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Community Agenda 2019

Crypteaux absent, Opportunity Zones top of mind for second innovation trust meeting

The gist: Still in its infancy, the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance, created by the mayor-president to kickstart Lafayette’s pivot to technology, is working to find its way. Opportunity Zones could figure prominently in the trust’s work.

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Get caught up, quickly: LPIA is a public trust created by M-P Joel Robideaux and voted into existence by the City-Parish Council last summer to nurture the growth of software development and innovation in Lafayette Parish. It had its first meeting in January and held its second last month. The mayor-president has embraced the technology sector as an economic driver for the region. The LPIA is his vehicle for pursuing these aspirations.

LPIA aims to drive adoption and use of federal Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones are part of a new federal tax incentive program that provides preferential capital gains tax treatment to money invested in “Opportunity Funds” that invest in these zones. Lafayette’s zones include the Oil Center, Downtown and portions of the University Avenue corridor. It’s not clear yet what specific role LPIA will take in achieving the goal, but at a minimum Robideaux wants the organization to be a champion for these efforts.

Lafayette (sort of) has an innovation district now. While there’s been no formal proclamation, Robideaux has positioned LPIA to create an innovation district that overlays those opportunity zones. An innovation district is an urban development strategy to regenerate underperforming areas to be more desirable to innovation companies and workers. The thinking here is to stack incentives and programming by adding an innovation district over the same footprint. It’s not clear yet what this designation actually changes other than reinforcing the intent of Robideaux’s focus on catalyzing growth in these areas through technology.

No discussion of Crypteaux. Since its inception, the LPIA has been connected to Crypteaux, the mayor-president’s pitch to create a municipal cryptocurrency for Lafayette and transform our community into a living lab for blockchain technologies. Crypteaux figured heavily into the LPIA’s first meeting agenda, which included an at-length discussion of using cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle of sorts to fund LPIA ambitions. Notably, Crypteaux was not part of the March meeting’s agenda.

No plans for staffing, yet. There was at one time talk of a potential agreement with UL (Ramesh Kolluru, UL’s VP of Research, sits on the LPIA) to provide staffing until LPIA could pay for its own. But members decided to postpone discussing a staffing plan until funding is secured.

Starting work on a mission. One major discussion item was working to define LPIA’s mission in a way that helps the public really understand what the organization does. LPIA is eyeing an event this fall to tie together a variety of other innovation and technology-centric events like the Opportunity Machine’s Innovation Conference and CajunCodeFest.

Why this matters? Lafayette has to replace the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs lost in its economy since 2014. Technology and software businesses offer some of the greatest potential to do that. Given that LPIA has set out to help attract and grow those businesses, there’s a lot riding on the success of this venture.

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LED is helping CGI tempt Baton Rouge talent to Lafayette

The gist: On Saturday, March 30, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Louisiana Economic Development is hosting a career fair in Baton Rouge to help CGI fill the 400 new jobs the consulting giant is creating in Lafayette.

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Those rosy unemployment numbers don’t tell the whole story

An improving unemployment rate offers an incomplete picture. Fewer people aren’t unemployed. Fewer people are working.

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The 2018 ‘Robideaux Report’ Report Card

Assessing how well Robideaux delivered on the promises made in last year’s address.

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What happens when a Walmart dies?

Walmart’s decision shines a light on serious issues with no easy answers.

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Retail and home sales up, unemployment down, but there’s more to this story

Recent headlines indicate 2018 might be the year our economy started recovering. But there’s ample evidence that any optimism should be guarded given the situation our economy’s in.

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Lafayette ranks near bottom on nationwide city performance index

The gist: Lafayette lags far behind other American cities in job creation and retention and economic growth. The city ranked 196 out of 200 cities measured in the Best-Performing Cities index created by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank.

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Waitr’s preliminary 2018 financials show explosive growth after acquisitions

The gist: Preliminary 2018 financials show incredible growth both in Waitr’s existing operations and those associated with Bite Squad, a midwestern competitor the food delivery company bought last year.

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Lafayette General dives into Opportunity Funds

The gist: Lafayette General Health will use a new federal tax advantage program, created by the 2017 tax overhaul, to develop near the Oil Center and invest in healthcare startups. The hospital announced the move at an information session about federal Opportunity Funds, held Wednesday.

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Opportunity Funds are a new form of investment vehicle that provides tax advantages meant to spur investment in Opportunity Zones.

Opportunity Zones are low-income census tracts that were nominated by local governments, selected by governors, and approved by the federal government last summer.

Lafayette’s Opportunity Zones include the Oil Center, UL’s main campus, downtown, and the University Avenue corridor from downtown up past I-10 almost to Carencro.

