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Community Agenda 2019

Robideaux expected to veto Louisiana Avenue budget amendment

The gist: Last week, the City-Parish Council restored $7 million in funding to extend Louisiana Avenue, narrowly passing an amendment to next year’s budget that blocked the mayor-president’s proposal to move that money to undetermined drainage projects. Mayor-President Joel Robideaux is expected to veto the amendment and send the issue back to the council where a supermajority vote would be needed to overrule him.

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Splitting the council has raised the stakes on Lafayette’s deteriorating politics

Political discourse in Lafayette has veered so far off the rails that we can’t even agree on the basics. And now we have a whole host of thorny issues that we have to unpack while splitting one council into two.

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Lafayette General launches second startup fund with local health care heavy-hitters

The gist: Lafayette General Health announced the launch of a new $10 million innovation fund with investments from Acadian Companies, LHC Group, Ochsner and the Schumacher Family Foundation. The goal of this fund is to make investments in health care startups that can deliver good return and improve services for the system and its partners. 

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This is Healthcare Innovation Fund II. Was there a Healthcare Innovation Fund I? Yes, it deployed $3 million of LGH’s investment capital along with a match from the state into seven companies. All of those companies are still operating, and one of them, HealthLoop, was purchased by GetWell last year. 

The investments have been successful. LGH is actively using products from five of the companies and working on the other two. The funds provide LGH an opportunity to earn income as an investor, supporting the organization as a whole, but also gives the system access to new concepts and innovations in health care. 

Now LGH is taking its investing to a whole new level. For the new fund, LGH is increasing the size of its investment pool to $10 million and is bringing along some heavy hitter investment partners in Acadian, LHC, Ochsner and Schumacher.

“You’ve got a billion dollar not-for-profit health system in Lafayette General, a publicly traded home health company worth almost four billion dollars, one of the largest employee-owned company and ambulance service providers in the country, the guy who started one of the largest emergency room management companies in the country, and another $3 billion statewide not-for-profit health system in Ochsner,” says Cian Robinson, LGH’s executive director of innovation, research, and real estate investments. “So you’ve got some really smart people, subject matter experts, sitting around the table that are very quickly able to vet if this is good for their company,” he adds. “For me what that does is lessen risk, in particular execution risk.”

This fund will make investments ranging from $250,000 to $1 million per startup. LGH is looking for startups that offer solutions that drastically improve patient care/experience, accelerate the move toward value-based payments, innovate backend automation/productivity, or use data or deep learning to affect health care delivery.

But LGH and its investment partners aren’t just providing cash. “All of the folks mentioned as investors have agreed to open up their ecosystems,” says Robinson. “So the startups we invest in get to work with our CIOs and senior VPs to help them with product-market fit. And we help them with going into the market. It’s truly a sandbox for health care startups to thrive in.”

LGH is also looking for additional investors. Robinson says they’ve raised $6 million of the fund’s $10 million target, so there’s still $4 million available. Minimum buy in is $250,000 with the maximum investment being $2 million. LGH charges no management fees, as it’s covering the cost of operating the fund. Interested investors can reach Robinson at cirobinson@lgh.org, as can startups seeking investment.

The system is also running a real estate fund that’s actively investing and in the coming months is planning to launch a $50 million Opportunity Zone Fund, which will primarily focus on developing real estate on LGH’s campuses located in Opportunity Zones, like the Oil Center. 

Why this matters: LGH is Acadiana’s largest not-for-profit health system, so these funds are important just from the perspective of strengthening its bottom line while providing access to innovations that improve operations. But it’s also important because it’s an opportunity for Lafayette to leverage its economic strengths by combining the efforts of some of its most significant employers. And all this energy is focused on health care, one of Lafayette’s industries with the greatest potential to make up for the billions in GDP lost in the oil and gas industry.

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It’s not your imagination; Lafayette’s real estate market is struggling

Lafayette’s real estate market is ice cold, and it may get worse before it gets better.

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Latest job numbers show Lafayette’s oil economy is still shrinking

The gist: Recent employment numbers from the state workforce commission show an increase in jobs in the Lafayette area. But those same numbers show continued job losses in Lafayette’s oil and gas industry. It doesn’t appear to have bottomed out yet. 

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2,400 is the number of jobs added in June 2019. The biggest gainer was Leisure and Hospitality jobs — the service industry, essentially — which added 1,100 jobs. Education and Health Services added 500, the next biggest growth sector.

200 is the number of jobs lost in Mining and Logging, the segment that accounts for the oil industry. Construction took the most losses with a reduction of 300.

