All for one or one for all?
With 10 fresh faces, the new Metro Council doesn’t look much like the old one—an often-fractious bunch that, critics say, was more concerned with protecting their own turf than parish progress. The new members, who’ll get to work at the first meeting on Jan. 14, claim they’ll have a less parochial approach to parish government, which is easy to say before you actually have to vote on anything.
“We’re going to have to wait and see, but I think there’s a lot of professionalism and a lot of goodwill, and it helps to have a mayor elected with a sizable majority to help keep it together and work in a collegial way,” political consultant Roy Fletcher says. “They have accomplished a lot in their own lives before they got to the council.”
While there might be a learning curve for the newbies, several have been around government before and some have fairly impressive private-sector résumés. These are people who don’t need a Metro Council seat to justify their existence or boost their ego.
“They represent a new breed of politicians in the parish,” Fletcher says. “I think they have a broader scope … They don’t have a perspective of picking a fight. They have a perspective of getting stuff done.”
But do their constituents want them to take a parish-wide view? Fletcher says voters in the southern part of the parish might; they have fewer immediate needs, so it’s easier to have a broad perspective. But northern residents, who feel they’ve been ignored for years, might want a more district-oriented representative.
“I think there’s been a shift in public attitudes,” political consultant Jim Nickel says. “I think people understand that what happens in one part of the parish affects other parts of the parish.”
Nickel says the differences in perspective are more generational than geographical. He says younger families are more likely to support downtown investments, for example, regardless of where they live. With a city-parish style of government, there’s always going to be a tug of war between urban and rural priorities, but Nickel says Mayor Kip Holden is getting better at bridging those concerns. So while Holden’s $989 million bond issue failed at the polls, it came surprisingly close to passing given its high price tag and a glum economic climate.
“We have a strong council and a strong mayor. That’s the best you can hope for,” says new District 1 representative Trae Welch, who will occupy the seat previously held by Holden critic and mayoral candidate Wayne Carter. Welch served on the Baker city council from 2004-08, which he says has only recently begun to make real progress.
“I’ve seen what happens when a council and a mayor don’t work together,” Welch says.
He says residents of the northern part of the parish often don’t realize how much work is being done on their behalf, and he plans to facilitate better communication between his district and city-parish government.
“You are your district’s voice, but at the same time you’ve got to keep an eye on what’s good for the parish overall,” Welch says. “Generally, what’s good for the parish is good for my district.” —David Jacobs
Fortnight: January 14-27
January 14 – On this day in 2008 – Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor after running on a platform of ethics reform. Less than a year later, he has faced an indignant Legislature, devastation from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, falling oil prices that affected the budget and crowds of interested Iowans—to whom he denied comments he would be running for president in 2012.
January 14 – The new-look Metro Council meets for the first time. With 10 new members out of 12, the fresh-faced council will have the chance to make good on its word or make it business as usual with debates and votes on issues such as the budget, tax proposals and the city’s economic development priorities.
January 15 – On this day in 1929 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta. The national holiday is celebrated on the third Monday each January; this year’s date is Jan. 19. A leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement, King is one of four individuals in American history to be honored with a federal holiday.
January 15 – Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations is holding a “To be or not to be a 501[c]3” seminar at the Louisiana Municipal Association building. The class covers information on starting and running a nonprofit organization based on the work of Gary Grobman in The Nonprofit Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Start and Run Your Nonprofit Organization. More information can be found at lano.org.
January 16 – On this day in 1817 – Baton Rouge became an incorporated entity.
January 20 – President-elect Barack Obama will be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. using the Bible of former President Abraham Lincoln. Obama will become the first black president of the U.S.
January 21 – The LSU Office of Research & Economic Development is playing host to “Grand Challenges in Coastal Resiliency I: Transforming Coastal Inundation Modeling to Public Security,” at the Lod and Carole Cook Conference Center and Hotel. The sessions aim to provide emergency managers and regional planners with information and valuable insight about how coastal protection challenges and sea-level changes will impact their work. More information can be found at research.lsu.edu.
