Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Mon, December 17, 2012

B.R. home sales up 16% in November

Strong November home sales in the eight-parish region tracked by the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors have already placed year-to-date 2012 home sales ahead of total sales in 2011, with another month of sales still to report this year. GBRAR reports 566 homes were sold in November in East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Iberville and Point Coupee parishes. That's 80 more home sales than were tallied in the region in November 2011, or an increase of about 16%. The average sale price in November, at $206,249, was also considerably higher than that of the same month last year, when the average home sold for $173,096. Through November, 7,064 homes have been sold in the Capital Region this year, which is roughly 15% more than the 6,122 sold through the same 11-month period last year—and exceeds the 6,604 homes sold in all of 2011. The 11-month total this year is also already ahead of annual sales totals in 2010 (6,386) and 2009 (6,899). And unless December sales this year are far below the 482 recorded last December, 2012 should end up being a stronger year than 2008, when 7,284 homes were sold and the area began seeing impacts from the national recession. Total months inventory—or the number of months it would take to sell all homes on the market at the current sales pace—was also down sharply in November compared to last year. Although the months inventory rose to 7.3 in November from 6.5 in October, it is still well below the 10 months inventory recorded in November 2011.

Former DHH head: Hospital leases won't improve access for La. uninsured

The LSU Board of Supervisors on Friday unanimously approved outsourcing operations for three public hospitals, ratifying deals cut by the Jindal administration and LSU officials. The plan is meant to save money, and helps LSU begin the process of ridding itself of facilities it doesn't want. But whether the hospitals are run by the state or by private-sector nonprofits, tying charity care to 10 hospitals doesn't do much to improve access to care for uninsured patients throughout the state, says former Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary David Hood. What would help the uninsured, he says, is expanding Medicaid as proposed in the federal Affordable Care Act, which the Jindal administration says Louisiana will not do. "We need to think well beyond the immediate problem," Hood says. "Does [outsourcing hospitals] drive up cost, or does it now magically help us balance the budget?" Hood's views on the Affordable Care Act are his own, he stresses. However, in 2007 he authored a report for PAR that recommended transferring the duties of six public hospitals to local entities, while keeping four for medical education. But the "necessary first step," the report says, is expanding coverage to as many low-income people as possible. Through the ACA, the federal government is offering to help the state do just that. The Jindal administration says the Medicaid expansion, and the ACA in general, is too expensive and unsustainable. —David Jacobs

Red Stick Spice Co. under new ownership

Customers of Red Stick Spice Co. may not notice any changes when they go shopping for spice blends, loose teas, infused sea salts, and small portions of freshly ground, exotic spices. But the Jefferson Highway store is under new ownership. Anne Milneck, a professionally trained chef and writer, is taking over as owner of the shop today. She purchased it last week for an undisclosed price from owners Lee and Gloria Easterwood, who opened the store in 2010. The Easterwoods previously told Daily Report they were asking $105,000 for the company's inventory, recipes, branded material, website, and list of nearly 7,000 customer contacts. Milneck grew up in LaPlace and has a culinary arts degree from Nicholls State University. Her husband, Greg Milneck, who owns Digital FX, says she plans to keep the store the same for now but eventually hopes to grow the business, especially its online operations. "I don't think she's going to change a lot initially, but she's got lots of ideas," he says. "We think this is a great fit." —Stephanie Riegel

Law firms stuff their clients' stockings

In a show of appreciation for their clients, local law firms are stuffing Christmas stockings with gifts of all shapes and sizes for them. At Kean Miller, presents range from Louisiana-themed cookbooks and festival guides to miniature gumbo pots. Clients are receiving a portfolio of Fonville Winans' photography of south Louisiana from the 1930s and 1940s, including a dozen frame-ready, 11-by-13-inch prints, with a holiday message to clients and a short biography of Winans. Steve Boutwell, director of client services at Kean Miller, says the nearly 30-year-old Baton Rouge law firm has had a gift program for more than 10 years and spends $25 or less on each present. "A lot of our corporate clients have gift policies of under $25," explains Boutwell, noting many clients don't accept lavish presents, preferring to retain transparency with their legal representation. Taylor Porter shares a similar gift-giving relationship with its clients, says managing partner Harry "Skip" Philips. In the past, Taylor Porter has spent more on clients that don't have policies prohibiting employees from accepting gifts than on those that do. But in celebration of its centennial in Baton Rouge this year, Taylor Porter is sending about 3,500 clients a Christmas card with a list of 12 different charities or organizations to which clients can choose to have a charitable donation made on their behalf. Philips says Taylor Porter plans to donate "several thousand dollars" to hospitals, shelters for veterans and animals, Stuff the Bus, and Pat's Coats for Kids. "Baton Rouge has been good to our law firm for 100 years, so we thought this was appropriate," Philips says. —Adam Pearson

