owned business makes the dining experience more personal for our customers and employees, says 58-year-old Dan Nix, co-owner of Western Rib-Eye & Ribs, located at 1401 N. Boeke Road. He says because a lot of customers have been eating at Western Rib-Eye for years, they feel like family.

The restaurant’s sense of togetherness began with Dan and David’s parents, Harold and Carolyn Nix. They taught their sons the importance of the restaurant business and passed on a lot of experience and knowledge.

“We learned a lot from mom and dad and although they are out of the business, they are still vital and included in a lot of decisions,” says Dan.

In their fourth decade of restaurant management, the Nix family has seen the restaurant business change in many ways over the years. Dan agrees that in order to adapt, they have to change with it. Because the family has experienced so much in the restaurant industry, they are able to bounce ideas off of one another, Dan says. “At the end of the day, we can look at all the angles, analyze, and decide what the best way is to go.”

Western Rib-Eye & Ribs opened in 1975 with three menu items: ribeye, filet, and lobster, all paired with a baked potato and a trip to the create-your-own salad bar.

“We didn’t even have a deep fryer in the building when we first opened. We couldn’t fry a French fry,” co-owner David remembers.
The Nixes were proud to offer the second restaurant salad bar in the city of Evansville (Andy’s Steak and Barrel, now closed, but in business on U.S.-41 since the 1970s, had the first).

“The salad bar is very signature to us. I always tell people that if we take away the salad bar, you have to take away fried chicken from Colonel Sanders,” jokes David.

Western Rib-Eye prides itself on the freshness of their ingredients as customers load their salads with vegetable toppings. David, 55, says they chop their ingredients so they’re fresh and ready to eat. When comparing fresh vegetables to precut, he says if they are precut, restaurant cooks can’t be sure when they were cut, therefore, they don’t know how long they will last. “It takes away from the freshness. What we cut today is still good tomorrow. Thirty-eight years of experience helps us know how much to do and how much not to do,” adds David.

Since its doors opened on Sept. 3, 1975, Western Rib-Eye & Ribs has upgraded its original menu items to include several types of steaks, fish, chicken, and ribs. David says they added items based on what the industry was doing at the time.

“Some groups might have one person who doesn’t eat meat so we knew we needed to make sure we accommodate anyone and everyone who might walk in,” he says.

Harold and Carolyn Nix have been in the restaurant business for years, even before they built Western Rib-Eye & Ribs. Five years before Western Rib-Eye was built, the Nixes bought Bockelman’s Restaurant, formerly located on Evansville’s West Side. While running that restaurant, the Nixes took on a second business and built Western Rib-Eye & Ribs on North Boeke Road on the East Side. While David Nix ran Western Rib-Eye and Dan Nix took over operations at Bockelman’s, their parents opened up another restaurant, Jacob’s Pub, in the North Park Shopping Complex.

“They all were successful and had great menu items. Bockelman’s was mostly country food — fried chicken, grilled tenderloins, and brain sandwiches were our specialties,” says David. “And Jacob’s Pub was part bar food, part entrees, and sandwiches. We had a bar where we did karaoke on the weekends.”

In 1995, David, Dan, and Harold all made a decision to sell Bockelman’s Restaurant in order to focus their attention on the other two. David says managing all three restaurants simultaneously was a lot of work.

“When you are operating a business, it’s really easy for things to slip away. If you aren’t paying attention to your food and labor prices, before you know it, the food is getting more expensive. There are so many things that take away from the dollar that you get from the customer,” says David.

The Nixes constantly look at what they are purchasing to ensure the best product is delivered to their customers, David says. “It starts and ends with the customer. I have taken things off the menu that I liked because it wasn’t selling. It’s not about me, it’s about my customers,” he says.

By October 2007, the Nixes also sold Jacob’s Pub, then turned around four months later and bought the three local Pizza King restaurants, with locations on the West Side, the East Side, and one in Newburgh.

“Pizza King has been a long standing family operated business in this community just like we are, so not only were we glad to purchase it, but the previous owner was glad a local restaurant owner was taking over,” says David.

Although it’s common for local business owners to support each other, support from the public, specifically new patrons and travelers, is more difficult than it seems.

“When I travel, I ask the person at the hotel where I can find a good, older local restaurant because that’s where I want to go. When other people travel, they go to the obvious places in the high retail areas,” says David.

Regardless of how new customer traffic is affecting local business owners today, Dan is hopeful for what Evansville has in store for their future. He believes Evansville is pushing toward patronizing the independents and recognizing them for giving the community “more than the cookie cutter chains.”

Western Rib-Eye & Ribs recently celebrated the completion of a new exterior makeover, as well as a new logo. The Nix brothers held a ribbon-cutting in mid-January where Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana, talked about the importance of local business.

For more information on Western Rib-Eye & Ribs’ restaurant hours, reservations, or menu items, call 812-476-5405 or visit westernribeye.com.

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A Timely Transition

Jim Butterfield is at the helm of Evansville Surgical Associates after the passing of longtime mentor and friend, Bill Hammonds
In 2013, Jim Butterfield sold his family’s business of Smith and Butterfield to become CEO of Evansville Surgical Associates.

“Being a Butterfield growing up, I always had the expectation I would join the family business.” The family business Jim Butterfield, 57, speaks of is Smith and Butterfield, a local Evansville office furniture and supplies store. After graduating from Evansville Day School, Butterfield, who had grown up in the same East Side Evansville home his entire life, moved to DeLand, Fla., to attend Stetson University in 1975.

