Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Mon, September 22, 2014


MediFund board begins work to make La. national health care destination

Consultants are scheduled to present preliminary ideas today to the newly created MediFund governing board on how to make Louisiana a destination health care market that will attract patients from around the country. This is just the second meeting of the MediFund board, which is an independent grant-making authority created by the Legislature in 2013 to promote destination health care and biomedical research in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and north Louisiana. The board met initially in May but did not have a quorum that day so the gathering was merely informational. It was not clear as of press time this afternoon that a quorum would be present today, either. Still, the presentation is important in helping the board decide how to frame the issue of building a destination health care market here, says Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which, with GNO Inc., helped spearhead the creation of MediFund. "MediFund's goal is to find ways to help the medical communities across the state distinguish themselves from a national competitive standpoint," Knapp says. "How do you attract out of state patients? Where do we have pockets of excellence to continue to develop? MediFund is supposed to address different sectors where we can be competitive." Once the MediFund board gets up to speed, it will have to figure out how to come up with money. A small federal grant obtained by BRAC is paying for two people to manage the MediFund, but money has not yet been raised for the fund itself. Supporters hope the state will appropriate money to the fund at some point, but federal and foundation dollars may be even more important. —Stephanie Riegel

Barfield: 'We have a lot of unknowns that obviously concern me' about tax amnesty

The Louisiana Department of Revenue is expecting to collect $104 million from delinquent taxpayers through its month-long tax amnesty program that begins Oct. 15, Secretary Tim Barfield told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday afternoon. That's out of an estimated $1.9 billion that the state says is owed from 450,000 taxpayers, but Barfield said he's not guaranteeing that the department will meet its goal. "I'm always paranoid, and I will be until we have the $100 million in hand. We have a lot of unknowns that obviously concern me," Barfield said. Some of the uncertainty arises from the types of taxpayers the department is targeting. Last year's program, the first of three, resolved the bulk of corporate debt. Ten companies paid roughly 60% of the $452 million haul, Barfield said, and, "at this point there's nothing like that out there." Barfield said this year the majority of taxpayers who participate in the program will be individuals and small businesses that the department will have to work harder to reach. Barfield expressed concern that the state has had so many amnesties—this is its fourth since 2000. That can encourage taxpayers to wait to settle their debts, which means the state collects less. But Barfield said now is a good time for an amnesty. "I'm hoping it will clean things up on the heels of Katrina, the spill and the recession," Barfield said. But he hopes the department will implement better collection practices in the future to avoid the need for another amnesty. The Legislature has deemed that next year's period of forgiveness will be the last until 2025. This year's program will require payback of only the full amount of back-owed taxes and 50% of interest with no penalties. Taxpayers will have the option to pay in installments, and tax credits will not be accepted as payment. The revenue department has complete details on the amnestry program. —Kelly Connelly

'Business Report': e-commerce pioneer stays competitive by returning to roots

Along with his wife, Annette, John Douthat owns AllBrands, the nation's largest independent online and retail dealer of sewing and knitting machines, vacuums and steamers, fabrics and accessories, plus small appliances. Based in Baton Rouge, AllBrands sells to customers worldwide through its six retail stores and its online site. Today, Douthat is considered a titan in the industry. As Business Report details in a feature from the current issue, the Douthats are also considered pioneers in e-commerce, but they've returned to their brick-and-mortar roots to stay competitive in an ever-shifting business landscape. It was in 1996 that the Douthat's then-12-year-old son asked his dad why AllBrands wasn't on the Internet. Douthat's reply: "What's the Internet?" What Douthat didn't know about the Internet he quickly learned, and AllBrands became the first online company to sell sewing machines. Business boomed, and soon AllBrands was focusing on its online demand and closing its retail stores. "The Internet swamped us," says Douthat, who is AllBrands' president but refers to himself as "owner and technician." "It was taking all our energy and funds for expansion. We couldn't do both retail and Internet, so we got down to one store." AllBrands had worked with Amazon, but as Douthat observes: "Amazon is actually our competition, and you shouldn't go into business with your competitor." So, at a time when many businesses were dropping their retail stores and going all in on the Internet, Douthat began expanding his brick-and-mortar stores alongside his Internet business. "I describe AllBrands as a mature Internet company, but a growing retail chain," he says. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

