Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, August 01, 2014

City Hall Plaza renovations will help finalize 'one of the great urban green spaces' in US, Rhorer says

Landscape architects spent much of Thursday meeting with Downtown Development District officials to begin planning City Hall Plaza, the 1-acre site behind the Governmental Building that will connect Galvez Plaza and Repentance Park to create a massive green space that can be used for a variety of entertainment, recreational and civic functions. "When this is all done I believe this will give us one of the great urban green spaces in the country," says DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer. "We've seen already the phenomenal use of Town Square space. This will give us more room and direct the focus away from the roadway." Reed Hilderbrand, a Massachusetts landscape architecture firm with Louisiana ties, is doing the $300,000 design for the plaza, which will be developed on top of two floors of underground parking used by the Governmental Building. That situation has made the project a bit challenging, says Rhorer, who expects construction drawings to take about six months to complete and the bid process to begin early next year. Approximately $3 million is budgeted for City Hall Plaza, which will be funded by a state sales tax rebate dedicated to riverfront master plan projects. —Stephanie Riegel

EBR residential permitting up in June, commercial down

The number of permits issued for residential construction projects in East Baton Rouge Parish was up in June, while commercial permitting was down. According to the latest monthly report from the city-parish Department of Public Works, a total of 291 residential projects were permitted, up from from 203 permits issued during June last year. Six months into the year, residential permitting is down about 45%, with 1,053 permits issued thus far in 2014, compared to 1,912 through June last year. While total commercial permits were down in June, the city-parish signed off on some very large projects. The largest is the roughly 119,000-square-foot warehouse and beer distribution facility Crescent Crown Distributing is building at 9101 Tom Drive, valued at $9,657,000. The Arizona-based beer distributor with regional headquarters in New Orleans finalized its purchase of a 15-acre tract near Cortana Mall for $1,773,000 in February. Other large commercial projects permitted in June include a 42,000-square-foot semitruck sales and service building at 763 O'Neal Lane, valued at $3.7 million, and nearly 19,000 square feet of new classroom space at Scotlandville Magnet High, valued at $3.5 million. Commercial permitting is also down through the first six months of the year, the report says. A total of 327 commercial projects have been permitted through June, compared to 764 last year—a decline of 57%. Most permits issued by DPW each month fall under the miscellaneous category, for things such as occupancies and reinspections, as well as electrical, plumbing and HVAC projects. A total of 2,168 permits were issued in June, up 15% over the 1,891 permits issued last June. Year to date, permitting is up 5.5% this year and the total valuation of projects permitted is up 52%—at roughly $453 million through the first six months of this year, compared to $298 million last year. —Steve Sanoski

LaPolitics: Dems, GOP target 2015 session for shared agenda

While the Democratic and Republican parties in Louisiana have decided to team up to pursue unlimited fundraising possibilities on the federal level (for more, read Jeremy Alford's latest column), there may also be a shared legislative agenda in the works on the state level for the 2015 session. The executive directors from both parties say there are at least three issues they already agree on and are willing to sit together at the committee table to discuss. The first involves the state's qualifying period, which is usually held in the early fall, around August, and less than three months before the primary. "Practically everywhere else around the country it's held in the spring," says Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. "Pushing it up will give us more time to prepare and will settle the fields sooner. I also think it could help the secretary of state's office, since they would have more time to get the ballots ready and prepare for the elections." Fundraising could be on the menu as well. With a recent court decision clearing the way for the Fund for Louisiana's Future, a super PAC, to collect unlimited donations on the state level, the parties would like to see a law passed that gives the same privilege to their own state-regulated independent expenditure accounts. Lawmakers may also be asked to put the court's super PAC decision into law. "That's something we both agree on," says Jason Dorť, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party. Additionally, the pair are interested in exploring the limits on when and where campaign signs can be placed in advance of elections. The issue sprouted in Lafayette earlier this year when a long-forgotten local ordinance was discovered allowing signs on private property only within three months of balloting. "It's private property and should be a freedom of speech issue," says Handwerk.

—With former Gov. Edwin Edwards serving as the Democrats' best hope of seizing the 6th Congressional District, attention is turning to whether the state party will get behind the candidate, who was in federal prison just a few years ago. "If he asks for a vote of the [Democratic State Central Committee] then we'll see," says a DSCC source of a possible endorsement. Since he announced for the race, the party seems to have kept Edwards at arm's length. But party officials say that isn't so, pointing to the fact that Edwards has not yet qualified and the field isn't settled. If he makes the runoff, as recent polling predicts, that would present a different situation, they say. "I would like the endorsement, but we need to be fair to the other Democrat in the race," Edwards tells LaPolitics, referring to Richard Lieberman of LaPlace, who has also announced. "If the party gave me some kind of sign, I might ask for it. I do not want to be presumptuous." Kirstin Alvanitakis, the party's communications director, says: "Our executive committee approved a procedure to allow our state central committee to endorse federal candidates via mail-in ballot on our last conference call, so we will likely be endorsing in competitive federal races this fall." For now, Edwards will have to settle for an enviable wave of national media attention. In the past few weeks, Edwards' bid has been covered in rather lengthy profiles by New York magazine, National Journal and The Weekly Standard. In the coming days, he will also be featured in a segment produced by CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

—Many have asked over the past two months about a memorial for LaPolitics founder John Maginnis, who passed away two months ago, or for a way to honor him. In partnership with LSU, LaPolitics is proud to announce the John J. Maginnis Scholarship Fund. It's an innovative approach that offers students, based on need, financial assistance while attending the Manship School of Mass Communications at LSU. Applicants will also be judged on a 725-word essay on Louisiana politics. Recipients, meanwhile, will be afforded a brief internship with LaPolitics when the Legislature is in session. To help secure Maginnis' legacy for future generations, you can donate to the scholarship and learn more here.