In 1979, Butterfield graduated from Stetson and knew he soon would be returning to Evansville to learn the family trade. However, both he and his father decided it would be best if Butterfield gained some experience with a different company first. So, immediately after graduating, Butterfield remained in Florida to join Kmart as part of its Management Training Program, where he gained experience in retail, management, and work ethic.

Butterfield returned home in 1981 to continue his apprenticeship at Smith and Butterfield to begin preparing to take over the family business. He began in the warehouse, then moved to the Downtown store, then managed the retail store on Lynch Road. After six years of learning the ins-and-outs of Smith and Butterfield, he took over most of the responsibilities as President from Earl Seibert, who had been running the business for the Butterfield family in the interim between Jim and his father. Then, nearly a decade later, in 1996 Champion Industries, Inc., made Butterfield an offer he couldn’t turn down and he sold the family business to the Huntington, W. Va., based supplier of print solutions. Champion recognized the success of Smith and Butterfield and left the name and its management intact. The only major change was a shift to commercial stationery and printing, though office furniture and supplies still played a vital role.

Butterfield continued as president for another 16 years under Champion. “We had a great working relationship,” Butterfield says. It wasn’t until 2012, coming out of the difficulties of the 2008 financial crisis, that Butterfield started to feel “a little bit disenfranchised with what was going on.” It was at this exact time that an old friend of Butterfield’s, Bill Hammonds, was looking for his successor as CEO of Evansville Surgical Associates. “I wasn’t looking to leave Smith and Butterfield,” Butterfield says. “But because we were friends, I listened. He was very passionate about the doctors and the staff.”

After more than three decades at Smith and Butterfield, the chance to try his hand at something new was certainly tempting. “I’d been at Smith and Butterfield for 31 years. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing as much as I do here at Evansville Surgical Associates. It came naturally,” notes Butterfield. “As a man of faith, God was taking me down a path. If I was ever going to leave Smith and Butterfield, this was going to be that path.”

Butterfield and Hammonds met in the 1980s as neighbors when Butterfield had moved back to Evansville. Their friendship was forged over the years as they started going to lunch periodically, alternating who chose where to eat and who paid. “We talked about life, business, our relationships, everything,” Butterfield explains. Eventually, they began picking places to eat where they thought the other wouldn’t set foot in. Butterfield says they’ve eaten just about everywhere in the Evansville area, since it was a new place every time.

So, when Hammonds was diagnosed with terminal cancer and tasked himself with finding his replacement, Butterfield instantly came to mind. Their friendship, his familiarity with Evansville, and its hospitals — Deaconess and St. Mary’s had been two of Smith and Butterfield’s biggest clients — and his experience in management made Butterfield a very attractive candidate. After a series of interviews, Butterfield was tabbed as the new CEO of Evansville Surgical Associates. One of the biggest challenges Butterfield faced in acclimating himself to this new profession was the medical terminology. With no prior medical knowledge, Butterfield knew he faced a “learning curve that I had to take on.” Butterfield, as well as the rest of Evansville Surgical Associates, had to deal with the emotions of Bill Hammond’s passing, on Jan. 5, 2013, just a few days after Butterfield had taken over as CEO. “I lost my mentor. I lost a good friend and Evansville Surgical Associates lost a good executive. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone,” Butterfield notes.

Overseeing 20 physicians and 90 employees, Butterfield is responsible for the hiring of new doctors, handling most of the relationships contractually between Deaconess and St. Mary’s, expanding the presence of Evansville Surgical Associates in the Tri-State area, and the financial stability of Evansville Surgical Associates among other things. A major part of his job recently has been concerned with the change from ICD-9 to ICD-10. ICD-10 is the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a medical classification list by The World Health Organization. Butterfield has overseen training of the new code system for doctors and staff. As Butterfield is quick to note, his transition to the medical field hasn’t always been the easiest: “I found myself asking a lot of questions in the first six months. I still ask a lot of questions.” However, he also is equally quick to credit the people around him for his success to date. “The staff has been an incredible support to me,” he says. “The doctors, also.”

Butterfield says he is quite happy with his career change and new position. Though it pained him to leave his family’s business, he pointed out this was softened by selling ownership years before and also that, “I didn’t really want my three children involved. Office supplies had become a difficult business.” Meanwhile, at the age of 57, Butterfield has found a renewed energy. “I’ve really enjoyed my time at Evansville Surgical Associates,” he adds. “It’s been an invigoration to my career.”

For more information on Evansville Surgical Associates, visit evansvillesurgical.com.

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Current on Currency

Bitcoins are new monetary alternative

You can’t see them, fold them, drop them in a piggy bank, or even plunk them down on the store counter. Yet Bitcoins (at Bitcoin.com) are the real thing. They were created in 2009 as a way to eliminate credit card fees and bank fees, lower the risk of identity theft, make quicker transactions, and reduce the hassles of converting foreign currency when making international purchases. Users remain anonymous but still make person-to-person transactions over the Internet without the cost of a middleman.

Bitcoin is not the first virtual currency, but it has the most traction. The website GTSpirit reported in December 2013 that a car dealership in Newport Beach, Calif., sold the first 2014 Lamborghini Gallardo to someone in Missouri for 216.8 Bitcoins, worth $209,995 at the time. Overstock.com announced in December 2013 that it plans to start accepting Bitcoins as payment in June 2014, becoming the largest retailer to accept the currency.

