Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Fri, November 08, 2013

BullChicks to open first La. franchise in Baton Rouge

Corpus Christi, Texas-based fast-casual restaurant chain BullChicks is planning to open its first Louisiana franchise in Baton Rouge on Coursey Boulevard early next year. "We are definitely planning on further expanding in Louisiana," says BullChicks Chief Brand Officer Narisa Samji. "This is a corporate-owned location, but we will be looking for the right franchisees to open more locations in the state." BullChicks has seen rapid growth since the first location opened in Corpus Christi in 2006, Samji says. "We started franchising in 2010, and we've actually sold development rights in about 17 states." There are currently 11 BullChicks restaurants in five states, including California, Kansas, Minnesota and South Carolina in addition to Texas—where the majority of the locations are. BullChicks will open in a 3,155-square-foot space at 11135 Coursey Blvd. The company recently submitted its initial permitting applications with the city-parish, and it is in the process of finding a contractor to begin renovations on the vacant space on Coursey—formerly home to an Arby's. "It will definitely be within about 90 days from the first of 2014," Samji says of an anticipated opening date. The BullChicks menu features burgers, chicken wings, sandwiches, wraps and salads. "I think what sets us apart is our versatile menu," Samji says. "We really go off on our variety and have something for everybody in the family." —Steve Sanoski

With sales exceeding expectations, University Club readies new filing

Developers of University Club Plantation have submitted to the Planning Commission plans for a new filing of 68 home sites. The filing—the 10th at University Club—will be called Veranda and will feature homes of between 2,600 square feet and 3,200 square feet, priced between $350,000 and $500,000, according to developer Sinclair Kouns. The homes will feature a traditional, Southern-style design and will be built by Bardwell Construction. "We are honored to be included in the visioning of Veranda and can't wait to bring this new product to the University Club market" says a statement from Bardwell. University Club has experienced rapid growth over the past year. Two other filings, Tiger Crossing and Lake Crest phase two, opened in July and have exceeded expectations, Kouns says. More than 50 of the 70 lots built in the two filings have sold, which Kouns attributes to pent-up demand for housing at the price points offered at University Club. "We are finding that really the price point that is lacking in inventory is between $450,000 and $600,000," Kouns says. "It's been great for us. We had budgeted to sell about 15 homes a year.We did more than 50."—Stephanie Riegel

'225': Finding the balance in protecting children from chemicals

Though children's imaginations run wild with haunting tales of boogeymen and monsters in the closet, the things that keep today's parents awake at night are in items that many tote willingly into their homes. The list of such items is long and includes "cleaning supplies, children's toys, baby cribs, cereals, snack foods, shampoo and shower curtains," writes Amy Alexander in the November 225 cover story, titled "Generation Safe." In the story, Alexander interviews area parents about their concerns with inorganic dietary and environmental chemicals. Local mom and exercise physiologist Nicki Solomito Pugh has become a leader among locals who are keen to protect their children from such threats. Her advice? "I took it one thing at a time." Slowly, she eliminated and changed household items and ingredients. "The light bulb moment: Nutrition stopped being confined to food or drink that went into my body through my mouth, and it started including anything that went into my body—in any way." Read the full story.

In N.O., Obama touts infrastructure, transportation spending

Dwarfed by cranes and cargo containers at the Port of New Orleans, President Barack Obama today called for more government spending on major infrastructure projects as an economic recipe that could have ripple effects on employment. The Associated Press reports Obama addressed job growth on a day the government released surprisingly strong hiring numbers for October. Still, Obama said, there was "no question" that last month's partial government shutdown hurt the nation's jobs market. "We should be building, not tearing things down," he said, with the dim roar of machinery in the distance. Obama has been pressing Congress to include spending for roads, bridges, airports and ports during budget negotiations. Such projects usually have bipartisan support, but talks have stumbled over how to pay for them. But Obama also used his appearance to push other items on his agenda, including health care and passage of a farm bill that has been caught in a dispute over spending for food stamps. The legislation, he said, "is not something that just benefits farmers." "Ports like this one depend on all the products coming down the Mississippi," he said. And with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in the audience, Obama chided state Republican leaders who have failed to take advantage of a provision in his health care plan to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor. He said such expansion would benefit 265,000 people in Louisiana. Read the full story.

