30 years: Still Baton Rouge-proud
There is a lot of history in 30 years. As you read through this special anniversary issue, it will provide a trip down memory lane, where you will find news, photos and people that will make you proud, happy, sad, angry—even a few that may make you laugh. It's encouraging to reflect on, and even share with your children, all that has been accomplished and the growth we have experienced as a community over three decades. It is impressive, and it continues, though not always fast enough for me. Greater Baton Rouge is in the heart of the 10/12 corridor and now includes the state's largest parish. As the capital city and home to our flagship university, we are the center of economic and political activity and key to the future for Louisiana.
I am Baton Rouge-proud (and Louisiana-proud) about many changes and signs of progress that have occurred. Our response to and resiliency in facing natural disasters has been inspiring and has impressed the nation. The entire country has also taken note of some Louisiana progress I once thought I wouldn't live to see, like statewide school choice with vouchers, a No. 1 ranking for ethics and a top 10 ranking for business climate. Our brand is much improved.
Not all has gone right. It never does. There are those times and failures—some for Baton Rouge, others for our state and some my own—that saddened or angered some of us as missed opportunities. Of course, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so you and I may not have felt the same way about everything. And that's OK. We don't have to agree. I have tried to share how I saw things—and challenge you to think about where you stood. I am appreciative that every two weeks you have devoted some time to allowing me to express my views. You are always welcome to express yours, too, by letter to the editor or online comments.
But I am an optimist and one who likes to look forward to possibilities and positive change, not dwell on the past. (Of course, there are lessons to be learned, and that leads to wisdom. No one likes to make the same mistakes over and over.) I happen to believe we should work on solutions, not constantly bemoan the problems. I believe that where there is a will, there is a way. It often just requires one to think differently or outside of the box—to break the mold. Many who have been in the system for too long are blinded by an old paradigm, when the answer may be right in front of them. The status quo will not suffice, and responding to new ideas by saying, “That's not the way we used to do it,” is a sure recipe for disaster. That line has been used too often and stifled change.
Let me say one more time: Change is a certainty. I recommend the advice of Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Let's hope we agree on that as we get started on the next 30 years.
Speaking of the future, there are a few things on my wish list, some of which you have read about here before. Here are just a few:
• Repurposing the old city dock south of the bridge. Great venue on the river to be developed and provide benefits. Calling all developers!
• City Park as a central park on the lake. Beautiful idea for the heart of the city. No more golf. And the best location for a Children's Museum is right next to the gallery building (on the first fairway), not across the street. And we need to clean, dredge and protect the lakes. Let's create and build for the future with the highest and best use in mind. Let our families, children and grandchildren enjoy these assets.
• A cleaner city. It's green, but we need to keep it clean. Cleaner streets. Mowed medians. Remove abandoned metal signs that create visual pollution. Take pride in our appearance.
• Changes in government. There are many who would like to consider a city manager, at-large council members, consolidated law enforcement agencies and fire districts, more privatized services, independent school districts and term limits for school board members. (You get to vote on the last one Nov. 6.)
I am sure you have your own list, and that's important because building a community is a journey, not a destination. Let's keep moving forward and make a better future for the next generation.
LSU is the state's flagship
As we focus on the future, there is only one Louisiana institution that resides in Tier I and can potentially compete with the top 50 public universities in America: LSU. And Louisianans everywhere must recognize that reality and rally around our flagship—just as they do when we are competing for a national championship in football. It is important to our state and to our future.
Just last week, for the fifth straight year, LSU was recognized as one of the top universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report. In the 2013 edition of “Best Colleges,” LSU is once again ranked in the first tier for Best National Universities. Interim LSU System President and LSU Chancellor William Jenkins said, “This ranking is a testament to the hard work everyone has put in every day to make LSU one of the top institutions in the country.” He credited the faculty, staff and students.
LSU's ranking is 67th among 173 public universities ranked (that's the top 39%).
I see it like this: If our state could send only one football team into a national collegiate tournament, who would you send? It's an easy answer—the LSU Tigers. They have the best talent and are best prepared to compete and win for our state. The same is true academically. LSU is the only public Tier I research university we have with the talent, size, resources and success to challenge the best. It is not a “Baton Rouge school,” but Louisiana's flagship—and it needs everyone's support to improve its ranking and succeed in a very competitive environment.