They said it: "You will see that snake again." —State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, warning future snake-bite victims after he stepped on a vengeful water moccasin this week and was treated at W-K Bossier, on KTBS-TV.

(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.)

'225 Dine': BR coffee connoisseur blending business with pleasure

Niklas Isaac is a coffee connoisseur. Before landing in the Capital City a year ago, he lived in New Orleans, playing jazz guitar, and in Denver, Colorado. "I've been making coffee all along the way," Isaac tells 225 Dine. In January, Isaac started purchasing sustainable, specialty grade coffee beans and roasting them, selling the beans under the moniker Pure Delight. "Coffee is graded on a 100-point scale," he says. "We don't buy coffee that is graded any lower than an 80. We buy the nicest coffee we can get our hands on. I pride myself on knowing the back-story of these beans, too, knowing where and how it is processed. I only buy it that way." For Isaac, this is all about doing what he loves. His entire family loves coffee. His first job was as a barista. Until now, his main jobs have been serving up cups of joe wherever he's lived. "About a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to roast and got further into researching it," he says. "Even when I was 14 or 15 years old, I loved hanging out in coffee shops. It's one of my favorite places to be. I thought being a barista was a dream job. I just really got into it." Read the full story and get the scoop on more local culinary news in the latest 225 Dine e-newsletter.

'Business Report': Catching up with the LSU Center for Advanced Microstructures & Devices

In certain circles, LSU's Center for Advanced Microstructures & Devices is best known for what it isn't. Specifically, it's not the anchor of a bustling research park that supports 1,500 direct jobs, as a 1992 report claimed it one day might be. Even today, says Richard Kurtz, an LSU physics professor and CAMD's interim director since 2009, the general public often misunderstands what happens inside the center's white octagon, just up the street from Towne Center on Jefferson Highway. "It's not a factory," Kurtz tells Business Report in a feature from the current issue. Rather, it's a multimillion-dollar tool, unique in the southeastern United States, used by university researchers and major corporations to look at various materials at very small scales using X-rays. While the facility's operations aren't as well-funded by LSU as they used to be, its users still land major grants, and officials say it still plays an important role in the university's efforts to advance basic science and boost Louisiana's economy. The J. Bennett Johnston Sr. CAMD is named after the father and namesake of the former Louisiana senator who scored its $25 million founding federal grant. Early hopes that the synchrotron radiation research center would put Baton Rouge and LSU on the forefront of semiconductor chip manufacturing never panned out. But microfabrication research conducted at CAMD has in past years helped researchers attract grants and in some cases start companies. More recent work has tended to be in the areas of energy, health care, and the environment, with possible applications ranging from new fuels to cancer therapies to chips that can diagnose health issues from the pH levels of your arm sweat. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

US unemployment rate ticks up to 6.2% on addition of 209K jobs in July

U.S. employers extended their solid hiring into July by adding 209,000 jobs. The Associated Press reports it marked the sixth straight month of job growth above 200,000, evidence that businesses are gradually shedding the caution that had marked the five-year-old recovery. Still, July's gain was less than that of the previous three months and probably wasn't strong enough to intensify fears that the Federal Reserve will soon raise interest rates to curb inflation. The unemployment rate ticked up in July to 6.2% from 6.1% as more Americans started looking for work. Most didn't find jobs, but the increase suggests that they're more optimistic about their prospects. The jobless aren't counted as unemployed unless they're actively seeking work. Average job gains over the past six months reached 244,000 in July, the best such average in eight years. "Job growth slowed in July after heated gains in the past three months," Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, writes in a research note. "But hiring trends remain solid, reflecting a strengthening economy." The pickup in hiring has yet to translate into larger paychecks for most Americans, a key factor that has hobbled the recovery. In July, average hourly earnings ticked up just a penny to $24.45. That's just 2% higher than it was 12 months earlier, which is slightly below current inflation of 2.1%. In a healthy economy, wages before inflation would rise 3.5% to 4% annually. Read the full story.

News roundup: 'Slate' chief political reporter says 2016 GOP field shaping up to be most robust in 40 years … US manufacturing expands again in July … US consumer spending up 0.4% in June

The game has changed: John Dickerson, Slate's chief political correspondent, says in a new column that the Republican Party's class of candidates for 2016 "has the potential to be the most robust in almost 40 years—perhaps in modern Republican history." Dickerson says whether that potential comes to fruition depends on who finally decides to run, but as of now six governors—including Gov. Bobby Jindal—and four senators are thinking seriously about it. Dickerson says the potential candidates' focus on new ideas over orthodoxy is what is setting them apart. "It isn't usually this policy-thick in the GOP presidential field," he writes. Read the full column.

Smokestack lightning: US manufacturing expanded for the 14th straight month in July in a good sign for the overall economy. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, reports this morning that its manufacturing index rose to 57.1, the highest level since April 2011 and up from 55.3 in June. Anything above 50 signals that manufacturing is growing. Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, writes in a research note that the index is consistent with overall economic growth of 3.5%. The Associated Press has the full story.

Hear those pockets jingle: U.S. consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in three months in June, providing momentum for the economy going into the second half of the year. Consumer spending increased 0.4% in June on a seasonally adjusted basis following slower increases of 0.3% in May and 0.1% in April, the Commerce Department says. That was the best showing since a 0.8% surge in spending in March, which reflected a rebound after a harsh winter had kept consumers from the malls and auto showrooms. The Associated Press has the full story.

Today's poll question: A report from the National Association of Manufacturers says EPA’s proposed lower ozone standard would be a job killer for Louisiana, costing the state hundreds of thousands of jobs a year and $53 billion in gross state product through 2040. EPA contests NAM’s conclusions. What do you think?

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