Miller chosen as BRCC chancellor
Andrea Lewis Miller was chosen today to lead the Baton Rouge Community College by the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors. Miller has served as the chancellor of Sowela Technical Community College in Lake Charles since 2006. Miller succeeds Myrtle E.B. Dorsey as chancellor. Dorsey accepted a leadership post at St. Louis Community College earlier this year, and had led the institution from 2002 through June. Jim Horton has served as interim chancellor since Dorsey's departure. "I am honored to be selected to lead BRCC into a new era of excellence," says Miller in a prepared statement. "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a dedicated faculty and staff helping BRCC students achieve their academic goals and prepare for entrance into the workforce."
Miller has more than 20 years of experience in higher education. During her time at Sowela, she has managed the complete transformation of the college's organizational structure from a technical college to reflect a comprehensive community college. She has also led the increase of Sowela's enrollment from 1,617 to 3,060 students over a four-year period, and has secured $3 million in private donations, grants and contracts for the college. Prior to serving at Sowela, Miller was provost/executive vice president for academic affairs, administration and planning at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Miller earned her doctorate and master's degree in cell and developmental biology from Atlanta University, and received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Department of Anatomy at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The LCTCS board also today selected Natalie Harder as the new chancellor of South Louisiana Community College in Lafayette.
I-12 widening project breaks ground in Livingston Parish
Gov. Bobby Jindal was on hand today to break ground on a $21.9 million project to widen 3.2 miles of Interstate 12, from four to six travel lanes, between Juban Road and the Walker interchange. Jindal says the project came in under bid, and the state will use the savings to widen an additional two to three miles of I-12. The project is slated for completion in the middle of 2013. "Folks from across the nation are seeing that opportunities exist in Louisiana, and they are coming to Livingston Parish to pursue their dreams and raise a family," Jindal says in a release. "That's why we've invested millions to make this region more accessible to the state and the nation. This project will reduce congestion for our people and continue to boost economic growth in the region." Through the competitive bid process, the state will save approximately $14.5 million on the project, compared to the estimated cost. Combined with funds from an existing I-12 bridge federal rehabilitation project, the savings will be used to further widen I-12, from two to three lanes, from the Walker interchange to approximately two to three miles east.
Center for World Affairs loses city-parish funding, could close
The organization behind Baton Rouge's International Heritage Celebration is facing a "death blow" after the Metro Council voted Tuesday night to give its funding to another group. The council voted to redirect $115,000 from the Center for World Affairs to the Louisiana Youth Leadership Institute. Councilman Ulysses "Bones" Addison called for the amendment to help the youth leadership institute, which, he says, "provides services for youth all over Baton Rouge." But Center for World Affairs President Monika Olivier warns the move would effectively kill her organization—which annually operates on a total budget of $150,000. "This is really a death blow for us. If no change happens, we will have to close our doors, period," Olivier says. "I'm utterly in shock. This came without any kind of warning. We've been doing this for 14 years." Along with the International Heritage Celebration, the center annually puts on the International Tasting Fair and Cooking Competition, and was planning the Sister Cities Tennis Tournament. "We do unbelievable stuff with very little money," Olivier says. The group employs two and relies on a bank of volunteers to carry out its duties. Olivier hopes to rally those volunteers at today's regular Metro Council meeting to protest the realocation of funds. "It would be a crying shame to discontinue what we built," she says. "They don't understand what they're throwing out." The council meets at 4 p.m. on the third floor of the Governmental Building, 222 St. Louis St. —Ian McGibboney
Chipotle entering La. market with B.R. restaurant near LSU
The battle for burrito supremacy in Baton Rouge will heat up next summer when Chipotle Mexican Grill opens its first Louisiana restaurant in the former Blockbuster site near LSU's North Gates at 101 W. State St. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold says the restaurant will open in mid-2012, but no exact date has been set. The burrito chain—similar in concept to Izzo's Illegal Burrito—has grown to more than 1,100 restaurants across the U.S., U.K and Canada since its foundation in Colorado in 1993. Arnold is mum at the moment on plans for other Chipotle restaurants in Baton Rouge or Louisiana. "We don't talk about plans beyond sites that are under lease and where construction is scheduled, and nothing else meets [those] criteria at this point," he says. "But it's also pretty unusual for us to do just one restaurant anywhere." Once the restaurant opens, there will be just four states—Mississippi, Montana, and North and South Dakota—in which Chipotle is not operating. The 6,500 square feet of space formerly occupied by Blockbuster is being divided in two, with Five Guys Burgers and Fries set to open alongside the Chipotle site, says Austin Earhart of Beau Box Commerical Real Estate, the agent on both deals. "They're working to get in there as soon as humanly possible, but it will probably spring time," Earhart says of the Five Guys restaurant. A patio will be constructed on the Highland Road side of the building, to be shared by both restaurants, Earhart says. —Steve Sanoski
No raises for DPW, but no cuts either
Despite impassioned pleas to the Metro Council at its Tuesday night budget meeting, employees with the Department of Public Works will not be receiving additional pay raises in 2012. But the agency's director says that the approved budget will save their jobs and improve prospects in 2013. On Tuesday, several workers with DPW stated their cases before the council. Joshua Williams, a four-year DPW employee, said he knows "people who have been working for the city for 20-plus years who have second jobs just to provide for their families." Herman Addison, an 11-year employee, said he didn't understand why the city issued a $450,000 contract for cutting grass when DPW workers are tasked with the same duty. "I'm blessed to have a job. But still, I'm complaining because I know a lot can be done that isn't being done," Addison said. DPW Acting Director William Daniel says the department is making the best of a bad situation. — Ian McGibboney Read the full story here.
