Daily Report

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

La. has nation's best business climate, 'Business Facilities' says

Louisiana has been named the U.S. state with the best business climate in Business Facilities magazine's 10th Annual Rankings Report, released today. "Louisiana surged into the top slot in BF's annual state business climate assessment from last year's fourth-place finish. Utah, Texas, Tennessee and Indiana rounded out the top five, respectively, in this year's Best Business Climate ranking," says the magazine. Editor in Chief Jack Rogers says Louisiana has been a "perennial contender" for the top business climate designation in recent years, but that this year it was easy to place the state No. 1. "When we scrutinized all of the essential elements for a successful economic development program in today's highly competitive market—including workforce training, incentives, a business-friendly tax and regulatory structure, and a highly diverse, well-conceived growth strategy—we consistently found an aggressive standard for excellence in Louisiana," Rogers says. The magazine continues to be impressed with the "unprecedented cooperation between higher education resources and business in Louisiana," it says. Meanwhile, the Louisiana FastStart program repeated as the top-ranked state program in the magazine's Workforce Training Leaders category. Access the complete rankings. Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a statement today saying the top ranking from "one of the leading economic development publications for more than four decades is proof of the remarkable turnaround that has occurred in Louisiana." —Steve Sanoski

'Daily Report' Week in Review: BRAF releases latest CityStats report, redevelopment authority moving forward with plans for Entergy site and much, much more

Residents of East Baton Rouge Parish are less concerned about crime this year, according to the results of the annual CityStats survey by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, released this week. In another key finding about the community, the numbers also show locals are divided on the question of performance of traditional public schools versus charters. Baton Rougeans also expressed more moderate views in this year's survey than they have in years past. Approximately 34% in the 2014 survey identify themselves as moderates, up from 31% the year before. At the same time, those identifying as "very conservative" fell from 15% to 11%. Survey responses to progressive policy questions regarding legalization of marijuana, gay marriage and support for an anti-discrimination ordinance followed suit. The survey also showed that total library circulation in the city-parish increased over the year before for the first time since 2010. Also this week, East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority President and CEO Walter Monsour told Daily Report plans are moving forward for the redevelopment of the former Entergy site at 1509 Government St., which sits on 6.2 acres between downtown and Mid City. Six design firms have submitted proposals to the authority for the planning phase of the project, which will encompass a broader 103-acre swath of land bordered by Interstate 10, North Boulevard, and 19th and Government streets. Meanwhile, Monsour also says the authority has only about $1.5 million on hand, which is enough money to keep its doors open through 2015. After that it will have to find a permanent source of funding to cover both operations and project costs. —Steve Sanoski Read the complete Daily Report Week in Review.

EATEL inks deal to offer SEC Network

LSU Tiger fans who are EATEL customers in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes can rest easy: A deal has been reached with ESPN to carry the SEC Network when it launches on Aug. 14. A source familiar with the deal tells Daily Report that ESPN will formally announce the deal early next week. The SEC Network is expected to be part of EATEL's "basic plus" cable package, which is priced at $67.95 per month. A majority of EATEL cable customers already have the package. EATEL customers have been calling the company for months inquiring about the SEC Network availability, the source says, adding: "When you live and work in an SEC dominated area, this is just something that you have to offer as a carrier—it's just that important." EATEL customers will have access to the SEC Network in standard and high definition. Today, the Walt Disney Company—parent company of ESPN—announced it had reached a deal with The National Cable Television Cooperative for NCTC's members to carry the SEC Network. The cable co-op serves nearly 1,000 member companies across the United States, including EATEL. Cox announced in July that it had reached a deal with ESPN to carry the SEC Network. Cox customers with the "digital essential" tier package, which is priced at $69.99 a month, will have access. The SEC Network and its accompanying digital platform will air more than 1,000 live events in its first year, including at least 45 exclusive SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, 50 softball games and events across all of the SEC's 21 sports. —Steve Sanoski

Vitter describes his strong support for Common Core

Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter offered definitive support today for the Common Core education standards, a position that puts him at odds with Gov. Bobby Jindal but that could bolster business community backing as the senator fundraises for the 2015 governor's race. "I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Gov. Jindal's attempt to start from scratch right before the new school year is very disruptive," the senator says in a statement to The Associated Press. Common Core standards are grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in English and math, adopted by more than 40 states. Vitter's statement follows his description of the standards as "very strong, significant, positive standards" in an interview taped for C-SPAN's Newsmakers, set to air Sunday. The comments were the first time Vitter has taken a position on the standards. His backing of Common Core also comes as Jindal is taking steps to undermine the standards and remove them from Louisiana classrooms, in a dispute with education leaders that's headed to court. "I would take an aggressive, hands-on approach [to] get curriculum and implementation right," Vitter says in his statement. "I'd ensure the state and locals maintain complete control over curriculum, lesson plans and reading lists and make good decisions on those. And I'd demand effective planning and preparation with parents, school boards and teachers." Read the full story.

