Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Mon, October 20, 2014

News alert: St. George supporters submitting petition today

Organizers of the city of St. George incorporation effort are submitting more than 18,000 petition signatures to the East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters office today, potentially clearing the way for voters in unincorporated East Baton Rouge Parish to weigh in on the issue in the Dec. 6 election. Registrar of Voters Elaine Lamb says Tuesday is the deadline for submissions to be placed on the December ballot, though her office must still verify the petition signatures and determine roughly 17,750 are valid in order for a vote on the issue to go forward. "It's going to take several weeks to verify them because early voting starts tomorrow and all four of my offices will be bombarded," Lamb says. In a prepared statement, St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey says the group chose to turn in the petition today—even though it does not yet have the 20,000 signatures that would ensure enough of those on the petition are valid—due to "the constant efforts by the City of Baton Rouge to undermine the democratic process." Local attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is representing the city-parish in its efforts to prevent the incorporation, has said the city would immediately file a legal challenge once the petition was submitted. Pierson could not immediately be reached for comment this morning. —Stephanie Riegel

Metro Council to consider adding Uber service to BR airport

The Metro Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether transportation network company Uber will be permitted to pick up and drop off passengers at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. Taxi and limousine companies are required to pay a fee every month to qualify to service the airport. Because Uber's drivers are everyday citizens, not licensed professionals, airport officials previously questioned whether cars providing Uber service should be classified as commercial or personal vehicles. Airport spokesman Jim Caldwell says those details have been massaged. Uber vehicles will pick up and drop off passengers alongside taxis and pay a comparable fee. But Caldwell says the agreement is a short-term "stop gap" measure to be used until a new city ordinance is finalized. "It's just to give them the option of serving the airport immediately," Caldwell says, adding the contract is a kind of trial run so that if issues arise, they can be tackled with more permanent means. "Quite a few airports are not allowing them to serve," Caldwell says. "There aren't a lot of existing contracts out there to emulate." Under the proposed contract, Uber would pay $100 a month, and the contract would sunset after one year. The council has voted in favor of Uber in the past. In June, it overwhelmingly approved changes to the city-parish ordinance regulating taxis to allow Uber to operate in Baton Rouge. Check out an August story from Business Report on Uber's move to Baton Rouge. The Metro Council convenes at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. See the full agenda. —Kelly Connelly Read the full story.

Dems hoping Clinton can boost black vote in La., other key Senate states

Former President Bill Clinton's visit to Baton Rouge today to stump for Sen. Mary Landrieu is, in large part, about turning out the black vote on Nov. 4. As The New York Times reports, Democrats know black voters are key to their hopes of holding onto a Senate majority. That reality was highlighted in a confidential memo written earlier this month by a former pollster for President Barack Obama, which contained a blunt warning for Democrats as Election Day draws near: It predicted "crushing Democratic losses across the country" if the party does not do more to get black voters to the polls. "African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014," wrote pollster Cornell Belcher. "In fact, over half aren't even sure when the midterm elections are taking place." Black voters could help swing elections in Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina and possibly Arkansas, an analysis of voter data by The New York Times shows, but only if they turn out at higher-than-forecast rates. In Louisiana, where Landrieu appears headed for a runoff in a three-candidate race, Democrats have worked to enlist more than 600 black and religious leaders to help with voter registration. And today brings the visit by Clinton, who remains hugely popular with black voters and spent the weekend in his native Arkansas drumming up the vote. He'll appear with Landrieu at an event at the Hilton Capitol Center downtown that's to begin at 2 p.m. Read the full story.

'Business Report': 19 secrets to getting hired from Best Places to Work recruiters

Now that you know the Best Places to Work in Baton Rouge, how do you get hired by one of them? Business Report spoke with top hiring managers at some of the companies on the list of 38 local companies—as ranked by independent firm Best Companies Group—to find out what they're looking for and how to impress them. "When asked about your biggest weakness, remember that weaknesses are just strengths overused," says Rebecca Holifield, human resources adviser for Methanex, which finished first in the inaugural Best Places to Work rankings. "Select one opportunity for development. We all have them. Clearly outline your opportunity, how you self-identified your need for improvement and what you are doing to improve." Heather Roemer, assistant vice president of human resources for Business First Bank, which is ranked No. 23, says making a good impression with a prospective employer means being mindful that everyone is a part of the team. "Be respectful and gracious to everyone you come in contact with—especially the receptionist. You'd be surprised how often a candidate's lack of respect for those who are not directly involved in the hiring process negatively impacts their getting hired," says Roemer. "Good companies are always watching." Read the full story for more tips on getting hired at the Captial Region's Best Places to Work. Send your comments to [email protected]. Business Report partnered with the Greater Baton Rouge Society for Human Resource Management and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to present the first annual awards. If your company would like to be contacted in the spring of 2015 when survey registration opens for the second annual Best Places to Work awards, submit your contact details online.

