'Business Report': B.R. entrepreneur working to bring Chinese investment to La.
Who is Eugene Ji? Stories abound regarding the Chinese-born entrepreneur, trade broker and real estate investor who puts together multimillion—and maybe even billion—dollar deals from suburban Baton Rouge. As Business Report details in its new cover story on Ji, he has made a living opening doors and making introductions on two continents. In the high-stakes world of international trade—where language and cultural differences can present impenetrable barriers—Ji is able to talk the talk, make the introductions and smooth things over with an always-affable smile in a way that brings parties together. "There is not a month that goes by that we don't have a group of Chinese investors in this bank that Ji has brought," notes former Gov. Buddy Roemer, chairman emeritus of Business First Bank. Ji has had both hits and misses in his quest to forge business ties between Louisiana and China. Near the top of his current list of projects is a proposal to build a deepwater port offshore from St. Mary Parish to take advantage of the huge new ships that soon will pass through an expanded Panama Canal. Those ships are too large to reach the ports of New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The price tag? Upwards of $4 billion. Read the full cover story by Stephanie Riegel. Send your comments to email@example.com.
Special weekend meeting to tackle south branch library issue
While many will likely spend this Saturday doing holiday shopping and other errands, members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board will be holed up in a meeting to try to resolve, once and for all, the future of a new south Baton Rouge branch library. "I'm tired of kicking this can down the road," says board chairman Travis Woodard, who called the special weekend meeting. "We are locking ourselves in a room and trying to figure out south branch, and I am not opposed to doing this on a more frequent basis until the board can agree." After years of stalled progress on a south branch library that was to be built in Rouzan, the board in October canceled its cooperative endeavor agreement with developer Tommy Spinosa, who was donating the land for the project. Since then, the board has begun looking at several potential sites in the area, none of which is ideal, and discussed reducing the size of the planned branch. It has even looked at leasing space in the Acadian-Perkins Plaza shopping center at the corner of Acadian Thruway and Perkins Road. But so far, no consensus has emerged. Woodard says Saturday's meeting will focus less on discussing specific sites and more on the direction in which the board wants to go. "We have got to make some decisions on do we want to build a smaller building, build up, be in a shopping center," says Woodard. "We need to do that before we can even give the staff direction on what to pursue."—Stephanie Riegel
Commercial Properties to develop office, retail component of Americana TND
When Level Homes acquired in late October the 150-acre residential portion of Commercial Properties Realty Trust's traditional neighborhood development in North Carolina, 5401 North, Level owner John Engquist said one of the advantages of the win-win deal was that Commercial Properties could focus on its area of expertise—commercial development—while Level, a home builder, could concentrate on the residential part of the project. Now, the two companies have decided to work together on Americana, Engquist's 414-acre TND in Zachary, which is currently under construction. Engquist tells Daily Report Commercial Properties will develop the more than 500,000 square feet of office and retail space planned in the TND, which fronts La. 64, while his company will focus on building out the first phase of 90 home sites. "Americana has a very sizable commercial component to it, and that is not our strength, so Commercial Properties will be working with me on that," Engquist says. "They are a wonderful organization with tremendous credibility, so I am very excited about that." There is no word on when the commercial development at Americana will begin. —Stephanie Riegel
La. improves one spot to No. 48 on 2013 America's Health Rankings
Americans are making considerable progress in their overall health, according to United Health Foundation's latest edition of its annual America's Health Rankings, and Louisiana is also progressing—though there's much room for further improvement. Louisiana's overall ranking in the just-released 2013 report is No. 48, up one spot from last year. Two years ago, Louisiana was ranked the nation's most unhealthy state in the report. That unenviable distinction goes to Mississippi this year. This year's report says Louisiana's strengths include a small disparity in health status by education attainment, high immunization coverage among adolescents and low incidence of respiratory pertussis infections. The state's most pressing health challenges, the report says, are its high prevalence of physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes; high percentage of impoverished children; high infant mortality rate; and high prevalence of low birth weight. Hawaii is ranked as the nation's healthiest state in this year's report. See the complete rankings. —Staff report
Landrieu running her first Senate race campaign ad
Sen. Mary Landrieu has launched a TV ad touting her push to keep people from losing insurance policies because of the federal health care overhaul. The 30-second commercial, to run around the state, is the Democratic senator's first TV spot in her bid for re-election to a fourth term. The Associated Press reports Landrieu, in the ad, takes credit for President Barack Obama's decision to allow insurance companies to renew individual health insurance plans that had been slated for cancellation under Obama's health law. Landrieu introduced legislation requiring insurers to renew policies before Obama allowed the renewals. The commercial doesn't mention Landrieu's strong support for the federal health revamp, which is unpopular in Louisiana. Landrieu faces at least two Republican challengers in the 2014 election, including U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge and retired Air Force Col. Robert Maness.