LGH has already been investing in real estate. Over the last few years, through the Lafayette General Foundation LGH has established a Real Estate Investment Fund (REIF), which acquires, finances, or develops real estate that LGH leases.

Now it has plans for developing Hospital Drive. Big plans, in fact, including a 3 to 5 story medical office building that will be a new home for the Cancer Center of Acadiana and LGH’s neuroscience work. This development will also include housing for LGH’s medical residents and retail space.

The project could breath new life into the Oil Center. The Oil Center could have been River Ranch, LGH CEO David Callecod told conference-goers, because it’s a safe walkable community with retail and restaurants; it just never had much housing. The Hospital Drive development project will create a live/work/play experience for LGH’s medical residents, with the longview of encouraging them to start their practices in Lafayette once they graduate medical school.

Opportunity Funds are ideal for enabling LGH’s aspirations. While LGH was already investing in real estate, because the Oil Center was selected as an Opportunity Zone LGH can create an Opportunity Fund to provide additional tax advantages to recruit investors to help fund the development project.

And real estate may only be the beginning. Opportunity Funds can also be used to invest in companies. For some time, LGH has been investing in health care startups through its Healthcare Innovation Fund. And it’s currently looking at making an investment in a company that may be relocating its headquarters to the Oil Center. If that company is successful, then in the future LGH’s Opportunity Fund could provide additional investment capital to fuel further growth of this as-of-yet-unnamed startup.

LGH is already reaping rewards for investing in startups. At the event, Cian Robinson, executive director of innovation, research, and real estate investments at LGH, announced that the fund had its first successful exit. Start-up HealthLoop was purchased last fall for $200 million. LGH invested around $1.5 million into the company, clearing $4 million in just a few years with the sale. LGH is currently raising funds for its second Health Innovation Fund.

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2018 Lafayette Parish retail sales projected to top $6 billion

The gist: Year-to-date sales in Lafayette Parish approached $5.5 billion through November 2018, according to a release from LEDA, on pace to surpass $6 billion. That puts local commerce in shouting distance of 2014’s $6.4 billion peak with a month of reports to go.  

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Total taxable sales in the parish were up 4.4 percent from 2017 and 5.6 percent from 2016 in that time period.

But the city’s lagging behind: The city of Lafayette performed the worst among municipalities, up only 1.4 percent, compared with 28.2 percent in Duson, 19.3 percent in Youngsville, 17.3 percent in Scott, and 9.2 percent in Carencro. Even unincorporated Lafayette Parish beat the city with a 3.7 percent uptick.

More than 70 percent of the total retail sales in the parish happen in the city of Lafayette. It’s still the region’s shopping anchor. In the city, apparel, general merchandise and building material sales are all down from last year. LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux says that’s in part due to belt-tightening and a correction from flood-related boosts in construction.

“The downturn forced people to curtail spending,” Gothreaux says. “Apparel is something that can easily be put off, and the sales numbers over the past four years reflect that. People focused on purchasing necessities — looking for the best bargains — or may have occasionally splurged at the hot, new store. The 2016 flood spurred a modest increase in building materials sales that has since returned to pre-flood levels.”

Up but still down: While the parish’s performance might be up from last year, sales through November were off more than $300 million from 2014. The cities of Lafayette and Broussard and the unincorporated parts of the parish are all down more than $100 million each from where they were back then.

Up and up and up: But some parts of the parish have seen a steady rise in retail sales despite the economic downturn in the parish the last few years. Youngsville‘s up about $60 million since 2014, Scott about $40 million and Carencro more than $50 million.

Duson‘s all over the place: If you compare 2018 to 2014, Duson’s down about $1 million. But if you compare it to 2013, it’s up almost $11 million. But then if you compare it to 2012, it’s down more than $24 million. What’s going on in Duson?

More sales = more revenue for government, but in a good way: When total taxable sales go up, so too do sales tax revenues for schools, city governments, and economic development districts. That means more money for government without having to raise taxes. Modest increases in sales tax receipts in the unincorporated area helped patch a temporary budget hole when a plan to sell a parish-owned parking garage to the city fell through. Unincorporated Lafayette parish has been routinely raided of its sales tax revenue through annexations by nearby towns and cities.

Good news, but … Rising retail sales is an indisputably good thing. But Lafayette still has a ways to grow to recover lost ground. So while we celebrate finally getting some good economic news, let’s not forget that this just suggests the bleeding has stopped. There is still a lot of healing left to do.

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Robideaux’s library accusations are not grounded in fact

The mayor-president has accused the library system of defrauding taxpayers to the tune of $21 million dollars. Unfortunately for his credibility, the facts don’t back up his claims.

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Moving library money only looks like a good idea

Mayor-President Robideaux wants to rededicate $18 million from the library’s fund balance to pave roads and clean coulees, but there are hidden costs that must be accounted for.

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