- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Dec. 10

The Advocate on making Louisiana a better draw for businesses:

Stephen Moret is known in economic development circles now as the leader of the team that brought Amazon’s East Coast headquarters to Virginia. But he made his reputation earlier leading the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and then Louisiana’s job-seeking agency, the state Department of Economic Development.



All along, he made a useful observation that there are parallel paths to economic progress: business development and product development.

The latter is what Louisiana really needs.

There’s a role for industry-hunting experts in business development for Louisiana, and there have been significant successes for our state in bringing in better-paying jobs and some in coveted sectors like technology companies.

But it is our product that the salesmen can promote, and it is lacking.

Some of that is certainly based on structural difficulties that have long held Louisiana back, just like our neighbors in the Mississippi Delta states of the South. Inequality is one such issue: Generations of poverty whether in the inner city or in rural Delta parishes, are difficult to overcome; a culture of jobs in extracting wealth from the soil or the oil fields meant that education was not sufficiently valued. Economists call that a “resource curse.”

Louisiana was not ready for the future that came like a job-crushing freight train. Federal Reserve economists have looked at high-skilled workers since 1980; for those in the Top 10 percent - typically college-educated - real wages nearly doubled, while others languished.

That effect came at the same time as the knowledge economy began clustering these employees in major cities tied most directly into the burgeoning global economy. Even the energy economy in which Louisiana was a world leader saw a flight of many professional jobs to Houston.

The good news is that the former Shell building on Poydras Street in New Orleans is now home to DXC Technology, a tech firm, although those jobs are growing over time. Still, those kinds of wins show that the state can be part of the national and global economy in this new world.

And whether in the French Quarter or in Acadiana’s unique Francophile culture, there are unique ways in which Louisiana’s product is poised for future growth.

But successive oil-price busts since 1980 have not helped Louisiana’s economy, and the national trends identified by the Fed researchers work against even the larger cities in southeastern Louisiana. Whether it is strengthening our universities in national competition for talent or giving even the poorest families the early-childhood experiences that allow children to flourish in school, Louisiana’s product needs innovation and investment.

We won’t be in competition even for mini-Amazons unless our product is competitive at a higher level.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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Dec. 9

The (Lake Charles) American Press on legislators focusing on rural areas:

Rural Louisiana has become forgotten territory, and a new state representative wants to become a lightning rod for letting state officials know it’s time to solve problems in those areas. Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, will join state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, who has been sounding the alarm for rural areas over the last four years.

“My lifestyle is rural, small town,” McCormick told The Advocate. He said he wants to become the squeaky wheel that attracts attention to the state’s history of benign neglect.

In 1960, 55.5 percent of the state’s 2.9 million residents lived in small towns, the newspaper said. By 2017, the small town population accounted for only 16 percent of the state’s 4.6 million people. In those areas, that has caused higher unemployment, less income, shorter life expectancy and fewer high school graduates.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has also joined the cause. He told legislators in November the state is at a tipping point and released a list of “fiscally distressed” communities that need help before the issue becomes a crisis.

Purpera said depopulation, property and sales tax declines and the loss of businesses have resulted in the loss of jobs and young people in rural Louisiana. State government has taken over four towns and is in the process of taking over administration of two more.

There are 18 more communities at the edge, Purpera said, and he estimated maybe 50 more are flirting with disaster. McFarland said those realities cost state taxpayers for bailouts and add to Medicaid and food stamps costs. Medicaid is the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income citizens.

McCormick told The Advocate about a lumber company that looked to locate a mill near Oil City. However, the area has seven state roads and the lack of maintenance on six has made it impassable for 18-wheelers. A bridge that has been closed for years has turned 10-minute journeys into 45-minutee ordeals.

“They said no. We’re on an island right now,” McCormick said. “How do you encourage a natural resources group to come in here if they can’t get their produce to market?”

McFarland wants the state administration to talk up the advantages of locating manufacturers in the countryside where property costs are lower, housing is cheaper and environmental standards are less onerous.

State leaders have no coordinated plan, and neither does McCormick, the newspaper said. However, McCormick said after he takes office Jan. 13, he plans to start reminding lawmakers about the costs of what they’re not doing.

We wish him luck in getting the focus on rural Louisiana..

Online: https://www.americanpress.com/

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Dec. 9

The Houma Courier on parish government officials receiving a pay raise:

Potential pay raises for about a dozen high-ranking Terrebonne Parish government officials approved last week raise several important questions.

The Parish Council approved a measure Wednesday (Dec. 4) night that ups the pay scale — or the salary range — for these positions by $15,000 a year. The vote was 7-1, with Councilman Gerald Michel against. With the increase, the maximum annual salaries for the positions now range from $122,788 to $158,040.

Council members and parish officials emphasized that no employee will receive an automatic raise. But it is almost certain some or all of the 13 officials, mostly department heads, will see higher pay soon. Parish President Gordy Dove will decide if and when any of the officials get a pay raise within the new salary scale, authority the parish president has always had with his direct reports.

Dove said he asked for the measure to keep salaries competitive.

“If the oilfield in the next year starts picking up, key people could leave,” Dove said in an interview. “We want to have enough latitude to keep them or reward someone that does their job well.”

It’s important for the parish to hire the best people it can afford, but the timing sure seems odd. Is competitiveness really a major issue in a parish that has lost an estimated 25,000 jobs since an offshore oil bust began in mid-2014?

And why are only department heads being singled out for raises?

Some council members said Wednesday that they only upped the administrators’ pay scale based on a promise that lower-ranking employees will get a pay raise. Is that coming? How much will it cost taxpayers? Will the raises be based on any objective study to determine how the current salaries stack up against comparable jobs in private business?

And if other employees are to follow, why didn’t Dove and his administration present the whole proposal as a coordinated plan? The council has for weeks been meeting to review next year’s budget. That would have been the perfect opportunity to present such a plan, one that makes the total cost clear to the council, taxpayers and residents at-large.

Some residents, including readers who posted to The Courier and Daily Comet’s Facebook pages, also question the timing, which comes only a few weeks after elections for parish council and president. Intended or not, at the very least it creates the perception that Dove and the council put off the potential pay raises until after the election to avoid discontent voters might have expressed at the polls.

The action Wednesday may very well be needed and justified. But Dove and the council could have done a better job of convincing their constituents of that.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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