Business of Politics
Loophole aspirations: One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s trademark pieces of legislation was enacted on Jan. 1. Lobbyists now have to avoid conflicts of interest and must publicly file monthly financial reports beginning Feb. 15.
But there isn’t much pushback from the lobbying community. Many are waiting to see how the process plays out. Kevin Hayes, a Baton Rouge lobbyist who represents clients ranging from Wal-Mart to the Louisiana Press Association, says there isn’t much else to do. Serious players knew that at least 19 other states had passed similar laws, and it was only a matter of time before Louisiana followed suit. “I think we’ll hear more once people start filing and get acclimated to the system,” Hayes says. “For a state that’s looking to be more open, this is a good thing to do.”
Hopes of bureaucratic failure might be another reason lobbyists are playing it cool. The Legislature passed only a loose framework last year that called on lobbyists to disclose detailed information about their clients, what they are paid and to which lawmakers they’re giving anything of monetary value. In particular, some lobbyists are interested in official interpretations of “lobbying services,” which must be disclosed, and “non-lobbying services,” which do not have to be disclosed. In the end, this might become the loophole that allows lobbyists to hide their key clients from public view.
Calculating move: The year has begun anew and, as usual, the taxman cometh. But this time, he’s bringing a new set of laws and practically every taxpayer will be impacted.
In the past, taxpayers were granted an automatic state extension if the federal government had made a similar allotment and a copy of the federal extension request was attached to the state return. Starting with 2008 income tax returns, state-filing extensions must be requested no later than May 15.
As for businesses, legislation passed during the 2008 regular session cuts unemployment insurance taxes by 10%, effective immediately. The new law also increases the maximum weekly benefit amount from $258 to $284.
Finally, thousands of filers will discover that they’re keeping more of their earnings. That’s because the largest personal income tax cut in state history recently went into effect. The new law is expected to increase the take-home pay of filers earning $12,500 annually or more. For individual filers, that boost could be roughly $500. —Jeremy Alford
Nonprofit Spotlight: Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge
Year founded: 1973
Executive director: Derek Gordon
Total assets: $1,164,323
Revenue and support: $1,936,839
Key projects: Plugging local artists into the local economy [Arts Market, Fest for All]; local and national outreach [bringing nationally recognized artists to the area]; direct funding, grants and technical assistance to the arts community
Highest-paid executive: Derek Gordon, Executive director, $50,481
Number of staff: 13
SOURCES: Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and IRS 2007 Form 990
Executive Spotlight: Tammy Jeansonne Cheatham
Vice president, The Recycling Foundation
Hometown: Baton Rouge
What might have once seemed like a few paper cups and plastic spoons at Tammy Jeansonne Cheatham’s first job, at a snowball stand, now looks a little more like the lifeblood of her work.
Cheatham is vice president of commercial operations at the only facility in Louisiana capable of separating a plethora of recyclable materials, from cardboard boxes to glass bottles and paper, from a single stream down to individual categories mechanically [the system is called a Materials Recovery Facility].
And Cheatham’s passion for her work shows through. “To have the opportunity to work and laugh with family every day,” she says. “Doing something good for the environment at the same time is the cherry on top.”
Want to find out more about Cheatham? Read the rest of her profile Q&A here.
Book Review: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Your college alumni letter came the other day. You read it, surprised and a little depressed.
A first-class slacker you graduated with is now a multimillionaire. The Guy Most Likely to Succeed has done just that and more. And that cheerleader you dated? She’s parlayed her pompoms into prosperity, and she’s living large.
And you? The only Rocky you know has been life since college. Although you’re not doing badly, your classmates are doing better. Were they born lucky or did their parents “know somebody?” Find out the truth in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success.
You know a star when you see it. It’s the athlete who makes the game look effortless, the businessperson who turns junk into gold, the teacher you remember best. Gladwell calls those people “outliers.” They lie outside—but above—the norm.
And they are successful. But why?
Outliers is—for the most part—a lively and fascinating trip through the making of a success. Taking readers from Canada to Europe, Jamaica to Wall Street, Gladwell is gleeful in revealing his findings. Although he sometimes rambles before he explains himself, what you’ll learn is layered so that it’s not overwhelming.
