Publisher: North Baton Rouge…make something happen

We often hear about all the needs or complaints of north Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District was approved by voters more than a year ago, so I am wondering, “What’s happening?” What are the big plans and where are the partnerships forming to accomplish the first “win” or project completed—or even started?

The funding approved from a hotel-motel tax is flowing and staff is in place—so are we going to keep hearing folks complain or have they gotten creative and started the revival?

It is often said, “Be careful what you wish for.” Many of those complainers now have a mayor-president who lives in north Baton Rouge, a legal district with a board and dedicated funding that they control. So what are you doing?

Interim Development District Director Rinaldi Jacobs has claimed north Baton Rouge has the most available land and the most incentives in Baton Rouge. He has said there are great opportunities there. So, seize the day, north Baton Rouge!

Let me say I am one who wants to see the entire community grow and prosper. That’s good for Baton Rouge. And I agree with Jacobs that there is land and there are opportunities in NBR.

I see that in Zachary the city has hired a firm to identify sites for retail, and they found 42 properties including shopping centers and vacant land they will pitch to national retailers. Now they are selling the opportunity. Has NBR taken inventory to sell?

When someone starts bemoaning the woes of NBR, I will just give them the phone number of the (Baton Rouge North Economic Development District) and tell them, “They’re now in charge.”

 I also see big opportunities like 1) BTR and the Aviation Business Park (700 acres); 2) Howell Place; 3) Ardendale and the BRCC/McKay Automotive Training Center; 4) Bon Carré and the Tech Park; 5) Cortana Mall (and future uses); 6) LSU Health North Clinic; and finally, 7) the vacant site of the former Earl K. Long Hospital which now belongs to Baton Rouge. Back in 2015, then state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome had meetings about what to do with this site. She told The Advocate, “I heard what the people want to see in that community, and they want the same things people in south Baton Rouge want. They want pockets of entertainment for their families.” Well, how does that happen? Is the BRNEDD working on it?

Why don’t the mayor’s office, BRNEDD, BRAC, LED and the Commercial Investment Division of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of REALTORS get with bankers and do the market research for that site, package incentives and then do a national request for proposals for the site and offer it for $1. It is vacant and could be a catalyst—but the developer has to see economic opportunity. Risk and reward. We can make something happen or do nothing and let it sit and continue to grow weeds.

Fact is, the BTR Aviation Business Park has much of this in place, and I often wonder why they don’t have more success. The park is shovel ready, designated as a Foreign Trade Zone and an Enterprise Zone, has state incentives, workforce incentives, tax rebates and tax incentives, and their video says it is perfect for retail and manufacturing because it is the “most transportation accessible site in region.” So why isn’t it sold out in NBR? The mayor and BRNEDD should ask.

When someone starts bemoaning the woes of NBR, I will just give them the phone number of the BRNEDD and tell them, “They’re now in charge.”

Examine ‘dedicated funds’

Sen. Sharon Hewitt serves as co-chair with Rep. Rick Edmonds of the Dedicated Fund Review Subcommittee. This is a legislative panel taking a close look at what these funds are dedicated for. I heard Hewitt speak to the Board of Regents last week and say there are 377 dedicated funds. She said that is highest in the country. (Maybe that is because of our history of corruption and the fact folks don’t trust politicians.)

Hewitt said about $4 billion of $10 billion in general fund money is dedicated. Some is constitutional dedications, but much is simply statutory dedications that can be changed by a majority vote of the Legislature and a signature from the governor. But she also explained much of that goes to the Transportation Trust Fund and the Minimum Foundation Program (K-12), which won’t be touched. Hewitt said about $850 million is being scrutinized. She also pointed out that each dedication has its own constituency. But she believes these dollars should be freed up to go back into the general fund, so those constituencies would have to compete for dollars like anyone else and make their case annually to be a priority. I agree.

Set up Louisiana Checkbook

Why wouldn’t the governor and Legislature want to let the taxpayers who elected them see where their money is being spent? It’s our money. Is there something to hide? They claim it is being spent well and not wasted, so let’s convert the current version of LaTrac to the new “2.0” modeled after the “Ohio Checkbook” so all spending is transparent online and everyone accountable. Makes sense to me. You agree?

I hear the rumor is the leadership of the Senate is quietly opposing this and wants to exempt the judges, locals and Legislature from the checkbook. Why? Who are they protecting?

It also made sense to the nonpartisan think tank Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Treasurer John Schroder are also in favor of using this advanced technology.

I hear the rumor is the leadership of the Senate is quietly opposing this and wants to exempt the judges, locals and Legislature from the checkbook. Why? Who are they protecting?

With all the talk of raising your taxes and removing dedications, it seems only fair that the state would “open the checkbook” and share all in order to build and ensure more trust. If they don’t, that just makes everyone suspicious and erodes trust in our government and elected “public servants.” They should do the right thing and let us see the Louisiana checkbook now.

Billy Graham: America’s Pastor

The Associated Press described the Rev. Billy Graham as “a singular force in postwar American religious life, a confidant of presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history.” Last week, Graham moved his residence to heaven at 99.

The AP reported, “In 1957, he said, ‘I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ.’” He certainly did that, taking his leadership summits and crusades to more than 185 countries.

I still remember the time I had the privilege of meeting Graham in 1970 when he came to Baton Rouge for a crusade in Tiger Stadium. Through the persistent efforts of Bob Cole, Graham agreed to have a crusade here. My father had the honor of serving as chairman of the crusade, and it was a special time. Donald Tabb came to Baton Rouge as staff for the crusade and after the event was asked by locals to return and become founding pastor of The Chapel on the Campus.

The AP notes, Graham’s conversion began at age 16, when he committed himself to Christ at a tent revival. “I did not feel any special emotion,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am. ″I simply felt at peace,” and thereafter, “the world looked different.” His 99 years impacted the world.

Graham finished his race strong and his humility, character, honesty, compassion and love for others made him a role model to all. I know Graham is at peace in heaven with his wife, Ruth, and he heard those words he longed for from his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Business Report’s Small Business Guide 2018


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