News alert: La. voucher program allowed to begin in August
A Baton Rouge judge has refused to prevent the start of a statewide voucher program that will use tax dollars to send children to private and parochial schools. The decision today by Judge Tim Kelley means the program pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal will begin in August, while a lawsuit filed by teachers unions and local school boards over the constitutionality of the voucher program continues to wend its way through the court. Kelley determined he couldn't issue an injunction blocking the program's start because of a law that bars injunctions if a state agency chief says that injunction would cause a deficit in the department. Jindal-backed state Superintendent of Education John White says his department would face a deficit if the laws creating and funding the voucher program were blocked.
B.R. looking for businesses to participate in Contractor's College
The city-parish is inviting small construction businesses that want to compete for city and state contracts to apply to its Business with Baton Rouge Contractor's College. Applications for the collaborative program, being conducted in partnership with Southern University and Capital One Bank, are being accepted through the end of business today. On three successive Saturdays, the Contractor's College will teach small contractors the basics of securing government contracts: how to secure the bonding, insurance and certification required for city and state contracts. Applicants are required to have been licensed for at least one year, and to have between $500,000 and $1 million in annual revenue. "This new Contractor's College is another step in our continuing effort to strengthen the local pool of qualified small businesses and to help small business owners achieve success," Mayor Kip Holden says in a prepared statement. A total of 10 contractors will be selected for the initial Contractor's College, which will be held Saturday and on the following two Saturdays, at the Southern University campus. Each of the sessions will run from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., and lunch will be provided. Get complete details and apply here.
Zaxby's looks at entering B.R. restaurant market
Georgia-based Zaxby's, a Southeast favorite for chicken fingers and buffalo wings—and one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant chains—is spreading its wings in Louisiana and eyeing Baton Rouge for further expansion. QRS, a magazine for the fast casual restaurant industry, reports that the chicken chain opened its first Louisiana location in West Monroe last week. Louisiana is the 13th state for Zaxby's, which has opened approximately 550 locations since 1990, when it was founded. QRS reports Zaxby's plans to have approximately 575 locations operational by the start of 2013. The company has opened up additional markets for development across Louisiana, including in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport areas. "Louisiana residents are known for their passion for good food, unique flavor, and enjoying it with family and friends," says CEO and co-founder Zach McLeroy. "That tradition aligns with Zaxby's passion to serve the best food in a fun atmosphere; we are excited to bring our exceptional flavors to these food fanatics." Co-founders and childhood friends McLeroy and Tony Townley opened the first Zaxby's restaurant in Statesboro, Ga., in 1990. Since then, the chain has steadily grown throughout the Southeast, and beyond. The company opened its first Texas location in March 2008 and its first Indiana location in February 2010.
Research: Limiting hours spent sitting, watching TV can lengthen life
New research co-authored by a Pennington Biomedical Research Center director shows a correlation between sedentary behavior and life expectancy that you may have already picked up on. Essentially, the research shows reducing the time you spend on your duff and in front of the television may lead to a longer life. Specifically, cutting down your TV time to less than two hours a day may extend your life by 1.4 years, the findings show. Also, restricting the amount of time you spend seated each day to less than three hours can tack on as many as two years to the average adult American's life. The new findings, co-authored by Peter Katzmarzyk, associate executive director for population science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, are published in the online journal BMJ Open. "This study elevates the importance of sedentary behavior as a risk factor for premature mortality. The risks associated with sedentary behavior appear to be on par with the risks associated with smoking and obesity," Katzmarzyk says. You can access all of the details and the complete study here.
N.O. notables urge 'Times-Pic' owners to sell newspaper
A who's who of notable New Orleans residents—including Archbishop Gregory Aymond, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, jazz artist Wynton Marsalis and Treme star Wendell Pierce—are reportedly pressing 22 members of the Newhouse family to sell The Times-Picayune, which has announced plans to move to a three-day-a-week publication schedule this fall. "If you have ever valued the friendship you have shared with our city and your loyal readers, we ask that you sell the Times-Picayune," reads a letter from The Times-Picayune Citizens' Group—which includes more than 70 businesses and community groups—to the Newhouse family. The Times-Picayune reports others signatories include Tulane University President Scott Cowen, Xavier University President Norman Francis, Loyola University President Kevin Wildes, restaurateur Ralph Brennan, and Saints and Hornets owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle. "Our city wants a daily printed paper, needs a daily printed paper and deserves a daily printed paper," the letter says. A spokesperson for the citizens group says it has found a "willing buyer" for the paper but would not divulge a name or say how much money was being offered. Regardless, the sale request was immediately rejected by the paper's owners. "We have read the letter with great respect and concern," says Donald Newhouse, president of Advance Publications, owner of the paper. "Advance Publications has no intention of selling The Times-Picayune." Read the full story here.
