The Current is going nonprofit.

Here’s why.

Business + Innovation

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.

Continue 4 min read
0 Comment(s)

Waitr trims workforce in thorny transition from startup to corporate player

The gist: Since going public, Waitr has faced legal attacks from disgruntled drivers. This week, citing efficiencies, the food delivery app company terminated several dozen employees in a move that took its workforce by surprise. 

Continue 2 min read

Approximately 80 employees are said to have been let go. Waitr has not confirmed that number officially, but the figure has circulated among current and former Waitr employees. A staff segment that worked to onboard new restaurants took the brunt of the reduction. In a statement, Waitr said the layoffs were a “difficult decision” and asserted that no jobs would be outsourced as a result. The company will focus workforce development on technology, customer success, sales and accounting, which remain “areas of growth.”

Growing pains. A blog post written by one former employee based in Florida laments Waitr’s transition from scrappy startup to corporate monolith. His wife, who worked remotely, was among those fired Thursday. His post portrays a callous and sudden dismissal:

They had a mandatory “integration meeting” in which they summarily terminated 80 people. They gave them 5 minutes to collect their things. They had police on site to escort them from the building. … It didn’t matter what these people did for the company. Some of them having been there since day one.

Asked to respond to the blog account, Waitr referred to its general statement. 

Lake Charles, Lafayette and Bite Squad employees were impacted. Lake Charles’ NBC affiliate KPLC is reporting 25 let go. Employees at both Lafayette offices were also terminated, but the number and distribution are unclear. Earlier this year, Waitr struck a development deal with the state, receiving $1.5 million to outfit its new Downtown Lafayette HQ, along with a performance-based retention grant that caps at $1 million over five years. Waitr is expected to deliver 200 direct jobs to the Lafayette market. 

Waitr says the layoffs were a necessary result of its Bite Squad acquisition. Waitr bought the Minneapolis-based competitor last year for $321 million and has since been in the process of integrating the two workforces. Waitr has reiterated the company’s pledge to grow in the state of Louisiana.

0 Comment(s)

Lafayette’s healthcare economy is heating up

The gist: Oil and gas may still be down, but Lafayette’s healthcare economy has realized a series of wins over the last few weeks with good news from companies like VieMed, NeuroRescue and ThinkGenetic.

Continue 3 min read
0 Comment(s)

The future of work can still be human, if coding camps like this can make it more female

Encouraging more girls to get into computer science and robotics can help fill a growing employment gap. This summer camp is part of that effort.

Continue 5 min read
1 Comment(s)

The parish can’t afford to fix drainage without more money

Some want to claim that the only thing preventing us from fixing our flooding issues is a shift in priorities. But the reality is that the parish can’t afford to fix its drainage system without more revenue.

Continue 5 min read
0 Comment(s)

Millions in state dollars likely headed for Moncus Park, Lafayette airport, I-49 South and more

The gist: In an election year breakthrough, nearly 20 Lafayette Parish projects have survived into the final days of the state legislative session. Pending a signature from the governor, the area is set to pull more than $40 million in priority funding for some long-suffering projects, as well as $150 million in transportation dollars for I-49 South.

Continue 3 min read

“It’s a small victory, but it’s not the end of the process,” state Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan tells me. Coussan credits an areawide push to sell Acadiana projects to key figures like Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Sen. JP Morrell, the chair of the Senate’s Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Both Morrell and Edwards visited priority projects — Moncus Park and the airport, respectively — in the last year. Big budget capacity greased the skids as the political stars aligned.

Making it rain across South Louisiana. Here’s a list of some of the Priority 1 and 2 dollars (more on that in a minute) earmarked for Acadiana in HB2, the state’s infrastructure budget bill.

  • Lafayette Airport – $10 million (P1)
  • Moncus Park – $2 million (P2)
  • Lafayette Parish Courthouse – $3 million (P1)
  • Opportunity Machine Renovation – $5.6 million (P2)
  • Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway – $4 million (P2)
  • Apollo Road Extension – $5.5 million (P2)
  • University Avenue Corridor – $3 million (P2)
  • Holy Rosary Institute – $500,000 (P2)

Top priority dollars aren’t the entire outlay. HB2 includes more projects than the state can actually fund. Priority 1 dollars are typically paid outright. Priority 2 is for new projects paid by bonds. Other dollars are parked in Priority 5, which is essentially a queue for future allocations.

