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National debate rages over Blue Cross refund

The buzz about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina's plan to refund $155.8 million isn't dying down.

Now the merits of the move and its political implications are being debated in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, extending the time that Blue Cross and N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin spend in the national spotlight.

Reynolds American's dissolvable tobacco products under fire

Two of North Carolina's largest companies could be headed for a showdown.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that GlaxoSmithKline, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to remove dissolvable smokeless tobacco products from stores.

Reynolds American, based down the road in Winston-Salem, has been test-marketing tiny lozenges,  called Camel Orbs, in several cities, the WSJ reports. The lozenges are basically smokeless tobacco products.

The new dissolvable tobacco products are competition for GSK's quit-smoking products such as Nicorette gum. In its letter to the FDA, sent after the agency asked for public comment on the issue, GSK expressed concern that the new products are not being marketed in a way that protects the public health.

The FDA, according to the WSJ, has already expressed its own concerns about the lozenges, writing to Reynolds that their candy-like appearance may appeal to kids.

Tying Wake's school diversity fight with future of economic affirmative action

Does the end of the Wake County school system's socioeconomic diversity policy mean that economic affirmative action programs are also in doubt?

That's the question raised today in a Wall Street Journal blog column by Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. In the column, Brown writes that the Wake fight raises questions about public support for using economics in "sensitive matters such as college admission and hiring and public contracting."

"We’ll see what happens, but there has been no major wave sweeping the country implementing 'economic diversity' plans, and what is happening in Wake County is not a good omen for those who had hoped it would become more popular," Brown writes.

Julian Robertson mulls Tiger fund expansion

Legendary investor and Tar Heel native Julian Robertson is considering reopening his hedge fund to the outside world, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Robertson, 78, has beefed up the management ranks of his Tiger Management LLC, with the possibility of taking on money for outside investors again.

Robertson closed the fund a decade ago after it lost billions. He then reinvented Tiger as an incubator for new money managers. The firm now holds stakes in 40 Tiger "seeds," which are hedge funds that started with the help of Tiger money.

Details and timing are still being worked out, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Raleigh rolls out speedy permits for electric car recharging

Raleigh is preparing for the arrival of plug-in electric cars by creating a streamlined permitting system for household battery rechargers.

Recharging an electric car puts a heavy demand on a home's electrical wiring and could require modifications and upgrades to accommodate a 220-volt outlet.

Getting a city permit for the recharger would have taken a homeowner at least three days, so the city has created a streamlined procedure that will take just one hour, said Frank Olafson, Permits Office Administrator for Raleigh.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Nissan, which is instroducing the all-electric Leaf automobile this year, lobbied Raleigh officials to make the change. Nissan's goal to to become the first mass-marketer of electric cars, but that goal depends on hassle-free permits for recharging stations, the Journal says.

Lulu's Bob Young among self-publishing "Stars"

Bob Young's effort to build an e-books empire got some major media attention this morning.

In a front-page story about digital outlets that allow authors to self-publish books, the Wall Street Journal included Young in its list of "The Stars of Self-Publishing." Young is CEO of Raleigh-based Lulu, which helps authors publish more than 20,000 new titles every month.

The newspaper's list puts Young in elite company, with other "stars" such as Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The list also includes executives from smaller Lulu rivals such as Smashwords, FastPencil, Scribd and Author Solutions.

Unfortunately for Lulu and Young, most of the article focuses on Amazon's digital self-publishing push.

Red Hat rethinks its hiring pitch

Now that Silicon Valley businesses have started aggressively hiring again, companies in "second-tier" high-tech locations such as Raleigh are facing tougher competition for talent, the Wall Street Journal reports.

As a main example, the newspaper points to Red Hat.

The Raleigh-based software company is responding by retraining its hiring managers to portray Red Hat as a more entrepreneurial place to build a career than rivals in California.

That's partly because the company can't compete on pay and benefits, said DeLisa Alexander, left, Red Hat's senior vice president of people and brand. The hiring managers are trained to discuss their career histories, the variety of projects they work on and the autonomy Red Hat provides.

Advertising the UNC presidency

The University of North Carolina will soon run an advertisement in the Chronicle of Higher Education as part of its attempt to find a new president to succeed the retiring Erskine Bowles.

The ad, measuring one-eighth of a page, will run twice in the Chronicle, considered the bible for higher education insiders. Cost: $5,000.

That's one way to approach your search.

Another way, recounted Monday by search consultant William Funk, is what the University of Southern California did recently as part of its search for replacement for longtime President Steven Sample.

Funk, who is working with the UNC system on its search, worked with USC but had nothing to do with the $500,000 it spent on splashy advertisements in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other mega-publications with national and international readerships.

Yes, $500,000. But USC, a private institution, saw the advertisement as a way to brag on its accomplishments, Funk recalled.

"They viewed it as an opportunity to tell people about their successes," he told members of a UNC search committee. "They felt it was money well spent. But a lot of places don't have those resources."

All those ads and all that money certainly allowed USC to broadcast its vacancy broadly. But to snare the university's eventual choice, an ad in the campus newspaper would have sufficed.

He was on campus all along

Nomacorc's story gets national attention

The story of a small Zebulon company that sells about 2 billion plastic wine corks worldwide a year is getting some big attention.

A front-page article in the Wall Street Journal today explores how Nomacorc and "other stopper upstarts broke the centuries-old cork monopoly."

While natural cork had been used as a wine stopper since the 1600s, the article notes that one in 10 full-sized wine bottles sold worldwide now come with a Nomacorc plastic plug.

"We infuriated the cork industry," Nomacorc founder and chairman Marc Noel told the newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal headed to iPad

News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch has confirmed that an iPad specific product of the WSJ is being developed.

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