Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, April 16, 2014

'Business Report': Heated Senate race illustrates divides in Louisiana Republican Party

Louisiana was among the last of the Deep South states to turn deep red, "but when it happened, it happened quickly," writes David Jacobs in the new Business Report cover story. David Vitter, then a congressman from Metairie, became Louisiana's first Republican U.S. senator since Reconstruction in 2004. With help from Democratic defections, his party took over the state House of Representatives in 2010 and the state Senate in 2011, both for the first time since (you guessed it) Reconstruction. Today, the party holds every statewide elected office but one. "Back when the Republican caucus could meet in a phone booth, sticking together was pretty much mandatory. But when any party gets bigger, factions develop, and the Louisiana GOP is no exception," Jacobs writes. "This year, a Republican Baton Rouge doctor takes on a Democratic political legacy in a U.S. Senate campaign that could end up being the No. 1 national political news story for weeks." The Democrats are unified behind Sen. Mary Landrieu, the incumbent. Meanwhile, fighting off challengers from his right could cost Cassidy money and time, and perhaps even damage his brand going into a runoff when he should be focused on Landrieu instead. "A closer look at how that race is shaping up provides guideposts that help explain the state of the Republican Party in Louisiana today," Jacobs writes. Read the complete cover story. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

BR tourism officials gearing up for a big summer

Local tourism officials are gearing up for a blockbuster summer, with three major events set to take place back to back between Memorial Day weekend and late June. The three-day Bayou Country Superfest will be May 23-25 in LSU's Tiger Stadium, followed by the Miss USA Pageant June 8 at the Baton Rouge River Center. The pageant will be followed by the U.S. Youth Soccer Regional Tournament June 19-26, a weeklong event expected to bring some 15,000 visitors to Baton Rouge. "It is going to be a fantastic summer," says Christy Chachere, communications coordinator for Visit Baton Rouge. "All three events reach very different target markets and attract visitors in-state, out of state and international." Though the Miss USA Pageant will technically bring the fewest visitors to the area—an estimated 4,000 or so tickets will be sold—it has the potential to bring the most exposure to the Capital Region. Event organizers and contestants arrive several weeks early and, as the pageant date nears, do many photo shoots and events around the area. What's more, the actual pageant will be seen by an estimated 100 million viewers in 70 countries worldwide. "We've been trying to work with them and point out to them some of the new and different things they can spotlight when they are showcasing Baton Rouge," Chachere says. Visit Baton Rouge will be cross-promoting the three summer events, particularly Miss USA, as it comes on the heels of Bayou Country Superfest. "We will have digital displays all over town," Chachere says. "It will be everywhere." Visit Baton Rouge is still awaiting word on whether pageant owner Donald Trump will be among those to visit Baton Rouge for the event. —Stephanie Riegel

Amite River Basin Commission purchases 66 acres for $1.45 million

The Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District has purchased an approximately 66-acre tract of land in connection with the Comite River Diversion Canal Project for approximately $1.45 million. According to records filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Courts on Tuesday, the land is located east of U.S. 61 and the former L&A Railroad and is bordered on the west by Barnett Road. The deal involved three different sellers: WSM Properties LLC, represented by Sarah Munson; Marion Munson Moore Hogeman; and Ross Gilbert Munson. WSM sold its portion of the land for about $724,000, while Hogeman and Munson each sold their portions for approximately $362,000. Don Thompson, a member of the Amite River Basin Board of Commissioners, represented the commission in the deal. The Comite River Diversion Canal is a state project that Congress approved in 1992 to lower flood stages along the Comite and Amite rivers in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes. Over the past 22 years, the project—which requires 1,700 acres to offset environmental impacts—has faced many obstacles, including landowners who don't want the state to purchase their land and a 2010 law prohibiting the expropriation of mitigation land for the project. Representatives of the commission weren't available for further comment on Tuesday's land purchase in time for publication this morning. —Staff report