White House puts price on government shutdown

Lost work: 6.6 million days. Back-pay costs: $2 billion. Private-sector jobs lost: 120,000. Those are just some of the costs of the 16-day partial government shutdown that ended last month, the Obama administration says in a new detailed report. As The New York Times reports, the effects may seem small in the context of the $16 trillion economy, but they can add up to less effective government service, and at a higher cost. The report comes as a second shutdown remains a possibility unless Congress can pass a budget or provide more stopgap financing for the government. But top Republicans, wary since the backlash to the October shutdown, have made it clear they do not intend to force another impasse. A bipartisan House-Senate negotiating committee is working behind closed doors on a budget agreement, but expectations for a major deal are low, given the expansive policy gulf between Democrats and Republicans. The committee has a mid-December deadline, and the government's financing expires again in January. The Treasury would lose the authority to issue new net debt in February. The most direct cost of the recent shutdown, the report says, is the $2 billion in back pay that will go to federal workers who were furloughed. Read the full story.

Not even Saban downplays magnitude of LSU-Alabama showdown

Even Nick Saban isn't protesting too loudly that Saturday night's Alabama-LSU showdown is just another game. The stakes are too high, the recent meetings too competitive and the rivalry just too compelling. "It's probably hard for everybody to think that this is just another game," says Saban. For the top-ranked Crimson Tide's laser-focused coach—who usually spends the week before a big game repeatedly telling reporters that it's just another game, no more or less important than any other on the schedule—that amounts to a monumental concession to what Saturday night's meeting with the Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium means for both teams and fan bases. For Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC), it represents one of the biggest remaining hurdles toward a crack at a third consecutive national title. LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) hopes to spoil that bid and still turn the season into something special after losing to both Georgia and Mississippi by a field goal. Plus it's Alabama. "It's definitely huge. I can't even understate that," says Tigers running back Jeremy Hill. "It's a big game. I'm not even going to sit here and lie to you guys. You just can't let it overwhelm you." Hill said that's one thing Alabama does well in big games: "They don't let the moment get to them." The Associated Press has the full story.

News roundup: La. weekly unemployment insurance claims drop … U.S. rig count up 12 this week, while La. adds one … Oklahoma company to pay $6.4M in Gulf drilling probe

On the way down: First-time claims for unemployment insurance in Louisiana for the week ending Nov. 2 dropped from the previous week's total. The state labor department reports initial claims decreased to 2,309 from the previous week's total of 2,374. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,602 initial claims. The four-week moving average—which is a less volatile measure of claims—decreased to 2,377 from the previous week's average of 2,414. Continued unemployment claims for the week ending Nov. 2 decreased to 22,416 from 22,705 the previous week. The four-week moving average for such claims decreased to 22,708 from the previous week's average of 23,927.

On the way up: Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for or developing oil and natural gas in the U.S. rose by 12 this week to 1,754. The Houston-based company says in its weekly report that 1,383 rigs were exploring for oil and 365 for gas. Six were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,806 rigs. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained 13 rigs, New Mexico increased by six and Louisiana added one. Oklahoma lost four rigs and Alaska declined by one. The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.

Fine enough: An Oklahoma-based drilling company has agreed to pay a $6.4 million criminal penalty to resolve a federal probe of allegations that its employees falsified records on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The Associated Press reports Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. pleaded guilty today in New Orleans to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced by a federal magistrate as part of a plea deal with Justice Department prosecutors. The Tulsa, Okla.-based company was charged in a court filing last month. Prosecutors say several employees working on the company's rig in 2010 deliberately avoided testing valves on a key safety device because they believed they would leak, and then allegedly created false testing records and provided them to rig inspectors in an effort to minimize downtime and reduce repair costs.

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