City-parish launches ConserveBR energy-efficiency program
Plans for a widespread energy-efficiency outreach program to be conducted through in-person meetings, online resources, citizen dialogues via social media and an ambassador program were announced by Mayor Kip Holden today. The mayor laid out details of the program at a press conference held at the Coca-Cola production and distribution facility on Plank Road, which was constructed in large part with recycled materials and is designed to incorporate energy-conservation measures in day-to-day operations. It opened in April 2009 and became the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in the United States to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The ConserveBR program is targeted toward both city-parish employees and Baton Rouge residents. The city-parish has launched a new website—which you can see here—to serve as a resource for citizens interested in learning how to conserve or be more efficient with energy, and to engage the community in an ongoing dialogue about commitments to conservation and environmental sustainability. The slogan for ConserveBR is "Start It. Save It. Own It." A ConserveBR Energy Ambassador program will challenge citizens to commit to becoming a "Starter," "Saver" or "Owner" of the program's conservation and sustainability goals. Full details are on the website. ConserveBR is fully funded by an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
'Forbes' website lists two corridor firms as 'stocks under rocks'
Forbes.com says two corridor firms—McMoRan Exploration of New Orleans and Stone Energy of Lafayette—as potential "stocks under rocks." Peter Ricchiuti, assistant dean at the A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University, writes in his monthly blog for the website that the nation's energy outlook is gaining ground, which makes the two firms "speculating and intriguing investments." Possibly as soon as this month, McMoRan, a spin-off from minerals giant Freeport-McMoRan, will learn whether its Davy Jones well—the ultradeep hole it has been drilling in 20 feet of water a few miles off the coast of Louisiana's Vermilion Parish—will be the natural-gas bonanza that preliminary testing suggests it will be. CEO James "Jim Bob" Moffett has long believed that the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, though widely considered a spent energy source, have phenomenal deposits of natural gas far beneath the pincushion of drilling sites from earlier decades. Freeport-McMoRan relocated its corporate headquarters from New Orleans to Phoenix, leaving behind this unit of 120 employees. "What a delicious irony it would be," Ricchiuti writes, "if the small unit left behind on Poydras Street turns out to have been the parent company's most valuable gem." Stone Energy is drilling several deep and ultradeep wells in Vermilion and Cameron parishes in the belief that gas-bearing reservoirs below the shallow gulf bleed onshore, and that onshore drilling offers a way to tap an abundant hydrocarbon resource without incurring the considerable expenses of underwater operations. Says Ricchiuti: "Both companies represent daring American entrepreneurship at its best." To read the full column, click here; and read the rest of the 10/12 Corridor Weekly newsletter here.
News roundup: Shaw buys back more than 6 million shares … State panel to revisit income estimate … U.S. auctions first offshore tracts since 2010 oil spill
Stocking stuffers: The Shaw Group says it has agreed to buy back 6,185,567 shares of its common stock—roughly 8.7% of all its common stock shares—at $24.25 per share, completing a $150 million stock repurchase plan. Shaw repurchased the shares via a modified Dutch auction, which allowed stockholders to set the number of shares and the sale prices within a certain range. Shaw set the range between $22.25 and $25.25. Stockholders offered to sell back slightly more than 6.6 million shares at or below $24.25, and Shaw says it is buying back about 93.5% of all shares offered.
Budget cuts possible: Louisiana's income forecasting panel is planning to talk about whether the state's revenue projections should be decreased, a move that could force a new round of budget cuts. The four-member Revenue Estimating Conference meets today to hear from two state economists about how income projections have fallen below their predictions. If the conference shrinks this year's income forecast, that decision would drive a round of midyear cuts to close the gap, with only six months left in the fiscal year. If the conference reduces next year's projections, lawmakers would cope with that change in the upcoming legislative session when they craft next year's budget. All four members of the panel must agree before income projections can be changed.
A new lease on livelihoods: The federal government's auction of offshore petroleum leases in the Gulf of Mexico today, the first since the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill disaster in April 2010, drew $337.7 million in winning bids. Petroleum explorers bid on 191 tracts in the western gulf off the coast of Texas. With natural gas prices low and the United States sitting on vast shale deposits of gas, most of the bidding centered on deepwater sites targeted for oil exploration. Twenty companies offered 241 bids totaling $712.7 million. ConocoPhillips submitted the largest bid, agreeing to pay $103.2 million for a deepwater tract. The sale total was sharply higher than during the last western gulf sale in 2009, which drew only $115 million in high bids during a time of economic recession and increasing production of natural gas from shale. Depending upon water depth, the leases run from five to 10 years and revert back to the government if not developed. The federal government will receive an 18.75% royalty rate on all production.