To the editor:
On behalf of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, let us apologize for our blatant attempt to help the business community by highlighting positives of our region in order to attract the experienced workers they so desperately need. Obviously, we have erred egregiously, so egregiously that it justified not one, but two pieces in past issues highlighting our incredible folly.
In an attempt to explain our thought process [read: make excuses for ourselves], please allow us to, with tongues firmly stapled to our collective cheeks, cover each of the points you contested in your latest issue [“Reality Check,” Jan. 27].
1. Re: “Your dream job is waiting for you here.”
Busted! You caught us. Since we were entirely too busy deceiving the public on the problems facing the Baton Rouge area, we didn’t have time to identify every open job in the nine-parish region, so we used the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s survey as the best possible source for a cumulative total of opportunities available. Our assertion that many of these jobs were in the IT, engineering, medical, and financial services fields seemed reasonable enough. BRAC’s 2007 workforce assessment pointed out the area could hire every engineering graduate from LSU and Southern for the next three years and would still not have met demand. That seems like a lot to us. Then again, we were also basing our comment on the untold amount of conversations we have had with employers who urgently need people in these fields and the job postings of our member companies.
2. Re: “Our economy is stable and robust.”
We were double-crossed. We thought BusinessWeek’s assertion that Baton Rouge was one of the top 10 recession-proof areas was strengthened by other positive reports like nonfarm job increases that eclipsed our peer regions in 2008; an unemployment rate nearly two percentage points below the national average; and top 25 national rankings in areas such as private-sector job growth [16th], employment growth [25th], and weekly wage increases (5th). Not to mention high marks in the percentage of home foreclosures and average home prices.
3. Re: “The quality of life is amazing.”
Unbelievable! You got us again. We should have remained silent on the quality of life improvements that have occurred. We should have known better than to mention the new retail and cultural offerings. We promise, from now on, until we are better than every place, absolutely everywhere else, we will keep quiet.
4. Re: “K-12 education. That’s right, education.”
There’s an East Baton Rouge school takeover? When did this happen? If we’d known about it, we definitely would have ignored the good things that some of our area schools and districts are doing. We must have been distracted by BRAC’s own nationally recognized five-part series on public education in the Capital Region. Or maybe it was the time we have spent pushing adamantly for a national search for a top-rate parish superintendent of schools.
5. Re: “Food: That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.”
Honestly, we thought we were fairly safe talking about our food. However, we didn’t consider that potential residents would not move here because our obesity rate is high [28%]. Obviously, Atlanta [24%], Dallas [23%] and Houston [27%] rate much better. We should encourage our expats to seek their future in South Korea [3.2%].
6. Re: “Universities.”
You should be more blunt: we’re putting lipstick on a pig. We were unaware that being the last school on the list of Tier 1 universities by U.S. News and World Report disqualified you from being considered top tier. With that reasoning, the only thing that would matter would be being named No. 1, like, LSU’s School of Landscape Architecture, which was ranked No. 1 in a recent survey of leading design professionals. But we should ignore that LSU’s business school was ranked in the top 50 of public undergraduate programs by BusinessWeek since they weren’t at the top. It was also an indefensible position to suggest that it is easier to maintain the culture of your school when you are around it every day, instead of a couple of Saturdays each fall.
7. Re: “Family: We love the tradition of family here.”
Boy, we completely missed the boat when it comes to value of family connections. We were wrong to think that being here, around family and tradition, has a deep connection for former Louisianans. That was our most preposterous reach of all!
We have taken an internal vote on changing our marketing plan to instead utilize the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report’s alternative message, which we’d summarize as, “We’re doing fine, thank you, please stay where you are.”
Fortunately, we know better. We know great places didn’t become what they are overnight. Instead, dedicated people worked through the obstacles, remained focused on the issues that matter, and, yes, spoke glowingly about the positives. For BRAC, we believe it is better to attract talent back from elsewhere and involve them in the fight to improve our economy and our region.
Mike Odom, Senior vice president of marketing and operations, Baton Rouge Area Chamber
Setting it straight
To the editor:
In your Jan. 26 edition, writer JR Ball published a column entitled “Your Bailout at Work” in which I was quoted as saying, “Make more loans? We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.”
This comment, from a November speech made to banking analysts, was taken out of context, entirely misunderstood and completely inaccurate.
The comment I made suggesting we would not change our lending policy “to accommodate the needs of the public sector” was certainly not meant to imply that we will not lend the TARP funds. What I went on to say was this: “We’ll make those loans that are good loans that we would have made with or without TARP. We’re not going to change our credit practices.”
The Whitney is lending money, and with the same focus on safety and soundness that has been our hallmark. In fact, we generated $400 million of new loans in the fourth quarter of 2008, a linked-quarter annualized growth rate of 21%.
We continue to support businesses and consumers along the Gulf Coast as we have for the past 125 years. We were here through the Great Depression as well as hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav. We are a strong and growing regional bank largely because of our willingness to make sound loans to our customers.
John C. Hope III, Chairman/CEO, Whitney National Bank
To the publisher:
I have a suggestion for the Louisiana schools and the pay teachers and administrators receive [that includes the school board administration offices] [“Publisher’s View,” Jan. 27].
Tie the teachers’ pay to the performance level of the schools. If the school system is ranked 48th out of 50, that is the level of pay. If they want a raise, move up the ladder and their pay goes up accordingly.
Mickey Christensen, Baton Rouge
To the publisher:
I have a child in one of EBR’s high schools and am one of the attorneys who was involved in the desegregation case during the last few years. Your description and Mr. Maginnis’ description of the system being more self-concerned than being concerned with the children whose education is entrusted to them matches my long-held views entirely. Given the amount of negative spin that the school system has put on the takeover, I felt that it was extremely important that members of the press present the case for changing the failed status quo. The appointment of a new superintendent will be a defining moment. If history is a predictor of the future, it probably is not realistic to expect that the board will hire a true reformer, but one can always hope that they will finally get the message.
John Gaupp, Baton Rouge
To the publisher:
I was appalled at the standing ovation the local superintendent received when she went before BESE. Then again, if one noticed who applauded, then a clearer picture emerges.
It is my opinion the way to get the attention of certain individuals and schools is to take sports competition between schools and replace them with an intensified PE program that would apply to all students, not just the few. This plan would only be applied to schools that are doing poorly or failing academically. Part of this plan would deny any student the right to transfer to another school not covered by this program simply to participate in sports. The sports program would be reinstated at a school only [if] it reaches a historically acceptable minimal grade, C, or 2.0, not the current “approaching basic” garbage.
Billie Crawford, Zachary