LSU's tuba-playing center garnering national attention

Many LSU sports fans in Baton Rouge are already familiar with the brass-to-basketball story of 7-foot-3 Andrew Del Piero, who began his time in Baton Rouge as a scholarship tuba player with the Golden Band from Tigerland and has since become a scholarship athlete. Now the national press is beginning to take notice of his incredible story, too. On Sunday, The New York Times included a lengthy feature story on Del Piero, who played a total of 12 minutes all season last year but has taken on a more significant role on the team this year—starting several games at center. The Austin, Texas-native—who attended Westlake High School, which is also Drew Brees' alma mater—tells The New York Times that he began feeling pressure to try out for the Tigers basketball team shortly after arriving in Baton Rouge in 2009. "On game days here, it kind of turned into a big deal," says Del Piero, who played one season of admittedly unsuccessful basketball in high school and decided to pursue music instead. "A lot of people [were] saying things like, 'Hey why aren't you on the basketball team?' and heckling me and stuff." At the Tigers' recent home game against Chattanooga, at which Del Piero started, he had an ally-oop dunk, two blocked shots and a tipped-in offensive rebound in the span of less than a minute as the game came to a close. The crowd of 6,000-plus gave Del Piero a standing ovation, many chanting "Tu-ba! Tu-ba!" as the smiling center came off the court. Read the full story here.

Suit challenges U.S. plans for selling offshore leases

Environmentalists set to file a lawsuit today challenging the Obama administration's plans to sell offshore drilling leases over the next five years are using a novel argument: that the government overlooked the value of waiting to harvest oil and gas from coastal waters. The Houston Chronicle reports the economic-driven approach is a new one for offshore drilling critics, who have separately accused the government of moving too swiftly to approve new oil and natural gas exploration after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and ignoring the environmental effects of the work. Lawyers with New York University's Institute for Policy Integrity are filing the lawsuit in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Center for Sustainable Economy. The lawsuit will ask the court to kick out the current program and require the Interior Department to revise it. The legal challenge takes direct aim at the Interior Department's plan to hold more than a dozen offshore drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and waters around Alaska before June 30, 2017. "It's clear to us that the new offshore leasing program was hastily prepared to score political points," says John Talberth, president and senior economist at the Center for Sustainable Economy. Talberth notes that federal laws require a full cost-benefit analysis as well as environmental reviews. The full story can be found here.

News roundup: BRAC to host monthly luncheon series in coming year … Toyota set to claim auto sales crown as GM battles for No. 2 … Apple sells 2 million iPhone 5s in China in first 3 days

Let's do lunch: BRAC announced this morning that it will host a series of monthly luncheons in 2013 that are open to both BRAC investors and non-investors. The regional economic development organization says the luncheons will be held on the first Tuesday of each month, beginning on Jan. 8, and will be held in the seventh-floor offices of Kean Miller at II City Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge. Caroline Wood with Louisiana Connections Academy will be the first guest speaker. Get all the details and register here.

Where the rubber meets the road: Toyota is poised to take back the title of world's biggest automaker for 2012, Bloomberg reports, as Volkswagen fights General Motors for second place heading into the year's final weeks. The battle among the world's biggest carmakers comes as the industry is headed for a record year. Global 2012 sales will top 80 million cars and trucks for the first time, as robust U.S. and Japanese purchases offset a European downturn, according to estimates from LMC Automotive. The full story is here.

Answering the call: Apple says it sold more than 2 million iPhone 5s in China in their first three days of availability, setting a record for that market. Launched in China on Friday, the iPhone 5 will be available in more than 100 countries by the end of December. The smartphone first went on sale Sept. 21 in the United States, Germany, France, Japan and five other countries, with more than 5 million units sold in the first three days—also a record.

Today's poll question: Are you traveling out of state this year to celebrate the holidays with family and friends?

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