I-49 South got $150 million in BP oil spill money in a bonanza of riders to a transportation bill that ballooned the item to $700 million in total allocations, statewide. The I-49 money is cash for “shovel-ready” components of the project, not the Lafayette Connector, which alone is expected to cost half a billion dollars or more and will likely need federal funding to move forward.

This marks something of a breakthrough for the Acadiana delegation. Legislators have grumbled for several years that the region has been left out in the cold on state allocations. Some of the items in HB2 are outlays previously killed by Edwards, like funding for Moncus Park and Apollo Road. Insiders say the starve-out was a direct result of clashes between Acadiana’s largely Republican delegation and a Democratic governor.

You gotta commend the legislative delegation,” LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux tells me of the haul. “It’s impressive.”  

What to watch for: Whether HB2 makes it to the end of session unchanged. And then, whether Edwards vetoes any of the projects, as he has in the past. Edwards has a lot of incentive to pass these projects through in an election year. Meanwhile, last year’s sales tax compromise gives the governor little reason to be punitive, some state political insiders tell me. There’s optimism that much of the outlay will make it.

0 Comment(s)

New era but same consultant for LUS on long-term planning process

The gist: LUS will contract Burns & McDonnell to run its integrated resource plan, the process the utility uses to determine its future energy needs and how it will power them. The choice of consultant met immediate criticism among local green energy advocates. The contract is worth $500,000 and was approved Tuesday by the professional services committee.

Continue 2 min read

Burns & Mac guided LUS on two controversial decisions. In 2011, the company recommended LUS continue burning coal in central Louisiana, instead of switching to natural gas, a decision critics maintain was a costly mistake in hindsight. And in 2016, LUS developed a $100 million plan to build new natural gas generators, at the consultant’s suggestion, even raising electric rates to finance the plan. That decision triggered a backlash that ultimately shelved the plan and in part led to last year’s privatization controversy.

“Half a million dollars is a lot of money,” renewable energy advocate Simon Mahan tells me. Mahan developed a lengthy document criticizing the 2016 plan but has since departed Lafayette. “To use the same firm that got it wrong twice before is eyebrow raising.”  

Interim Director Jeff Stewart says this contract is different. The 2011 and 2016 plans did not involve robust public engagement, and Stewart says that engagement is baked into this upcoming process.

“That’s why we shelved [the 2016 plan],” Stewart tells me. “I want as many people who want to get involved to get involved.” He expects to time the public facing process to PlanLafayette activities, with outreach beginning in September.

LUS’s open approach seems to be working. Mahan tells me he believes that Burns & Mac is capable of delivering. And he gives a lot of credit to Stewart’s leadership style.

“Frankly, I’ve been really impressed with what he’s been saying and the actions he’s taken. There’s a new wind at LUS to listen to the public a little bit more,” Mahan says. “That makes me feel good.”  

0 Comment(s)

Vision 2020: Lafayette has the chance to lead a state lagging on climate change action

Fighting climate change takes a global effort — one that we are simply choosing not to participate in.

Continue 5 min read
0 Comment(s)

Arkansas restaurant sues Waitr for hiking fees in breach of contract

The gist: Bobby’s Country Cookin’ in Little Rock, Ark., filed suit in April, claiming the food delivery platform boosted its contracted take rate without notice in a bid to puff up revenues ahead of its 2018 IPO. The suit was filed in Lake Charles, Waitr’s home base.

Continue 3 min read
0 Comment(s)

VISION 2020: Tear down the parish jail and courthouse to make room for Lafayette’s future

To regain the ground our economy’s lost, we need to take bold swings at projects with catalytic potential. That potential exists in a waterfall hidden under the parish jail and courthouse.

Continue 8 min read
2 Comment(s)

Lafayette retail sales have best start to the year ever for almost everyone

The gist: Retail sales in February point to what may be the strongest first quarter in parish history, pending data from March. With $952 million in combined sales between January and February, up from $889 million last year, the first two months of 2019 topped the previous all-time high of $950 million in 2015.