Today's poll question: If the election were today, for whom would you vote in the Louisiana Senate race?
La. insurance enrollments rise to about 2,200
The number of Louisiana residents who have been able to sign up for health insurance through the federally run online marketplace is edging up, with nearly 2,200 people enrolled, The Associated Press reports. That's after two months of open enrollment through the problem-plagued website. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released enrollment figures through the end of November, showing about 137,000 people had completed the full process to get coverage across the 36 states using the federal website. In Louisiana, 2,193 people had made it through the site and selected an insurance plan by Nov. 30. That's more than five times as many people as were signed up in October, but it's still slower than the expected enrollment pace. The AP has more details on insurance enrollment figures nationwide.
'Duck Dynasty' outselling Britney Spears with Christmas album
It seems like just about everything the Robertson family of West Monroe touches these days turns to gold. The family's latest venture, an album of Christmas music entitled Duck the Halls, is currently in the No. 2 spot on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, down from the No. 1 position last week. The album is receiving favorable reviews, and artists of the caliber of Luke Bryan, Josh Turner, George Strait and Alison Krauss lend their talents to the mix. With the popularity of the Duck Dynasty TV series and the rollout of every imaginable piece of Dynasty-related merchandise, success may have been assured. The same could not be said of another Louisiana icon, Britney Spears, whose latest effort, Britney Jean, sold an estimated 115,000 units in its first week—impressive but still less than Duck the Halls and the superstar's worst first week ever, according to Idolator, an arts and entertainment website. —Staff report
News roundup: Natural gas company mulling upgrade to pipeline … Shreveport passes fairness ordinance … Task force to recommend changes for La. tuition policy
Lining it up: American Midstream Partners is proposing the reconstruction of its American Midstream Midla pipeline that runs from Baton Rouge to Monroe. The Natchez Democrat reports American Midstream is conducting a so-called "open season," which is a period of courting shippers to determine if the project is viable, through Dec. 27. Three new options for the pipeline's future are spelled out in the open-season documents: the "replication" of the existing 1920s-vintage mainline; a "Natchez Line" that would involve some rebuilding and some retirement of facilities; and a "Natchez-plus" option that would increase capacity to serve emerging industrial load. Read the full story.
On equal footing: Shreveport and New Orleans are now the only Louisiana cities with local laws preventing the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in employment, housing and public spaces. The Shreveport Times reports the Shreveport City Council approved the ordinance 6-1 Tuesday evening. Louisiana does not have protections in place to prevent someone from being fired, evicted or denied service because of their sexual orientation, according to LGBT advocacy group Equality Louisiana. Read the full story.
Under review: A group of mostly higher education leaders will make recommendations to state lawmakers today about how to tweak the policies governing tuition rates charged at the state's public colleges. The Associated Press reports that after two months of review, the Tuition Task Force is expected to vote on a set of proposals, which will be submitted to lawmakers for consideration in the next legislative session. The study panel was created by lawmakers earlier this year and was asked to look at issues including: the impact of increased tuition rates on the state's free college tuition program called TOPS; strategies for increasing college access and affordability; and new ways of charging tuition to generate additional money for campuses.