It was yet again a very busy year for business in the Columbus area, with an aerospace company launching a $386 million job-creating expansion, one major hospital going through a restructuring and another facing a merger, and the final credits rolling for Carmike Cinemas because of its buyout by AMC.
The city also lost one of its most prolific and humble businessmen and philanthropists, while local shoppers saw their iconic Sears department store disappear, along with the once-popular discounter Kmart and its blue-light specials. There also were executives leaving companies, stocks reaching lofty levels and a beloved Italian restaurant shutting its doors after a more than half-century run.
Here are the Top 10 business stories of 2017, as ranked by editors and reporters, with some pondering if one or two should have been higher or lower in the pecking order, or if on the list at all. That’s where you all, the readers, come in. After perusing the list, take some time online and discuss the stories, what they meant to you, and if there were other interesting articles that should have made the Top 10 grade.
Without further ado:
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1. Pratt & Whitney expanding with plans to add 500 jobs
It was in August that a major piece of the aerospace firm’s $386 million expansion kicked off, with construction starting on a 276,301-square-foot engineer overhaul facility on Macon Road on the city’s east side. The price tag of the initial construction was $31.3 million.
Aside from new automated machinery and equipment upgrades, the project includes a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for a new isothermal forge press, which will make turbine disks and compressors for Pratt & Whitney jet engines.
The company in February said the money was being spent to increase parts production and maintenance services, while reducing costs for the company’s engine programs. East Hartford, Conn.-based Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Farmington, Conn.-based United Technologies, has pledged to hire more than 500 additional employees in Columbus as the expansion unfolds. At last count, it had about 1,200 people on its payroll.
2. St. Francis Hospital restructures, Columbus Regional seeks merger
About 18 months after St. Francis Hospital was sold to LifePoint Health, a national hospital corporation based in Tennessee, there was restructuring in the air, with the confirmation in July that more than 50 employees were being laid off.
In addition to eliminating the jobs in non-bedside care positions, an undetermined number of the hospital’s nearly 2,500 employees were to have their hours reduced, the hospital said. Full-time employment statuses and benefits packages were not to be impacted by the adjustment in hours.
Just a few months after the restructuring at St. Francis, Columbus Regional Health and Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare confirmed that they had moved a step closer to their merger. The agreement between the two health care non-profit entities was finalized and forwarded to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. The deal is on track to be complete by March of next year, Columbus Regional Health President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Hill said in October.
3. AMC completes its rebranding, retires Carmike name
The $1.2 billion buyout of Carmike Cinemas by AMC closed by the end of 2016. But it wasn’t until April that the completion of the rebranding was mostly completed, effectively pushing the Carmike name and one-time Columbus company into the history books.
The work by Leawood, Kan.-based AMC Entertainment Holdings included stripping the old Carmike signs off theater buildings and slapping its own onto them. But the integration also included the introduction of AMC’s Stubs rewards program that encourages moviegoers to visit theaters more often, thus spending money and accruing rewards used toward popcorn, soft drinks and other things.
In April, AMC also said there were no plans at this time to renovate any of the former properties of Carmike Cinemas.
4. Sears and Kmart stores call it quits
And then there were none. That was the case in July after the final Kmart store in the Columbus-Phenix City market closed its doors on Airport Thruway. It completed the disappearing act of Sears in the local market, along with all of the Kmart outlets.
A previous round of closures, wrapped up by the end of March by Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears Holdings, shuttered the Sears department store on Whittlesey Boulevard at Columbus Park Crossing, the Kmart on Macon Road in Columbus, and the Kmart on U.S. 280 in Phenix City. As of the end of 2017, none of those spaces have been filled.
Several years ago, a Kmart outlet on Milgen Road was closed. An Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, a Dirt Cheap discount store, and a low-priced Planet Fitness gym are in that space now. Thus, we say goodbye to iconic Sears and Kmart.
5. Businessman, servant leader Bill Turner dies
It was the passing of a businessman who helped guide W.C. Bradley Co. and Columbus Bank and Trust, but who also fostered the notion of servant leadership and the idea that giving back to the community is vitally important.