Continue 3 min read

Some cities aren’t recovering because they never stopped growing. Retail sales in Carencro, Scott and Youngsville keep rising, seemingly unaffected by the area’s economic downturn. Youngsville in particular saw January/February retail sales almost double from $28 million in 2014 — when the price of oil began to tank — to $55 million in 2018, while Carencro saw more modest growth from $29 million to $40 million and Scott grew from $27 million to $40 million.

The cities that did falter are making up lost ground. Retail sales in the city of Lafayette peaked at $676 million in January-February 2015 and haven’t fully recovered. Over those same months this year, sales totaled $662 million, an uptick from the $633 million posted in 2018. Broussard is still down from its peak of $96 million in January/February 2014 to $87 million this year, though that’s up from $78 million last year.

Unincorporated Lafayette is still climbing out of a deep hole. Retail sales in unincorporated Lafayette hit $70 million this January/February. While that’s up significantly from $58 million last year, it’s also down significantly from the peak of $93 million in 2014.

Some categories of retailers in the city of Lafayette are on the decline year-over-year. For example, machine shops fell from $1.9 million in January/February of 2018 to $1.4 million over the same timespan in 2019. And that’s a continuation of a trend, as machine shop sales peaked in 2014 at $4.2 million.  

But some categories of retailers in the city of Lafayette are on the rise year-over-year. For example, oilwell equipment sales rose from $8 million to $8.8 million, though any optimism should be tempered by the fact that this is still down from the peak in 2015 of $31 million.

These retail sales numbers are good news, but should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because the parish’s retail sales are up in January and February doesn’t mean a great year is guaranteed. Improving sales is one indicator and doesn’t necessarily mean the economy is turning around, particularly when set against historic losses, stagnant wages and a sluggish job market.

0 Comment(s)

LUS exploring EV infrastructure

The gist: LUS is in the early stages of pursuing a pilot program to add electric vehicle charging stations to its portfolio and buy electric forklifts for its warehouse.

Continue 3 min read

If funded, the pilot could put chargers at the Target shopping center on Louisiana Avenue  but isn’t limited to that location. Interim LUS Director Jeff Stewart says work is very much preliminary and not related to surveys underway for a Tesla supercharger at the same site. LUS is also researching EV policies and approaches in major regional markets to write a local one.

LUS applied for funding through Louisiana’s allotment of VW’s settlement program, which is paying billions in atonement money for the German automaker’s use of software to cheat emission standards tests on its diesel fleet. As part of its settlement with the EPA, VW established a $2.9 billion trust to pay for programs that reduce diesel emissions. Louisiana received around $20 million from the trust. It’s that pot of money LUS is after for the pilot.  

This is the second time LUS applied for the VW money. The utility’s first attempt at funding through the trust wasn’t successful. A second round was opened this year, according to Stewart, and last week LUS turned its application, which asks for more than $150,000 in grants.

LUS is at the beginning stages of a major power planning process called an integrated resource plan. Stewart says LUS has shortlisted four consultants to assist LUS on the IRP and will bring those candidates in for staff presentations in the coming weeks. He’s hoping to have a contract in place by June. A big part of the IRP is projecting the future of power demand, i.e. how much electricity the city will need, and how to meet the demand. Stewart has positioned this iteration of the process to be more public than previous go-rounds, saying in recent interviews that he wants the public to help create a vision for the future of the electric utility.

Meanwhile, automakers are investing billions in EV fleets. Lafayette has been criticized for lagging behind national (and even regional) adoption of EV infrastructure. Industry movement is now difficult to ignore. VW itself plans to spend $80 billion over the next five years developing EVs and outfitting them with batteries, according to The Economist, ultimately producing 20 million electric cars in the next decade.

Why this matters. EVs are only one disruption the utility industry faces. Bernhard Capital Partners criticized LUS’s lack of innovation and flexibility when the private equity firm pursued purchasing the right to manage the utility. LUS has been more proactive in the last couple of years exploring renewable energy and other disruptive technologies, contracting wind power from the midwest last year, but nevertheless has been cautious to dive into a fast-moving space.

0 Comment(s)