White says small overpayments found in voucher program have been recouped

Auditors looking at state payments to private schools through Louisiana's $35 million voucher program found about $52,000 in overpayments during the last school year, The Associated Press reports. Education Superintendent John White says the money has been recouped from the schools, by backing the dollars out of the last round of tuition payments. White praised the audit findings in a prepared release, saying they show the program is humming along with no significant problems. "Once again, scholarship schools demonstrated compliance with state laws on the findings in the audits," White says. "The Department worked with legislators to enhance accounting procedures of the non-public schools participating in the Scholarship Program to ensure funding was distinguishable. All funding from audit findings have been recouped." He says of the 126 schools in the program, 24 schools—or 19%—had issues raised by auditors, like a child who isn't eligible for the program. White says that rate of annual audit findings is lower than in public schools. The statewide voucher program began in 2012. Nearly 6,800 students received taxpayer-financed private school tuition in the 2013-14 year.

'225': Pastor Joseph Moore devotes his ministry to the homeless

Open Air Ministries, a project of Pastor Joseph Moore, is now supported by more than a dozen local churches and nonprofit organizations. As 225 details in a feature from the August issue by Editor Jeff Roedel, Open Air's mission is to provide spiritual growth and support to the area's homeless, all the while feeding them, distributing secondhand goods and clothes and offering skills, training and work opportunities. Hundreds of men and women line up each week, some with backpacks, others with crinkled plastic shopping bags. As they gather around the pastor, he tells them that he loves them, and that God loves them more—and then he prays. "There's an amen—strong and in unison," writes Roedel. "It sounds like a riot. It sounds like a rebellion against the struggle of their daily lives and the way they know most people look at them as they walk the streets of this city." Though the "official" count of known residents without permanent housing is 955, Moore says the real number for Baton Rouge is in the thousands. "He's seen it," Roedel writes. "He's lived it. And by now, he's met most of them." Moore didn't know that his own life's ups and downs would be a gift and bond him to the men and women whom he calls his new congregation. "When you're homeless, a lack of confidence comes over you from your shame or from the disappointment you have over hurting your family," Moore says. "But also, a spirit of laziness can creep in. You have to fight through that. As long as people are bringing you things, giving you things, you have to have a mind for doing things yourself." Read the full feature, or pick up the August issue at newsstands around the Baton Rouge area today.

News roundup: No injuries reported in BR railroad derailment … LSU professor included on list of 'The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds' … La. weekly unemployment insurance claims decrease

Off the track: The Baton Rouge Fire Department says six tank cars and boxcars in the middle of a Canadian National freight train derailed around 9:45 a.m. this morning off South Choctaw Drive. Department spokesman Curt Monte tells The Associated Press nobody was hurt in the accident, and that some silica that was spotted leaking from a boxcar is not dangerous. He says some businesses in the area closed their offices, but added the department did not call for an evacuation. Portions of South Choctaw Drive were closed due to the derailment.

At the top: LSU Psychology Professor and Distinguished Research Master Dr. Johnny Matson has been included on Thomson Reuters' 2014 list of "The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds" for his work in the social sciences. The list includes scientific researchers whose published work is among the most cited papers from 2002 to 2012—ranking in the top 1% for their subject field and year of publication. Matson, who has been a faculty member of LSU since 1985, earned a master's degree in counseling psychology from Eastern Illinois University and a doctorate in counseling psychology from Indiana State University. See the complete list.

On the way down: First-time claims for unemployment insurance in Louisiana for the week ending July 26 decreased from the previous week's total. The state labor department figures released today show the initial claims decreased to 2,312 from the previous week's total of 2,543. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,627. The four-week moving average, which is a less volatile measure of claims, decreased to 2,535 from the previous week's total of 2,601. Continued unemployment claims made for the week ending July 26 increased to 23,406 compared to 23,386 the previous week. The four-week moving average for such claims increased to 23,014 from the previous week's average of 22,381.
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