Oilfield waste site plans draw ire in Houma
Houma residents who live and work near the site of a proposed oilfield waste disposal well say they're upset about a court ruling that allows the project to move forward. A judge ruled late last week that a state permit allowing Vanguard Environmental to drill the well supersedes local laws preventing such drilling within a mile of residences or businesses. State law only requires the well to be 500 feet away. Terrebonne Parish officials have said they plan to appeal the decision. The (Houma) Courier reports that Vanguard's management has repeatedly declined to comment, but the company's lawyers said in court Friday that the facility doesn't pose a risk to nearby residents and the well will follow all state guidelines for environmental safety. The lawyers also said Vanguard wants to start building the facility "as soon as possible." The well would be less than a mile away from two schools. It would inject wastewater under high pressure into sand formations about 4,000 feet underground. Nolan Bergeron is an environmental advocate who helped create the parish's one-mile buffer zone law in the early 1980s. He's worried about the precedent the judge's decision sets. "It used to be that people would just dig holes and dump their waste in it, and we worked very hard to create an ordinance that would make things safer," Bergeron says. "To water that ordinance down to 500 feet? I don't think that's right."
Today's poll question: Do you think a 500-foot buffer zone between drilling activities and homes, schools or businesses is adequate to ensure public safety?
U.S. job openings rose in May
American employers advertised more jobs in May than April, a hopeful sign after three months of weak hiring. Job openings rose to a seasonally adjusted 3.6 million, the Labor Department reports this morning. That's up from 3.4 million in April. It's also the second-highest level in nearly four years, just behind March's 3.7 million. Still, layoffs also increased, an indication that the job market is still struggling. A rise in openings could mean hiring will pick up in the coming months. It typically takes one to three months to fill a job. Even with the increase, the competition for jobs remains fierce. There were 12.7 million unemployed people in May, or an average of 3.5 unemployed people for each open job. In a healthy job market, the ratio is usually about 2 to 1. And hiring has slowed sharply this spring. Employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, the third straight month of weak hiring. For the second quarter, the economy added an average of only 75,000 jobs a month. That's just one-third of the 226,000 jobs a month added in the January-March quarter. The unemployment rate remained at 8.2% in June. The slowdown in job creation has raised concerns that the economy is further weakening.
News roundup: OLOL and LSU to break ground on medical center today … Piccadilly aims to expand its food service division … B.R. native at helm of Mars rover landing
Get the gold shovels: Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center was set to hold a groundbreaking ceremony this morning on the LSU Medical Education and Innovation Center on Brittany Drive, near the OLOL campus. The training facility is one component of a public-private collaboration between the state, OLOL and LSU to move all Baton Rouge-based medical education to the OLOL campus by November 2013. The four-story, 41,000-square-foot building will include classroom space, simulation and research labs, and faculty offices. Gov. Bobby Jindal is among those slated to speak at the groundbreaking. See a rendering of the center and learn more about the project here.
Getting served: Piccadilly Restaurants has scheduled a pair of open house dinners for businesses in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas as the Baton Rouge-based restaurant chain attempts to expand its food service division. Of the approximately 70 food service contracts Piccadilly has landed in recent years at businesses, schools and hospitals, about 25 are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge open house will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 3332 South Sherwood Forest Blvd. Interested companies can meet Piccadilly chefs and executives, see a demonstration, ask questions and get a taste of the food. For more information, click here.
He's in the best selling show: Keith Comeaux, a Baton Rouge native who works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is supporting the upcoming Mars Curiosity Rover landing scheduled for Aug. 5. As the rover approaches Mars following a nearly nine-month, 354 million-mile journey, Comeaux is serving as team chief for Cruise/Engineering Operations and will serve as flight director during the landing. Prior to the rover's launch from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, Comeaux also led the test team responsible for ensuring that all of its systems were working properly. Read more about the rover's tricky descent in a story from The Houston Chronicle here.