Roughly 12,000 mining jobs have been lost since 2014 — a 50% decline. That means Lafayette has lost more than 10,000 oil and gas jobs in the last five years. The oil and gas industry used to directly account for 10.6% of all jobs in Lafayette, but now that total is down to 6.6%.

The national oil and gas industry is growing while Lafayette’s is shrinking. While nationally the industry still hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost during the crash, oil and gas employment nationally has increased every year since 2016. Even though the losses have slowed, Lafayette’s oil and gas industry has shrunk every year since 2014. 

Jobs are growing in Lafayette, but employees are making less money. High paying oil and gas jobs are often replaced by lower paying jobs in restaurants, hotels and schools — exactly where recent growth sectors are. Per capita personal income in Lafayette Parish has fallen from approximately $51,000 in 2014 to under $46,000 in 2017. During that same period, per capita personal income in the state rose from $41,811 to $43,660.

Why this matters: Clearly, Lafayette’s oil and gas industry hasn’t hit bottom. Just because the crash has slowed doesn’t mean it’s over. What we’re seeing is further evidence of the establishment of a new normal, not just a downturn based on temporary market conditions.

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FCC action threatens future of AOC Community Media

The gist: On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to change the way franchise fees work, threatening to eliminate up to two-thirds of AOC Community Media’s annual funding.

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Franchise fees are what cable companies pay to use the public’s rights of way. Typically cable companies pay 5% of their gross cable revenue to local franchising authorities. 

Franchise fees account for about two-thirds of the public access media organization’s annual budget, which is a hair under $900,000. The other third comes primarily from contracts it has with LCG to record and webcast council meetings and other events.

Changes would threaten that revenue for AOC. The changes will allow cable companies to count a variety of in-kind contributions against that 5% franchise fee, rather than pay the entire fee in cash. Contributions could include courtesy equipment, network capacity, channels, grants, sponsorships, specially created programming, local retail facilities, and free advertising, according to the The Internet and Television Association, a trade organization that represents cable companies and supports the new rules.

Full disclosure: AOC Community serves as The Current’s fiscal sponsor for tax-exempt contributions. 

The budgets of the city and parish of Lafayette could also take a haircut. Only one-third of the franchise fee revenue goes to AOC, with the rest split between the city and parish general funds. In other words, LCG could lose $1.8 million in general fund revenues. 

Th next step will likely be the courts. Local public access channels and city officials have already started to band together in opposition, with more than 200 mayors voting in opposition of these new rules. Assuming it passes, it will almost certainly be challenged in court.

If this rule survives legal challenge, AOC could be significantly diminished. According to AOC Executive Director Ed Bowie, some version of his organization should be able to continue operations, but it will obviously have to be at a reduced scale if it loses two-thirds of its revenue.

The legal process could take a year or two to work through the courts. So even if this rule passes the FCC, it should be a while before its impacts are felt.

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It’s not just the parish. The city’s financials are in trouble too

The general assumption has been that the parish is broke but the city is doing fine. When you dig into the latest budget, a more troubling reality emerges.

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Explaining the hullabaloo around LUS Fiber and why it matters

LUS Fiber has recently been accused of receiving millions in illegal subsidies from LUS. This is a complex issue with a lot at stake. An explainer is in order.

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Controversy over LUS payments underscores Fiber’s financial challenges ahead

The gist: Last week, the mayor-president alleged that LUS Fiber charged LUS millions in fraudulent payments for a power outage monitoring system that wasn’t useful. He asked for the Public Service Commission to investigate, swirling controversy around Fiber and its former director. Regardless of the episode’s outcome, it’s clear Fiber faces significant financial risk moving forward.

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How not to sell a parking garage

When the Buchanan Street parking garage was condemned last October, it caused a series of problems Downtown. There have been complaints on social media of courthouse employees feeling unsafe walking longer distances to their cars at night, of defendants being late for trials because it takes so much time to find parking, and of businesses losing patrons who don’t have easy access to street parking now that a couple hundred extra cars are competing for spots. 

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It’s been a rough first half of 2019 for Waitr

The gist: Waitr started the year on a high, buying up equal-sized competitor Bite Squad and hitting $14 a share in March. Since then, the nascent public company hit the rocks, facing lawsuits, potential restaurant strikes and a stock that’s fallen below $7.

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Robideaux claims more fraudulent payments from LUS to LUS Fiber, putting Fiber’s financials at risk

The gist: The Daily Advertiser broke a story late Monday that Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has self-reported a second potential violation of state law regulating LUS Fiber. In his Monday letter to the Louisiana Public Service Commission, Robideaux claims LUS may have made illegal payments totaling $8 million to LUS Fiber over an eight-year period. If the PSC agrees, this could create a significant financial burden for LUS Fiber’s operations moving forward.

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