Purchasing Bitcoins is like buying stock or gold because the marketplace sets the price. Much like buying shares of a mutual fund, you go to sites such as BitPay, Coinbase, or Mt. Gox to buy Bitcoins. At Coinbase.com, for example, there’s a three-step process to purchasing Bitcoins: (1) sign up for an account, giving you a secure place to store your Bitcoins; (2) connect to your bank account in order to both buy and sell; (3) purchase Bitcoins by allowing Coinbase to debit your bank account. You’ll see the current dollar price for Bitcoins before you buy. Once purchased, Bitcoins are stored in your digital wallet, similar to online banking, but there are no further accounts to set up, no email addresses, passwords, or usernames. Instead, Bitcoin owners must have “public keys” and “private keys.” The private key is used by the owner to complete a transaction, and is kept secret. Otherwise, someone could take your Bitcoins. The public key shows the entire Bitcoin world that a transaction has taken place, preventing anyone from using the same Bitcoins multiple times.

You can simply buy and sell existing Bitcoins, as the example at Coinbase.com shows. Or, as some computer experts have done, you can download an application called a Bitcoin Miner and attempt to generate Bitcoins yourself. The process involves a slow, complex mathematical calculation that tallies up and certifies all Bitcoin transactions around the world. If your computer solves the puzzle before anyone else, you earn about 25 Bitcoins as payment. But the payoff doesn’t occur often.  Bitcoins are “mined” at a limited rate so that the value won’t be lowered by swamping the market with too many of them.
Here is a brief explanation of how a Bitcoin transaction works: Jane wants to buy computers for her business, and Joe has a computer sales business that accepts Bitcoins. Jane asks for Joe’s public key information. Jane agrees on the purchase price and now is able to send a transaction message to Joe, who accepts it. Jane finalizes the deal with her private key, which transfers Bitcoins to Joe. Bitcoin software then uses Jane’s public key to broadcast a transaction for all in the Bitcoin network to see. While the public key provides transparency, it does not reveal the name of the owner.

According to Forbes, one Bitcoin was worth as little as $2 in 2011. Many changes have occurred since then. CNN reported that a Bitcoin was priced at more than $1,000 in November 2013. Also in November, the U.S. Justice Department declared Bitcoins as a “legal means of exchange.” By late December, their value had tumbled more than 20 percent after The People’s Bank of China said China would not accept virtual currency because of risks to buyers and sellers. In addition to using Bitcoins wherever other people or merchants accept them, you also can turn them into dollars, euros, and yen, but obviously not into Chinese yuan.

As futuristic as Bitcoins sound, they already have caught the attention of the U.S. Senate and Federal Reserve. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke wrote in a letter last fall to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that virtual currencies “… may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system.”

Let’s go back to that word “faster” for a minute. Faster transactions can be harder to track, and in Bitcoin’s case, there is no Securities and Exchange Commission or Federal Trade Commission to regulate users. That’s why Bitcoin looks like a money launderer’s dream, and that’s why the Senate held hearings last fall to learn more about virtual currencies so they can keep up with drug dealers, gunrunners, and potential terrorists. In October, federal prosecutors indicted Ross William Ulbricht in San Francisco. They say he is the founder of Silk Road, a website that allows users to buy and sell illegal drugs. The Silk Road website made its transactions using Bitcoins, which prosecutors say provided Silk Road’s suppliers and customers with a cover from detection.

Finding someone in the Evansville area who has dealt directly with Bitcoin is difficult, but that’s not surprising. After all, the currency is designed to be used directly between anonymous individuals, or individuals and merchants. A list of retailers at SpendBitcoins.com shows more than 100 businesses that accept bitcoins, from Stomp Romp Guitars in New Hampshire to ASAP Stuff in Australia. But you won’t find McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or any other well-known business on the list. The two largest local banks, Old National and Fifth Third, say no one on their staff deals with virtual currencies. Professors of finance at the University of Evansville and University of Southern Indiana say they understand how virtual currency works but admit they haven’t seen it in action.

“I believe traditional merchant account services such as those provided by Fifth Third will not offer such services (for Bitcoin users) for the lack of legal guidelines, taxes, etc.,” says Khaled Elkhal, associate professor of finance at USI.

Like the currency itself, the identity of Bitcoin’s inventor remains both intriguing and shadowy. The creator of the original software is listed as Satoshi Nakamoto, whom no one has ever seen. Many believe “he” actually is a group of computer programmers who formed the enterprise and now own about $1.1 billion in Bitcoins. The question is whether their investment will hold up, and lead to cheaper, quicker ways to purchase goods and services, or fizzle into oblivion like the $2 bill. Bitcoins already have captured the attention of the Sacramento Kings, however. The California basketball team will become the first major professional sports franchise to accept Bitcoins for its products.

For more information about Bitcoins, visit bitcoins.com.

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Ted C. Ziemer Jr.

Ted C. Ziemer Jr.

Job: Partner in Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel & Shoulders, LLP and City Attorney for the City of Evansville

Hometown: Evansville, Ind.

His Resume: Ted C. Ziemer Jr. received his undergraduate degree from St. Louis University and his law degree from Indiana University. He is a member of the Indiana Bar Association, having served on the Board of Managers and House of Delegates. Crediting his parents for his community oriented work ethic, Ziemer also is a Life Member, past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of Southwestern Indiana, and known for raising funds for philanthropic causes.

His Perspective: I love this town. I don’t know how much impact I’ve had, but I’ve enjoyed trying. If you throw out enough stuff, some of it’s going to stick, that’s what you hope for.