The state of business
I often get asked, “How is business in Baton Rouge (or Louisiana)?” I began this business 30 years ago, and we have covered business for those three decades. I have seen good and I have seen really bad. But today, business is good in our city and state. Despite a national recession that started in late 2007, Louisiana is one of only two Southern states (along with Texas) that has more jobs today than in January 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal took office. Our unemployment rate has remained well below that of the South and the U.S. every month since January 2008. Here in Baton Rouge, the total sales of Business Report's Top 100 private companies have increased every year since 2008. We should celebrate that.
Note that, since early 2008, leading companies have announced moves of their headquarters or other significant operations to Louisiana from a wide variety of locations, such as California, China, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, the U.K. and Wisconsin.
Here are just a few of the major project wins from LED over the last five years and the direct jobs created:
• SNF manufacturing facility in Iberville Parish: more than 500 new jobs with an average salary in excess of $57,000, plus benefits; $350 million capital investment.
• Nucor steel and iron production facility in St. James Parish: up to 1,250 jobs and average salary of $75,000, plus benefits; $3.4 billion in capital investment (total of five planned phases).
• Electronic Arts global quality assurance center: 600 jobs (after completion of latest expansion at LSU), including about 300 full-time and 300 part-time positions.
• Sasol gas-to-liquids complex in Calcasieu Parish: 850 jobs with an average salary of about $89,000, plus benefits; $10-plus billion in capital investment.
• Albemarle (Fortune 1000) corporate headquarters relocation to Baton Rouge: about 30 new jobs with an average salary in excess of $200,000, plus benefits.
Since January 2008, Louisiana has improved to its highest-ever position in every major national ranking of state business climates, including those published by Area Development, Business Facilities, CNBC, Forbes, Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Site Selection and Chief Executive. For example: Chief Executive Best/Worst States for Business, from No. 47 in 2008 to No. 13 today; Forbes' Best States for Business, from No. 49 in 2008 to No. 30 today; Site Selection's Top U.S. (State) Business Climates, from outside the top 25 in 2008 to No. 7 today.
Baton Rouge has done well in the national rankings as well recently. This year, Parade Magazine released a list for the “Hardest working cities in America,” and Baton Rouge ranked No.11. That is good news, because also this year, the Bureau of Labor Statics released their list of the top 10 U.S. metro areas (out of the top 100 largest metros) for projected job growth to the year 2020—and Baton Rouge was No. 7. That prediction may be a result of the capital city's No. 1 ranking in 2011 by Site Selection magazine as “Best mid-sized metro area for new and expanded corporate facilities” and the 2009 ranking from CNN/Money magazine for “Best mid-size metro areas for small business start-ups” at No. 9. Mayor Kip Holden, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the business community deserves congratulations for this success.
These are lists everyone used to complain we were always at the bottom of. Not anymore.
Here is what folks now say about Louisiana and its business climate:
• “Louisiana has shown astounding progress. No other state has ever shown this type of movement, going up 20 places in rank in such a short time. ... Louisiana is on its way to the economic development Super Bowl.” (Pollina Corporate Real Estate, report on top states for business in 2010)
• “Louisiana has established the gold standard for workforce training solutions with its innovative LED FastStart program.” (Business Facilities magazine, naming FastStart No. 1 in the country for state workforce training programs)
• “It's all about the workforce. We found fantastic people focused on applying their skills in innovative and creative ways. If you're looking for people who aren't afraid to break the mold, it's a no-brainer to come to Louisiana.” (Mark Rohr, former CEO, Albemarle)
• “After reviewing opportunities in Canada, Louisiana, New Mexico and other states, we chose Louisiana because of its variety of locations and diverse environments, the growth of film production in the state and its industry-specific tax incentives.” (Ray Scalice, vice president and general manager, Pixel Magic)
• “We have some of the strongest ethics laws in the nation now. We have a government that's focused on eliminating the tax barriers for businesses that once existed here. Louisiana is a great place to do business today—and it's getting even better.” (Glen Post, CEO, CenturyLink)
According to Southern Business & Development, Louisiana has secured more significant business development projects (measured by job creation and capital investment) per capita than any other Southern state for each of the last four years (2008-2011).