Auditor releases nonpartisan brief on Common Core

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office this morning released a nonpartisan overview about the English and math standards used in Louisiana's public school classrooms. The 30-page report describes development of the standards, gives a sample of the changed teaching and outlines other states' use of Common Core. The report also provides an overview of the Common Core lawsuits filed in Louisiana. More than 40 states, including Louisiana, have adopted Common Core, which describes what students should know after completing each grade. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the standards, saying the Obama administration has manipulated use of Common Core to try to control local education policy and curriculum. Jindal issued a press release following the release of Purpera's report today, saying the report shows that Common Core standards are driving curriculum in the classroom. "We appreciate the Legislative Auditor's report as it confirms what parents, educators, legislators and the governor have been saying all along—standards drive curriculum," says Jindal's Assistant Chief of Staff and Education Policy Advisor Stafford Palmieri in the press release. "In black and white, the auditor states that states, districts and educators have had to revamp curriculum, lesson plans and learning materials to align with Common Core standards." See the complete report.

La. lags in at-home services for disabled people

Louisiana ranks behind most of the nation in enabling people with developmental disabilities to receive care and services in their own homes, according to a report released today. As The Associated Press reports, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office says Louisiana has the sixth-highest number of people who are developmentally disabled and living in 24-hour care facilities such as group homes. The state's Medicaid program covers most costs of the care at the 524 facilities around Louisiana, spending $1.3 billion on them during three budget years from 2011 to 2013. They provide physical and speech therapies, special education and rehabilitation services. But the high use of such "intermediate care facilities" comes despite a national trend to offer people with disabilities more care options to stay with or near families and communities, rather than separated from loved ones. The report comes as the state health department is working to shift to a more insurance-based model for providing long-term care services. Olivia Watkins, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, says the auditor's report will help the agency as it continues to rework its care for people with developmental disabilities. "Addressing the issues outlined in the informational audit are some of the primary items being addressed in the discussions for managed long-term supports and services," Watkins says in an email to The AP, which has the full story.

'Business Report' planner: Chamber of EBR hosts judicial forum … BREC unveils draft of new 10-year strategic plan … Creative Louisiana has artist Jason Hackenwerth

Tuesday: The Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish will hold a judicial forum for candidates for district judge, family court and juvenile court at a luncheon at Cafť Amťricain, 7521 Jefferson Hwy. A reception will be held from 11:30 a.m. to noon, with the forum to follow from noon to 1:15 p.m. Lunch is $15, payable to the restaurant.

Wednesday: After months of planning and gathering information through public meetings, focus group meetings, scientific surveys and online input from the community, BREC will unveil for public comment a draft of its new 10-year strategic plan at 6 p.m. at Independence Park Theatre, 7800 Independence Blvd. Get complete meeting details.

Friday: Artist Jason Hackenwerth will give a sneak peek into an installation he will be creating at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum at a meeting of Creative Louisiana at the offices of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, 427 Laurel St. The meeting starts with coffee and mingling at 8:30 a.m., with the presentation to follow at 9 a.m. There is no charge. Get complete details.

The Business Report planner is open to events of general interest to the Capital Region business community. Items must be submitted no later than noon the Friday before the event occurs. Email ssanoski@businessreport.com with information.

For the full list of upcoming events, click here.

News roundup: Recovery eludes long-term unemployed, study says … SEC to pay $30 million-plus in largest whistleblower award … German conglomerate making $7.6B bet on US fracking

It's a long and narrow way: More than 20% of Americans laid off in the past five years are still unemployed and one in four who found work are in a temporary job, according to a survey out today. As USA Today reports, the study by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University underscores that despite a sharp drop in long-term unemployment recently, many people out of work at least six months are still struggling to recoup their former wages and lifestyles. Those idled for years face an even tougher road back to employment. Read the full story.

Money talks: An anonymous tipster living abroad will be receiving more than $30 million in the largest whistleblower award ever doled out by U.S. securities regulators as part of a program that aims to incentivize insiders to report wrongdoing. Reuters reports the Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that the whistleblower provided crucial information that helped investigators uncover a "difficult to detect" ongoing fraud. Read the full story.

Power players: The German engineering conglomerate Siemens already makes a range of products for the American energy sector, including gas turbines and equipment for generating electricity from wind. But in acquiring the Dresser-Rand Group, a Houston-based oil services company, in a $7.6 billion deal announced Sunday night, Siemens signaled an even bigger push into the booming American sector. The New York Times reports Siemens is betting that, in the long term, Dresser-Rand will strengthen its ability to cash in on unconventional drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Read the full story.
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