On his time spent in meetings:
I spend about 25 hours a week just in meetings. As City Attorney, I’m the attorney for all the boards: the Board of Public Safety, the Airport Authority, the Department of Metropolitan Development, the Evansville Redevelopment Authority, the Evansville Water & Sewer Utility, etc. It might seem like it requires a lot of patience, but it’s really interesting finding out what’s happening in the city. In the meeting you find out what needs to be done and outside the meeting, you do the real work.

On his community involvement:
I wanted to play a big role in the community probably because my mom and dad set that example while I was growing up. So after law school I knew I wanted to be involved with one of the city’s universities, so I let it be known. Forty-five years later, I have been Chairman of the University of Southern Indiana Foundation and currently am the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for USI. I witnessed the first campaign out there that raised $20 million, when the goal was $15 million. That’s a lot of money now, but 40 years ago, that was really a lot of money. I feel like over the last 45 years, I’ve really done it all out there and I feel like I’ve had lots of opportunity to help.

On family:
I can’t stress how important my family has been throughout my success. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for their support and endurance through all the highs and lows. My wife, Clare, has truly been through it all with me.

On his hobbies:
I go to the gym four times a week; I have a trainer two days and I go on my own the other two. With my artificial knee, it got difficult to run like I used to so now I get my cardio in on the elliptical machine. It also has really helped my balance. If I did fall now, I’m more able to handle it compared to if I didn’t work out at all. Maybe I’ll live longer. I love it when I can walk out of the gym in the morning and already feel like I’ve accomplished something.

On Evansville’s future:
We need to provide the infrastructure that will deliver the economic development that the city’s core needs to thrive. We’ve seen a lot of huge, profitable projects downtown, but no one thing makes it happen. All of the new and upcoming projects will come together and make something that people will want to be a part of, they will want to come to Evansville and invest in our city.

For more information about Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel & Shoulders, LLP, contact 812-424-7575 or visit zsws.com.

Issue CoverEvansvill Business February / March 2014 Issue Cover
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The Future is Now

HCW is set to break ground on Evansville’s highly anticipated Downtown hotel
HCW LLC CEO Richard E. Huffman

Nearly three years after the Executive Inn Evansville was torn down to make way for the Ford Center, Evansville is just weeks away from breaking ground on a new $71.4 million hotel complex with a 10-story, 257-room hotel, a residential tower, and conference center. HCW LLC, headquartered in Branson, Mo., will develop the project. In October, editor Kristen K. Tucker met with CEO Richard E. Huffman in the company’s corporate offices overlooking the Payne Stewart Golf Club, the No. 1 rated golf club in Missouri (by Golfweek) that also was developed by HCW.

Is HCW ready to come to Evansville?
We are ready to come to Evansville. We’re excited about it. Obviously, there is lots of work to be done, but we’re ready to get there.

Do you have a target date for groundbreaking?
We’ve been visiting with the city engineering department and staff so we are hoping to start the dirt work in late December. The actual start of concrete footings will be first of March.

We are here in your beautiful offices in Branson. Please explain how your company was formed.
Branson, Mo., is one of our three offices. I am actually from Wichita, Kan., and came over here in 1992; I had purchased a resort — Fall Creek Resort. That was our first major asset. I had not planned to move here. I had actually planned to develop the resort and resell it. We got over here and fell in love with the lakes and streams and the Midwestern people. It was a lot like Wichita, but with hills and trees. So, my wife and I — we had just had our fifth child — he was a year old when we finally moved in 1993. We opened up an office then. It was on the other side of town. Now we are on the north side, where the growth is. We have an office in Wichita with 13 or 14 people and a small office in Phoenix, Ariz., on Biltmore Circle.

How long have you been developing in Arizona?
We did our first development in Arizona in 1997 in Mesa. We built a resort. In 2005, we developed a 300-apartment unit. The last several years, during the downturn, we have been buying land from banks and what have you. Since then, we have sold most of that land. Now, we are building 300 units in Chandler, Ariz., by its beautiful mall (Chandler Fashion Center.) We have a beautiful hotel (a Residence Inn by Marriott) designed and ready to go in Tucson, Ariz., near the campus of the University of Arizona. It’s got a lot of campus activity being built into the hotel. It’s a very unique project. Very neat.

What attracted you to Evansville and our convention center hotel?
Quite honestly, I didn’t really know where Evansville was. Being from Wichita and also with Springfield, Mo., being right up the road — those are Missouri Valley Schools. So we were familiar with Evansville, but we really didn’t know where it was. I had a friend who had told me a bit about the city. We received an RFP (request for proposal) from Hunden Strategic Partners, Chicago. (Hunden Strategic Partners is a full service real estate development advisory practice specializing in destination assets hired by the City of Evansville to manage the RFP.)

When we saw the opportunity, we went to Evansville and looked at the market and looked at the Downtown and, quite honestly, we were taken aback by the Ford Center. We thought it was pretty amazing that a town the size of Evansville could have an arena like that. We met with the operators of the Ford Center and then also the county convention center (The Centre) and that was a nice facility — way under utilized. We are really big on urban development — so we thought it was a good opportunity. We decided to go ahead and submit the proposal. We were awarded the RFP in January 2013. Ever since then, we’ve been working toward today.

Tell us about the planned brand of the new Downtown hotel.
It’s a Doubletree by Hilton. We have made application and we totally expect that to be approved. Doubletree has come to Evansville early on and looked at the market. We are not sure what we will name it yet. That’s still up in the air. Doubletrees, around the country, are being branded different names. For example, in Chicago, there is The Wit. That’s a Doubletree. The Tropicana in Las Vegas is a Doubletree. It’s been totally remodeled and is a really nice property.