Stephen Moret, secretary of LED, believes the best is yet to come, stating, “Unless the federal government institutes regulations curtailing the use of fracking technology, Louisiana is about to experience an exciting couple years as we gear up for an industrial construction boom greater than any we have seen in decades. Within three to four years, we could have roughly $40 billion-$50 billion in industrial construction projects under way, including new gas-to-liquids complexes, LNG export terminals, chemical industry expansions/relocations, steel facilities (Nucor and others) and new durable goods manufacturing projects. That doesn't even include the thousands of software development, professional services and creative media jobs that we are cultivating to help diversify our economy.”
Yes, due to a lot of hard work by Jindal, Moret, the LED staff, local chambers and the business community—and with support from the Legislature—Louisiana has welcomed business and created thousands of new jobs at a time when other states have suffered. Leadership and policy matters. And in a tough national economy, the stats and business rankings show Louisiana has fared well and is moving in the right direction.
A few personal notes
It is hard to imagine that 30 years have passed since our premier monthly issue of Business Report hit the street, featuring local entrepreneurs and the late Huey Wilson on the cover. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve our community and build a business here. I have been blessed by God to work with so many talented people over the years (too numerous to name)—and they deserve the credit for our success. I am also grateful for the strong support from readers, companies and friends in our city and state. It is humbling and much appreciated. I even appreciate our critics who challenge us.
There would be no Business Report without the support of my father, Rolfe McCollister Sr.—my hero, who passed away in 2006. He was a publisher himself at the age of 19, when he started the North Baton Rouge Journal, which became a six-day daily paper. Though known to most as an attorney, he was an entrepreneur who loved the newspaper business. He passed that on to me.
David Dodson was editor for the launch, joining me, my father and our partners then, John Maginnis and Jodie Cado. I appreciate the role each played and their contributions. Dodson served as editor for seven years before joining McGraw-Hill in Washington, D.C.
Fifteen years ago, in 1997, Julio Melara joined the Business Report team as my partner and as president, bringing his experience and lots of enthusiasm with him. He and his wife, Sherry, have been a blessing to our company and our community, and I want to thank them both.
It has been rewarding to work alongside so many creative and dedicated people as we have grown our company, created new publications, produced new events, and developed new digital and online products for our readers and clients. All along, we've been mindful to give back to our community, which has given us so much support. Our goal is always to strive for excellence as we innovate in order to remain relevant and have an impact. We thank our staff for their commitment to that every day. (I have to acknowledge two special people who helped me stay sane: Tara Jeanise for the past 10 years and Pud'n Waller for eight years prior.)
We aim to make Baton Rouge proud with the quality of everything we produce, like this anniversary edition. Pictured below are just some of the products you may not even know we produce. Our Business Report team has won many AABP national awards, including multiple “Golds” for “Best Newspaper” in recent years. JR Ball, who has been with us for more than 13 years, leads that team and is our executive vice president. We appreciate their commitment to be the best.
We also enjoy providing events that bring our community together and honor achievement. (Our first Business Awards banquet in 1984 had Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine as the keynote. What a night!)
Of course, by my side for all 30 years has been my biggest supporter, my wife Teeta. There would have been no 30th anniversary without her. I am forever grateful to her for her love and support. I extend that same gratitude to my two daughters, Jeanne and Elizabeth, who grew up with Business Report—and now both work for this company. I always had the support of my parents and my family. Everyone should be so lucky.
In addition to my dad, I was fortunate to have a few other mentors along the way whose counsel and friendship I cherish and appreciated: the late Milton Womack and Gov. Buddy Roemer.
As this third decade ends, we begin a new one, with all its challenges and opportunities. I see the glass more than half full in Greater Baton Rouge. And I am most excited about the future because I am going to have my first grandchild in several weeks. Now that's big news for Teeta and me.
As I reflect on my 30 years, God has blessed me and I want to give Him thanks and the glory for any success I might have had. If you asked me, “What is your secret for making it 30 years?” I would just answer with one verse from the Bible, Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.”
Editor's note: This is an extended version of the column originally published in the September 18, 2012 issue of Business Report.
comments powered by Disqus
Real estate recap: DPW reorganization recommendations coming … Capital Region home sales post 5% gain in February … WWII bombing range near Hammond at center of new lawsuit
Office Parks Get a Makeover
What Families Are Spending on Prom Night