The only problem with this book is that it tells you how to spot success—not how to get it. Still, Gladwell’s latest is one of those business books that doubles as fun, making Outliers a book to help you find out where you lie in 2009. —Terri Schlichenmeyer
Fast Forward: Yellow peril
In 2006, Louisiana was drunk on ethanol. Farmers were corn crazy, eschewing other crops to plant the yellow stuff, which was headed toward record prices per bushel. Business Report noted the phenomenon in the July 17, 2007, story “We’re all ears.”
Farmers across the country were doing the same thing, as more and more corn-based ethanol plants came online. U.S. ethanol production doubled between 2002 and 2006.
But a backlash was fermenting. Critics noted that corn-based used more energy than it created and argued that it pushed up food prices and flunked the environmental sustainability test. Then corn became expensive.
Michael Salassi, LSU AgCenter professor of agricultural economics, says the fast rise in corn prices—to nearly $5 a bushel—dampened the interest of would-be ethanol entrepreneurs who’d been eyeing the state in late 2006 and early 2007.
The price of corn eventually came down, but then so has the price of ethanol, a situation that’s largely taken the shine off corn-based. It’s a far cry from 2006, when plants were making a profit of $1 or more per gallon.
“The price of ethanol on the future’s market has basically been declining over the last year or so,” Salassi says. “About September of 2008 it dropped below $2 a gallon and continues to decline. It’s now below $1.70 a gallon.”
One indicator was The Shaw Group’s decision last summer to nix plans for ethanol and biodiesel plants on land owned by the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. High feedstock costs were partly to blame. Another sign of the state of ethanol is the stalled Bionol LLC project in Lake Providence. Construction had begun on the project, which was being developed by Massachusetts-based BioEnergy International.
Wyly Gilfoil, executive director of the Lake Providence Port Commission, says it is on hold while BioEnergy considers its options.
“The outlook for ethanol right now is not too good,” Gilfoil says.
Want to read the original story? Click here. —Steve Clark
Atlanta, Dallas and Houston are magnets for local talent. Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, says the three cities are home to at least 17,000 LSU and Southern graduates. With “Welcome Back to Baton Rouge,” an advertising campaign officially launched on Jan. 6, the chamber hopes to lure some of those ex-Baton Rougeans homeward-bound. WelcomeBacktoBR.com lists seven reasons why Baton Rouge might be more attractive than the expats remember:
1. “Your dream job is waiting for you here.”
The perceived lack of high-paying, exciting jobs is probably the biggest reason young people leave in the first place. Baton Rouge has 15,000 open jobs, including some in professions like IT and engineering.
2. “Our economy is stable and robust.”
Baton Rouge has, so far, avoided the severe recession affecting much of the nation, as BusinessWeek and other national publications have noticed.
3. “The quality of life is amazing.”
“Amazing” is subjective, of course, but Baton Rouge has better shopping, more arts venues and a livelier downtown than a few years ago.
4. “K-12 education. That’s right, education.”
While Baton Rouge has its share of so-called “failing” schools, the Web site says six of the top 10 public schools in the state are in the Baton Rouge area.
5. “Universities: Where do you want your kids to go to school?”
Surely some of those LSU and Southern grads want their kids to go to school right here.
6. “Food. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.”
7. “Family. We love the tradition of family here.”
A twofold message: Baton Rouge is a great place to raise your own family, while reconnecting with the one you left behind. —D.J.
Your bailout, too?
For all of those Baton Rougeans clamoring for a little government bailout of their own, you’ve got it—kind of. A little-known provision in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, otherwise known as the $700 billion federal rescue act, includes tax relief for businesses that replaced “qualified disaster assistance property” damaged by Hurricane Gustav.
Like the recently expired GO Zone bonus depreciation relief, the new provision allows businesses to claim a 50% bonus or accelerated depreciation on movable property such as vehicles or computers and on real estate claimed in the 2008 and 2009 tax year, says Susan Lebsack of Faulk & Winkler. A separate law passed earlier in 2008, which applies to all businesses [not just those in a disaster area], already allows the 50% deduction on most movable property purchased in 2008. That means the 50% deduction included in the EESA is really only important for movable property starting in 2009.