William Bradley Turner, who died on July 31 at age 94, was born into great wealth and high expectations as the only grandson of Columbus industrialist W.C. Bradley. But he was not defined by that wealth, said those who knew him well. Instead, the man some referred to as “Mr. Bill,” will be remembered for his wisdom, generosity, team-building and strong faith.
6. Legal cases for Columbus Regional and St. Francis
Aside from internal moves on restructuring and mergers, St. Francis Hospital and Columbus Regional Health also had their share of legal news this year.
First was the sentencing of two former Columbus Regional Health employees in U.S. District Court on wire fraud and tax evasion charges in a scheme that netted a total of $908,935.
Then, in December, a Muscogee County State Court jury reached a $26 million verdict against St. Francis Hospital and one of its physicians in a medical malpractice suit brought by a Columbus woman who was permanently injured after a 2012 procedure. The jury awarded Sandra Williams and her late husband, Phillip, the verdict after a two-week trial in front of Judge Ben Richardson.
The jury assessed 100-percent of the liability for the verdict on St. Francis Hospital and its employee, Dr. Erik Westerlund, who settled for an undisclosed amount of personal liability prior to the trial. The jury also ruled in favor of Columbus pulmonologist Dr. Christopher Tidwell, finding he had no fault in Sandra Williams’ injuries. The injuries by Williams included blindness, brain damage and confinement to a wheelchair.
7. Paul Amos leaves Aflac, Pam Joseph departs TSYS
It wasn’t quite musical chairs, but there was interesting and intriguing news in the Columbus corporate ranks this year.
First came the decision by Paul S. Amos II, the son of Aflac’s chairman and CEO — and grandson of one of the company’s three founders — to resign as president of Aflac, the Columbus-based supplemental insurance company known nationally for its Aflac duck advertising campaign.
The departure of the 42-year-old Amos — thought by some to be a possible successor to his father — took effect July 1. Amos’ plans included taking some time off before joining Jordan Blanchard Capital as a partner starting Sept. 1, with that Columbus-based private investment firm being renamed JBA Capital upon his arrival.
However, there was no such explanation for the sudden departure of TSYS President and Chief Operating Officer Pamela Joseph in September. She submitted her resignation both for the executive management position and as a member of the firm’s board of directors, then took a nearly $2.3 million separation payment with her.
8. Rapids at Riverfront Place development kicks off
It was a winter day in February that the W.C. Bradley Co. announced the largest real-estate venture in its long history, with plans for a $52 million residential and retail complex along the Chattahoochee River in downtown Columbus.
The company outlined the aggressive project known as The Rapids at Riverfront Place that will add 226 new apartments in a five-story structure just north of the 13th Street bridge. It will also include a restaurant, retail space, park and 313-space parking garage. The first apartments in the 414,000-square foot mixed-use building are projected to be available in late 2018 and early 2019.
9. Stocks of Aflac, TSYS and Synovus reach new highs
It has been a banner year for many companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and that included the larger publicly traded firms headquartered in Columbus.
In November, Aflac, TSYS and regional banking company Synovus Financial Corp. saw their shares touch highs for the year as the overall market was surging, much of the Wall Street enthusiasm coming because of the prospect of Republicans passing a major tax reform legislation.
As of last week, Aflac’s high for the past 52 weeks was 19 cents shy of $90 per share, while TSYS had topped $80 per share at $80.55. Synovus, which teetered financially during and after the Great Recession, also is faring much better, with its 52-week high at $51.09 as of last week.
10. Deorio's serves its last pizza after 55-year run
It had a 55-year run at Cross Country Plaza in Columbus, but the once-popular Italian food and restaurant Deorio’s closed its doors for good at 3201 Macon Road. The eatery was known for its pizzas, grinders and Italian dishes such as spaghetti and lasagna.
Many Columbus-area residents acknowledged having grown up eating at Deorio’s, which had a heyday before the proliferation of chain restaurants throughout the city. In fact, there were grandchildren of some of the original patrons dining there in recent years.