What is unique about the hotel?
What makes this hotel unique is its location. It will be very easy to get in and out. It is being connected by two skywalks. That’s very attractive for convention planners. The 10th floor will have a rooftop bar and restaurant with outdoor seating areas overlooking the river to the south. It will also feature outdoor fire tables. Inside, it will have a lounge feel. If you are at a convention, you can relax, visit, and do some business up on the 10th floor restaurant. It will also be a great place for people to enjoy before seeing a show or game at the Ford Center.

There is a conference part of the hotel. It is not very large, as we want to use the existing convention center for most of those activities. But, as you know, The Centre is quite large — large rooms with high ceilings; it is not really geared for small events or weddings. We opened a new conference center and hotel in Manhattan, Kan., (Manhattan Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center) which is connected there with Kansas State University and Fort Riley (a U.S. army base). The conference center had 47 weddings in the last year. We designed the conference space, like yours will be — no typical ugly chandelier hanging down. At Kansas State University, their color is purple, so when we had the grand opening, we made the conference center purple. LED lighting provides color-changing effects.

Tell us about the new technology you are incorporating.
When you look at a 5-year span in technology, a lot changes. This brings us the opportunity to bring in new technology and be a frontrunner in the industry. When meeting planners come in to interview with our sales teams, they want to know: What is unique about your place? Do you have secured Wi-Fi? Do you have the built-in televisions and wireless microphones?

In Evansville, we’ll have the opportunity to meet those standards with the conference center. It’s not a big room, about 6,000 square feet. It can hold 550 people. Our focus is mostly to steer the business into the Centre to get that facility active.

Did you ever think this hotel would not be built?
Well, when the vote changed, or when we were informed it was going to change, we had, naturally in our office here, started planning to shift employees’ focus to other areas — because we are busy and have seven active projects here. You have to face reality. We were disappointed; no doubt about it at all. We didn’t understand it, because it is such a unique opportunity. I’ve never been to a city that has a $125 million arena and a big convention center and all this Downtown business and no hotel (aside from Tropicana, which stays consistently busy with its guests). We thought, “Wow, they need a hotel. Bad.”

And the mayor, I have to give him loads of credit. He fought hard and he fought long. I received a call on that Thursday (Sept. 5) evening that the vote was going the other way (at the planned Sept. 9 Evansville City Council meeting). Then, the mayor and his staff and several local business people gathered and worked all weekend. Come Monday, they had a plan, it was presented to council, tabled, and the following week, it (the city council’s vote on the city’s $20 million investment in the project) passed 9 to nothing. It went from a losing vote to a winning vote.

Your company is contributing $40 million, the city $20 million, and a group of investors, led by Old National Bank, is contributing $11.5 million. Have you seen this type of financial structure before?
Never, ever before. Never before have we encountered this. This is a true commitment of the business leaders of the community. Quite honestly, it is disappointing to me because I truly believe it was the city’s responsibility to do this — not the private citizens. This is what government is for. There’s a TIF (tax increment financing) district Downtown; the city has a way to get paid back — these guys don’t. I think it was a little bit political. I think there were folks in the city who tried to weigh the vote with the council. That’s sad. But it does happen. At least the business community got past it and said, “Hey, we’re not going to let them defeat us.” Now you’re going to have a great facility, thanks to the community.

How is your relationship with Councilman John Friend, the city council’s finance chair who led the opposition to the original financing package for the hotel? (Friend later changed his vote and supported the public-private venture.)
I really haven’t had any interaction with John Friend except for one meeting. Some of the things he wanted or asked for were a little ridiculous. We’ve never had to do some of the stuff he asked for and we’ve done a lot of business around the U.S., and I think our record speaks for itself. We’ve been in situations before where we’ve had the city council against us. You just get past it.

In the end, you did not provide the city council with the additional financial reports they asked for.
We had provided them a report from a third party company already that was only six months old. We also provided them with a letter from our bank that showed that we had the necessary funds to pay cash for the development.

Will the HCW planned development benefit the whole community? Will it benefit other hotels?
Absolutely, it’s happened in every community we’ve worked in. There are lots and lots and lots of examples around the country. We have select service hotels in other cities and know (a conference center hotel) is a good thing. Not all guests will pay our rates. Some want to stay in a select service hotel for price or affinity programs. Or, we bring in 1,000 people to a conference and we only have 250 rooms. Where are they going to go? Other hotels. We operate two conference center hotels (in Manhattan, Kan., and the Hilton-Branson Convention Center Hotel). With both of those, we are constantly sending overflow to other hotels.

How will you market the hotel and conference center? Will you work with the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau?
It takes a couple of years to market conferences. Hopefully we’ll announce a sales staff this winter. (Pillar Hotels and Resorts, based in suburban Dallas, has been selected to manage the hotel. Pillar manages more than 200 hotels in 35 states, including in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.) We’ll have a sales staff of four to six full-time people who will sell the property. The CVB is a huge help, but this is a for-profit venture, and we’re going to look for groups that can pay a little bit more.

Heads in beds bring nice amenities to communities. Do you agree?
Prior to the convention center in Branson, that business was not coming to Branson. While the gross revenue for the two HCW hotels here is $20 million just at the hotels, we know each customer spends a few hundred dollars more while they are staying here and in the other hotels. We don’t know what that number is, but it’s been great for the other hotels. It’s been great for this town. (The Hilton-Branson Convention Hotel has 291 rooms; across the street, the Hilton Promenade boutique hotel has 193 rooms.)