2 BR gas stations among 100 Valero looking to sell

The Valero gas stations at 7515 Perkins Road and 15138 Airline Highway are among 100 stations across nine states the company has put up for sale as it works to "optimize its network" of roughly 1,900 locations nationwide. Along with the Baton Rouge stations, Valero is looking to sell 61 stations in Texas, 22 in Colorado, 14 in Arizona, seven in California, three in New Mexico, two in Arkansas and one each in Utah and Wyoming. In a press release issued Tuesday, Valero says it has retained, through its subsidiary company CST Brands Inc., Chicago-based NRC Realty & Capital Advisors to sell the stations. Valero says it plans to sell 16 former gas station sites and one land parcel. "We are streamlining our operations in order to focus on our core business strategy to build larger format stores that can offer a wider array of enhanced product offerings," says CST Brands Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Steve Motz in the press release. "The sale of these smaller stores are a tremendous opportunity for the right buyer as they will be a critical part of our growing U.S. wholesale business." The stations being sold average over 3,000 gallons of fuel sold per store, per day, Valero says. —Staff report

Tight job market in US cities prompting higher pay

Companies across the U.S. are struggling to fill positions with metropolitan jobless rates below the 5.2% to 5.6% level the Federal Reserve regards as full employment nationally. As Bloomberg reports, competition for workers is prompting businesses in such cities to raise wages, increase hours for current employees, add benefits and recruit from other regions. "There are spot labor shortages" that probably will "broaden out over the next year as the job market steadily improves," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics Inc. Unemployment in Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos was 4.8% in February, Labor Department figures show. Forty-nine, or 13%, of the 372 metro areas reported jobless rates below 5% that month—the most for February since 2008, two months after the start of the recession. Baton Rouge was among them, with an unemployment rate in February of 3.9%. The lowest rate in the nation was 2.8% in the Houma-Thibodaux area, due to increased offshore activity in the Gulf of Mexico. Four years ago, during the worst of the labor-market slump, just two cities had rates below 5%. Compensation has risen about 2% nationally so far this year and probably will increase by 2.2% next year, 2.5% in two years and 3% for the year by late 2016, Zandi estimates. Read the full story.

Jindal weighs in on New Hampshire Supreme Court case

"Is government the servant of the people, or the master of them?" That's the question Gov. Bobby Jindal asks in a new guest column penned for the New Hampshire Union Leader, a daily newspaper in Manchester. "That's at the heart of the case the New Hampshire Supreme Court will be considering today, regarding the Granite State's school tax credit program," Jindal writes. "For as important as the court's ultimate verdict will be in deciding the fate of school choice in New Hampshire, it might say even more about the relationship between citizens and their government." Jindal says in the column that the case involves a program of tax credits for businesses that provide scholarships—similar to programs enacted in Louisiana. Read the full column.

News roundup: LSU junior awarded Truman Scholarship … Feds announce plan to auction 21 million Gulf acres … Vitter says education would be his top priority as La. governor

Top honors: Baton Rouge native and LSU junior Marlee Pittman is among just 60 students nationwide this year to be awarded a Truman Scholarship. Pittman, an Honors College student, expects to graduate in May 2015, after which she hopes to pursue graduate studies in public policy and Southeast Asian studies at the University of Michigan, LSU says in a press release. Since 2005, nine LSU students have been awarded a Truman Scholarship. Last year, LSU was the only public university in the country to have two Truman Scholars recognized.

On the block: The rights to drill in 21.4 million acres of the western Gulf of Mexico will be put on the auction block this August, the Obama administration has announced. As FuelFix.com reports, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says that 3,992 currently unclaimed blocks will be up for grabs in the waters near Texas. The territory is located as far as 250 miles from shore and includes waters up to 10,975 feet deep. Western Gulf of Mexico lease sales tend to attract less interest than auctions involving the more promising central Gulf region. Read the full story.

Top 10 list: Asked by University of Louisiana at Monroe President Nick Bruno what his top two priorities would be if elected governor in 2015, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter said at an event Tuesday: "Education and education. In fact, I would probably list it as my top 10." As The News Star of Monroe reports, Vitter delivered a Washington, D.C., update for the Monroe Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, but made it clear his focus will soon be on the top job in Louisiana. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: Do you support Louisiana lawmakers' decision Tuesday to vote down legislation that would have removed an anti-sodomy law on the state's books that has been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court?

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