Cleco to be bought by Australian-led investors for $3.4B

An investment group led by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets will buy the Louisiana power company Cleco for $3.4 billion. The group will pay $55.37 in cash for each share of Cleco, which owns the regulated electric utility Cleco Power. That amounts to a 15% premium on the stock's closing price of $48.27 on Friday, the last trading day before the deal was announced. The buyer group includes British Columbia Investment Management Corp. The deal, expected to close in the second half of next year, is valued at about $4.7 billion when $1.3 billion in debt is included. Cleco Corp., based in Pineville, will continue to operate as an independent company under local management. The company also says there will be no change in utility rates or employment levels. The company generates and sells electricity mostly in Louisiana, where it has about 284,000 customers. Cleco also supplies wholesale power in Mississippi. Cleco's stock has climbed 3.5% so far this year, a slightly better gain than the 2% growth registered by the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

Billing of La. rape victims to end under new plan, DHH says

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has a new plan to end the practice of billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests. DHH says in a news release issued this morning that the plan will streamline the funding process by allowing hospitals to bill the Crime Victim's Reparation Board directly. Under current law, the board is not allowed to accept bills for additional medical expenses directly from the provider, which resulted in some hospitals treating victims of sexual assault like normal emergency room patients and billing them for additional services. Victims who decide not to file a police report have been ruled ineligible for reimbursement from the Crime Victims' Reparation Board under the current law. Research by the Justice Department indicates nearly two-thirds of sex assault victims don't ever go to law enforcement. The planned changes by DHH will require legislative approval, and DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says she's confident they'll be approved. "Over the last few weeks, so many leaders have come to the table ready to discuss how we support sexual assault survivors and how care is provided to them," she says in the news release. "I am encouraged by the commitment of everyone we've worked with and am confident that we can support the Legislature in making changes to improve care for survivors."

Pay raises rarer despite strong US hiring, survey says

U.S. businesses were much less likely to boost pay in the third quarter than in previous months, even as hiring remained healthy, a sign that wage gains may remain weak in the coming months. The Associated Press reports a quarterly survey by the National Association for Business Economics found that only 24% of companies increased wages and salaries in the July-September quarter. That's down from 43% in the April-June quarter and the first drop after three straight increases. Yet the firms still added jobs at a healthy pace, which usually pushes wages higher as employers compete for workers. A measure of hiring in the survey dipped in the third quarter but remained near a three-year high. The figures suggest that the number of people out of work remains high enough that companies aren't under any pressure to raise pay. And just one-third of respondents said they expect their companies will boost wages in the October-December quarter, about the same proportion as three months ago. Despite healthy job gains this year, there were still 9.3 million people unemployed in September, according to government data. That's up from 7.6 million before the Great Recession. More than 7 million Americans are working part-time but are looking for full-time work, which gives employers an even larger pool of potential employees to choose from. The NABE surveyed 76 of its member economists in late September. The economists work for companies or private trade associations. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: When was the last time you got a pay raise?

News roundup: Scalise, Vitter on 'Washingtonian' Best and Worst of Congress rankings … BR engineering firm opening Saudi Arabia office … Deadline for Companies to Watch nominations extended

Naming names: Every two years, the Washingtonian polls congressional aides to come up with a Best and Worst of Congress list, which includes some serious and not-so-serious categories. On this year's list, two Louisiana lawmakers appear. New Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican, is listed as the House's No. 1 Rising Star, and he also finished No. 2 in the Surprise Standout category. Republican Sen. David Vitter is ranked as the Senate's No. 2 Party Animal, tied with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. See the complete Best and Worst of Congress.

Going global: Baton Rouge-based Ford, Bacon & Davis has announced plans to open an office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The privately held engineering, procurement and construction management firm currently has seven offices across Louisiana and in Greenville, South Carolina, with its corporate headquarters located at 12021 Lakeland Park Blvd. Tom Boom has been hired as senior vice president and general manager of the firm's Saudi Arabia operations. The firm says it is currently in the process of getting the necessary licenses from the Saudi Arabian government for the office.

Request for submissions: The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is extending the deadline for entries for its Companies to Watch awards to 5 p.m. Friday. Companies to Watch is an awards program honoring second-stage companies in the nine-parish Capital Region. To qualify, a company must be a privately held commercial enterprise with between six and 99 full-time employees in 2013. The company must have achieved revenues between $750,000 and $50 million in 2013 and be headquartered in the nine-parish region. Award winners will be honored at a ceremony to take place Nov. 19 in conjunction with Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week. Get complete details and make your nominations.

Sign up for E-Newsletters