Tell us about the residences Evansville’s project includes.
We are planning 78 units going in — all are what we call A-plus in quality and style. The tower is 10 stories tall, with very chic interiors, great views — on half the building of the Ohio River. Residents have the privilege of using the hotel exercise area. You’re staying in your apartment and you’re having guests over; you can call down to the restaurant and have them deliver right to your own residence a bottle of wine, a cheese tray, oysters on the half shell. Take a swim in the pool in the evening, exercise in the state-of-the-art facility, and maybe finish it off by having late night cocktails in the club. That’s pretty nice living.

What image have you formed of Evansville?
I guess I’ve been pretty surprised. The first time I went to Evansville, I flew in. I came through some areas that were old. My first thought was, what’s the city about? Obviously, by making a large investment in the community, we went out and drove neighborhoods. We wanted to see who lives here. Then we had a really nice group of business folks who flew to Branson. After meeting some of your business leaders of very large corporations and listening to them and spending quite a bit of time with the mayor, our attitudes changed a lot about Evansville. We thought there’s a lot of opportunity in this town. Plenty of people who will enjoy the type of services we bring. Is the market deep? No, it’s not real deep but it’s sure darn well deep enough for 400 or 500 nice units Downtown.

Who will live in the residences?
I just attended a conference at the Arizona Biltmore. This economist told us that in the next 10 years, 17 percent of rural America will move to our cities, and cities better get their infrastructure in good order. It’s obvious the younger group is concerned about sustainability; their time is not to be spent commuting; their leisure time is more important to them; they want to have things taken care of for them. They are very high tech, obviously. Those are the types of clients we think we’ll see in Downtown Evansville.

Through some of the meetings we’ve gone to, we’ve had numerous business owners say they want to rent one of the apartments Downtown. I’ll say, “So you’re moving Downtown?” They’ll say, “No, we’d just like to have a place Downtown, where we can go when we have events Downtown, and put up our friends when they come to town.” Some of these people have asked me if they can be built bigger, as these are not large units.

Our plans for them are complete, but I have a feeling the insides will change a bit based on consumer demand. And you have to pay attention to that. We want to pay attention to that. Maybe it won’t end up being 78 units, but 68 units. But the size of the building will be the same. And of course, the possibility for a medical school (Indiana University Medical School-Evansville expansion) being Downtown and possibly next door would be phenomenal as that just opens the market for more housing for the students and faculty.

What do you enjoy doing in Evansville?
My wife, Sue, has not yet been to Evansville. We were just speaking of that. We have five children and have been married 31 years and are empty nesters. We do have a home in Phoenix where we do spend our winters. We have an office there; it works out great for me. But she’s been asking me, “When are you taking me to Evansville?”

So far, it’s been late nights, until 11 or 12, early mornings, and back and forth drives. I’m looking forward to spending two or three days there. I’m looking forward to spending time in the casino; I’ve only walked through to go to dinner.

When will we cut the ribbon and see the first guests staying the night?
It’s 525 days from when we start construction. To be fair, our construction schedule will be late February or early March for construction start. More than 90 percent of our projects have hit their completion dates. The guys have been able to work to make up days. Grand openings are my favorite day. We throw good parties. That’s the favorite day of all of our projects. That and the day they cash flow.

How many permanent jobs are you forecasting?
One per room — that’s how we figure it. That’s not my expertise, more of Robert Allen’s. (Robert J. Allen is vice president of operations.) I build them; he runs them.

Do you have a picture in your mind of what the Downtown looks like after the hotel and apartments have been open?
It will add nightlife. The one thing I’ve seen: if there’s not a concert or game going on, the Downtown is quiet. I think we’re going to add people to the street at night. I think it’s going to add other things to be built. You guys started it with the Ford Center. It’s a hell of an arena. I’ve told people all over about it. It’s a good jumpstart for a Downtown. You’ve got city hall down there, and the banks, the casino, and all the different businesses — Fortune 500 businesses there. There’s a lot to offer.

We can’t wait to get it off the ground. I think the political side is over. Now the real work starts.

For more information on HCW LLC and its developments, including Evansville’s project, visit www.hcwdevelopment.com.

Comment

Economy Class

USI professor actively engages students in economics
Dr. Marie Bussing, assistant professor of economics at the University of Southern Indiana.

For decades, college professors had only to navigate through deans and vice presidents to get a stamp of approval. Now, there’s RateMyProfessors.com, a website giving students the opportunity to anonymously promote or pummel their profs.

That brings us to Dr. Marie Bussing, assistant professor of economics at the University of Southern Indiana. Her online reviews reveal a key component of her nature: while her students may not always get excited about economics, Bussing makes it clear that she does. Here’s one review: “She always asks for input, but none of us just LOVE econ like she does.” Here’s another: “She is really stoked about econ.” 

In fact, the Memorial High School and University of Evansville graduate is so “stoked about econ” that she has written eight books on the subject, beginning with “The Young Zillionaire’s Guide to Taxation and Government Spending” in 2000 and up to her most recent publication, in 2012, “Deficit: Why Should I Care?” Energetic and youthful, with a taste for fashion, she doesn’t epitomize the image of a 50-something numbers geek. Yet Bussing gets revved up talking about Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke the way others follow Lady Gaga or LeBron James.