“It is important to note that this new provision does not define qualified disaster property in the same way the GO Zone act did,” Lebsack says. “The business must have sustained a loss, and the new property must replace property damaged in the hurricane. It’s strictly a business deduction designated as disaster relief.”—Anna Thibodeaux
Growing for green
For 2008, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Campaign for a Greater Baton Rouge helped land 13 projects that created or retained more than 2,200 area jobs in the Capital Region. The projects included an Electronic Arts video game testing center, new corporate headquarters for Albemarle, headquarters expansion for The Shaw Group, expansion at Baton Rouge Coca-Cola and Superior Homes’ conversion of an East Feliciana Parish warehouse to produce manufactured homes.
Of the 2008 wins, 10 of the projects and 1,700 jobs went to East Baton Rouge Parish. The previous year, the parish got 11 of the projects and 1,000 jobs. In 2007, the campaign also yielded 13 projects but with 1,300 jobs in the Capital Region; in 2006, the region got five projects and 350 jobs. “In the face of an international economic downturn, BRAC has had its best year ever in terms of business development results,” says Adam Knapp, chamber president and CEO. “By building a great team and maintaining a high level of targeted focus, we have been able to secure jobs at a wage 34.5% higher than the regional average.”
Based on LSU analysis, the projects generated $10.6 million in revenues for the East Baton Rouge schools, $5.3 million for roads and infrastructure and $8.5 million for the general fund. — A.T.
In response to Louisiana’s abysmal showing in recent state-by-state rankings, the Louisiana Health Care Review is leading a push to reduce the number of rehospitalizations of Medicare patients among five Baton Rouge area hospitals. The collaboration includes Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary, Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales.
The goal of the project, Care Transitions Community Collaborative, is to reduce the number of people readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. The state’s low health care ranking is partly because of the high rate of preventable hospitalizations among Medicare patients.
Scott Flowers, LHCR’s project director, says the three-year project will focus on patients admitted to the hospital for heart attack, who then suffered congestive heart failure or pneumonia. —S.C.
Oh, oh, OSHA: Officials with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating working conditions at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery, Reuters reports. The complaint stems from Hurricane Gustav, when Exxon workers reportedly had to manually shut down refinery units in 90 mph winds after power was knocked out. An Exxon spokesman declined to discuss the investigations.
Help wanted: A survey shows 14% of employers plan to add full-time, permanent workers in 2009, compared with 32% who anticipated hiring increases in 2008. The careerbuilder.com Job Forecast says hiring will be strongest in the South.
Movin’ on up: Amerisafe, a DeRidder-based company, was added to two S&P Indexes. The company joined the S&P SmallCap 600 and its GICS Property & Casualty Insurance sub-industry index. Amerisafe provides workers’ comp insurance to small- and mid-sized employers in the construction, oil and gas, logging and sawmill industries.
Corner office: Gary Graphia has been named chief operating officer and executive vice president of The Shaw Group. Graphia was executive vice president of corporate development and strategy. Jim Bernhard, Shaw president and CEO, says Graphia has been instrumental in shaping the company’s vision.
Music never dies: The Compact Disc Store, a locally owned music shop in Mid City, will be open for at least a few more months. Owner Brad Pope says he’s received a three-month extension on his lease. Pope, who wants to retire from the business, says he’s still trying to find a buyer.
Under new ownership: For the second time in less than six months, Lafayette-based Home Bank purchased an empty branch building from Regions Bank. The company paid $975,000 for a building on Corporate Boulevard once occupied by Union Planters Bank. Officials with Home Bank say they plan to demolish the building and construct a 5,000-square-foot branch.
Sweet! The grinding season didn’t end badly for south Louisiana’s sugar cane farmers despite a delay caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, The Courier reports. One farmer says favorable weather conditions overall have meant higher sugar content in the cane, compensating for the volume lost to the September storms.
Sold: Odom Hydrographic Systems, which designs and builds underwater survey instruments, has been acquired by Teledyne Technologies Incorporated. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Odom had nearly $10.9 million in sales during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The company will change its name to Teledyne Odom Hydrographic Systems Inc.