“I’ve always liked to teach,” Bussing says, “and then I really started enjoying economics when I was in graduate school (at Middle Tennessee State University). I’ve always been fascinated with the economy and how money moves the economy and society. The question I always try to keep in mind regarding my students is, ‘How is this going to affect you?’ Economics affect everyone.  One thing I really enjoy is reading what the students are thinking. They had an assignment recently, and many wrote that they are graduating and looking for a job, and they’re really concerned about job prospects. Some are concerned about getting only a half percent on their savings account. Even if economics is not their favorite subject, they at least need to be aware and watch the news. And from what I’m observing, they are.”

Here are some of Bussing’s tips/opinions/forecasts for people of all ages:

On the current state of the economy:
“I think we are in a good place with 2.8 percent GDP (gross domestic product), and I am anticipating upward movement in the economy. It’s certainly not robust, but we have modest economic growth. I’m excited about the new Fed chair (who, at press time, was likely to be Janet Yellen). I’m excited to see Yellen in that position. I think she could recharge the economy. I don’t think we should underestimate what she might do.”

On handling money:
“My advice is just the way I practice: conservative, cautious, and it is always wise to have some money that remains liquid because you never know what can happen. Liquidity is money you can access quickly — checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit.

On the timing of higher interest rates:
“We’re relying on interest rates to move up in 2015 just because those are the projections made by the Fed. I think the projections might shift sooner than we think because we have some strong (economic growth) numbers out there.”

On her biggest economic concerns:
“We have been running trillion dollar deficits, and I think people should know where their money is going. It’s potentially going to be the students I’m teaching or their children or their grandchildren who will be affected the most. To give them a way to frame it, I tell my students that toward the end of my college career, the big news around 1980 was that our debt might top $1 trillion. It has 17 folded since then. If you got a bill for the debt today, it would be roughly $54,000 per person.”

On her ability to predict the economic future:
“I definitely would not say I’m automatically right. I would say I’m a cautious economist. The message I bring is read the news, become educated. Read the source material for yourself. Then, if you want to listen to different viewpoints, that’s fine. But be sure to see the original source when it comes to economic reports because then you can start to make your own decisions more clearly.”

Bussing has been on the faculty at USI since 1991, following two years at Citizens Bank (now Fifth Third) and graduate school at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Between writing eight books and teaching, she has found time to serve on the St. Mary’s Health System Board of Directors and St. Mary’s Foundation, and on the Commerce Bank Board of Directors. She was the former president of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana Inc. and next summer will take over as board chair for the USI Foundation. For many years, she has been one of two people directing the Bussing-Koch Foundation, along with her brother, Bill.

Throughout her career as a teacher, writer, and philanthropist, Bussing has been drawn to young people. Two of her books, “The Young Zillionaire’s Guide to Taxation and Government Spending,” and “Money for Minors: A Student’s Guide to Economics,” were geared toward a young audience. She has plans to write at least two more books — “I feel compelled to write at least 10!” — and possibly enlist one or both of her daughters, Amie and Katie, as co-author of a book focused on personal finance for teens and young adults.

“I get energy from the students,” Bussing says. “I like hearing what’s on their minds. They’re reading the news, they’re cautious, and they’re smart. They are large consumers. They like their cell phones, iPads, iPhones, but what I’ve observed is that they are also concerned about whether Social Security will be there for them, and they would like to see their investments grow more quickly. In fact, in the last several years I have noticed a change in students. Maybe it goes back to the fact that a parent has lost a job or retired early, but they’re much more interested in economics and they’re interested in what’s going on in Congress. I’ve had students ask, ‘What can I do?’ I tell them, ‘Practically speaking, the power you have is in your vote.’”

That doesn’t mean casting a ballot at RateMyProfessors.com. Those votes have already been tallied, and Bussing continues to lead in the race for Most Stoked About Econ.

Marie Bussing’s books may be purchased online at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. The following books are available through the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library: “100 years of the Federal Reserve: The Central Banking System in the United States of America”; “Deficit: Why Should I Care?”; and “Influential Economists.”

Comment

The Negotiator

(Kids and The Business Art of)
Jewelry provided by Brinker’s. Shot on location at the Evansville Country Club.

For many of you I am sure that most parts of the holiday season add up to be your favorite time of the year. Mine, too. However, as I write this, at the last possible minute, of course, the first of the season and one of the potentially biggest winter storms of the decade is heading to our fair city, leaving perhaps many rethinking “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

This now leaves me surmising that early June on the Gulf Coast or Kentucky Lake isn’t so bad either.

A true art in the business world is definitely the art and nuance of negotiating — a kids’ tradition. Along with the weather brings the many traditions of the recent Thanksgiving holiday and upcoming Christmas. And, oh, man, has my 12-year-old Jackson learned to work the traditions to a proverbial “T.” Example A would be as recent as last night. His school’s K-8 advent program is a time-honored tradition for the school children, siblings, parents, and especially grandparents who certainly seem to have mastered handheld video recording. Prior to the program coming home from swim practice, I was asked where we were going for dessert after the program.

“I don’t believe anywhere, buddy,” I said.

“But Dad, it’s a tradition to go out for dessert … we do it every year.”

I calculated we had done that maybe … once. And yes, you just know we ended up having the biggest slab of chocolate lava cake you have ever seen at 9 p.m. It is a tradition.

His negotiation skills had begun running amok hours earlier and he skillfully used his enthusiasm to sell me on how much fun our family would have eating dessert at the end of a 14-hour day.

Example B: Both of my boys are awakened each school day morning at 6 a.m.

“Just five more minutes, Dad,” my 15-year-old, Maxwell, will say literally every morning.

“Get up now,” is what always comes next, followed by the dreaded undoing of parental authority of, “Why, Dad? I can be ready if I get up at 6:15.”

His little brother has the same wake up time, but always thinks “no” to the same question of “five more minutes?” means “maybe,” as far as getting out of bed.

When I recently told Jackson that I was no longer going to tolerate this morning routine, he told me in regards to working me to stay in bed, “It’s a Tucker boy family tradition, Pop.”

Jackson’s main negotiating skillset is one of incredible persistence. The spring break trip to Seaside, Fla., in March, which we do sporadically? His negotiations have already started and he is persistent and creative in his endeavors, bringing this up weekly, beginning in October.

“Why haven’t you said ‘yes’ yet, Pop? It is our family’s spring break tradition to go every year.”

One of my earliest political memories is of the Paris Peace Accord talks to end the Vietnam War. I could not understand why the political entities could not agree on the shape of the negotiation table. Kids would have destroyed those diplomatic arguments — could they have negotiated peace quicker? Absolutely. (The talks began in 1968 and ended in 1973.)

As my boys grow older, I know they are not unique in their mastery of the fine art of negotiating. After all, it’s ... tradition.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd A. Tucker
Publisher

Comment

Mission Control

Ronald McDonald House continues to help families, children

Much of the St. Mary’s Hospital campus is a woven fabric of parking lots and roads leading to groupings of medical offices, labs, and procedure rooms offset from public view. Yet the Ronald McDonald House on Washington Avenue, near the main entrance to the hospital, is hard not to see. The facility was featured in Home Away From Home, the official guidebook for public tours of the house in the March/April 2010 Evansville Living.

Since it opened on Jan. 18, 2010, the house has served more than 1,000 children, parents, and family members each year. Families whose children face serious medical challenges are able to live comfortably at the house for an average of about eight days. Dinners are prepared almost every night, and knowledgeable staff and roughly 150 volunteers are on hand to provide guidance and support.

The Ronald McDonald House’s proximity to the hospital reduces the burdens on parents caring for very sick children from shuttling back and forth — sometimes over long distances — from hospitals to hotel rooms. “We make them as close as they can be to the hospital while taking care of them at the same time,” says Jeremy Evans, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ohio Valley.

There are no plans to add on to the Ronald McDonald House building. Yet the Ronald McDonald House Charities are focused on future sustainability. One plan in the works is to bring the philosophies of the Ronald McDonald Family Room — a place for families to rest and regroup — into the waiting rooms of local regional hospitals.

Evans adds there are more than 300 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world. The local house receives about 20 percent of its revenue every year from the canister programs at McDonald’s stores in its 39-member McDonald’s Owner-Operator Cooperative extending from Fairfield, Ill., to Owensboro, Ky. Other revenue comes from events like golf outings and the Lights of Love Christmas campaign. The charity also is starting to again hand out grants. That’s what it did before there was a Ronald McDonald House.

“It’s the kind of mission that a lot of people can get behind,” Evans says. “By providing a place to stay and taking care of our families’ personal daily stresses, we empower them to take care of their kids.”

For more information about the Ronald McDonald House, call 812-402-7642 or visit rmhevansville.org.

Comment

Lighting Up the Night

Meet the makers of Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights
Mike Baehl assembles the entryway arches vehicles drive beneath to enter the light show.

The twinkling light displays of Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights has Garvin Park glowing for the 20th year this holiday season. Yet there is more than meets the eye to this Tri-State holiday tradition, as the true meaning of the Fantasy of Lights is below the surface. Posey County, Ind., resident Chris Thorsen, 58, is the training director for the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee and is one of the hundreds of volunteers who work diligently to make the annual tradition come to life each year.

The drive-through winter light show, open from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, has grown into one of Easter Seals’ top fund-raising events. In its 19 years, the event raised more than $2.5 million to underwrite almost 83,000 therapy sessions for Tri-State adults and children with disabilities at the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center.

It takes more than 1,000 hours to assemble what has grown to 62 light displays in the park. This year, the marathon set-up day for members of the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 16, the Southern Indiana Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, Teamsters Local No. 215, and others, was on Saturday, Nov. 9.

The work did not end there, however, as the logistics of finalizing the electrical details continued until the opening day. Moving from one display to the next, volunteers precisely positioned all pieces, staking them into the ground and wiring each strand of lights into the circuits that were strategically placed throughout the park.

“We sweat right down to the time the switch is flipped,” Thorsen says. Throughout the holiday season, electricians continue to volunteer their time on site to ensure each display is up and running. 

Thorsen has volunteered since the first year the Fantasy of Lights took place, and he has seen its impact on Easter Seals. “My kids and grandkids are healthy, and I feel blessed,” Thorsen says, close to tears. “If we can help those kids who are not, it is very satisfying.” Tom Millay, executive director of the Southern Indiana Chapter for the National Electrical Contractors Association, has worked with Ritzy’s Fantasy of Lights for 11 years and says all the involved entities are community minded. “The benefit that comes out of this for Easter Seals is huge,” Millay says.

“We are really just so fortunate that businesses and volunteers still support it after all this time, and we try to make it a little different and something new every year,” adds Pam Kirk, the director of marketing and customer relations for Easter Seals.

For more information, call 812-437-2627 or visit www.eastersealsswindiana.com. Ticket costs per vehicle are $7 for up to six people, $10 for 7-14 people, and $25 for 15 people or more.