Bethany withdraws plans for church near Towne Center
Bethany World Prayer Center has withdrawn its application for a proposed 1,050-seat church on Jefferson Highway, next to Towne Center. Via its engineer, the church sent a letter to the city-parish Planning Commission on Friday announcing the plan has been put on hold. Bethany was scheduled to present a revision of the project plan to the Planning Commission tonight, after deferring the presentation last month. It also deferred its original presentation in May on the 25,000-square-foot church after the one driveway in the proposal—working as both an entranceway and exit—met opposition from nearby residents. Bethany failed to acquire land from nearby State Farm to build a second exit for the parking lot. Church representatives were not available to provide further comment this morning. "We apologize for any inconvenience this withdrawal may cause," says G. Wayne Sledge of GWS Engineering Inc. for Bethany World Prayer Center in the letter sent to the Planning Commission. Bethany wanted to build on a 4.9-acre plot on the south side of Jefferson Highway and west of Towne Center Boulevard, where a credit union was originally slated to be built. Bethany has two campuses: one in Baker and one off Siegen Lane near Interstate 10. A former campus in Plaquemine is closed. The Planning Commission meets at 5 p.m. at City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. See the agenda for tonight's meeting here. —Adam Pearson
Romney's B.R. visit stirs more speculation about Jindal
With Mitt Romney holding a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser at the City Club downtown today that Gov. Bobby Jindal is also expected to attend, political pundits will surely be considering the timing of Romney's Baton Rouge visit, whether it is coincidental or might mean the presumptive GOP presidential nominee is leaning toward selecting Jindal as his running mate. Even before today's fundraiser was announced, local political consultant and strategist Roy Fletcher said on 89.3 FM WRKF's The Jim Engster Show last week that he has raised the odds he's putting on Jindal as Romney's pick, from 50% to 60%. In an editorial Sunday, The Wall Street Journal says Jindal "carries some benefits" as Romney's pick but "remains a longshot." Jindal "has the kind of gubernatorial experience Mitt Romney admires and the 'American dream' narrative the Republican presidential candidate lacks," reads the editorial. "Still, Mr. Jindal is viewed as a less likely pick than Mr. [Tim] Pawlenty or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Louisiana is a solidly red state, and while he brings ethnic diversity, it isn't clear that having an Indian-American on the ticket would improve the GOP's standing with coveted voting blocs like Hispanics." The Associated Press has a detailed story on Jindal's recent return to the national stage here.
Today's poll question: Do you think the timing of Mitt Romney’s fundraiser in Baton Rouge today indicates that the GOP presidential candidate is going to select Gov. Bobby Jindal as his running mate?
La. working to turn low natural gas prices into big industrial investments
With natural gas at decade-low prices, state economic officials are working to catch a wave of new investment interest from industries eager to tap into the abundant supply of the clean-burning fuel to power their plants. "We're working hard to position ourselves to get a disproportionate share of that new activity," Stephen Moret, secretary of LED, tells The Times-Picayune. Moret expects the state will add seven to 15 projects over the next five years—in the range of $500 million to $5 billion apiece—with most topping out around $1.5 billion. Those predictions will likely hinge on several factors, including the pace of environmental permitting for new manufacturing projects, steady domestic natural gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing, and the world's markets steering clear of a severe global recession. Competitive fuel prices have already been at least partially responsible for several new industrial projects in the state, including a new natural gas-fired power plant that Entergy Louisiana plans to build in Westwego and a methanol plant that Vancouver-based Methanex Corp. may build in Geismar. Moret anticipates Louisiana could secure about four projects a year, with construction on as many as three projects getting under way by early 2013 and "at least double that next year, and five to six big ones for the next few years," he says. Read the full story here.
Natural gas glut dredges up a dilemma for Obama
The drilling boom that has led to a glut of natural gas and sent prices spiraling downward is causing a quandary for President Barack Obama and his administration, which is struggling to decide whether the United States should share the bounty with foreign countries, and if so, how much. Although the Energy Department recently approved Houston-based Cheniere Energy's plans to begin exporting liquefied natural gas from its Sabine Pass terminal outside Lake Charles, The Houston Chronicle reports, the government has put off verdicts on similar applications from at least seven other companies. Administration officials say they'll make those decisions after they get the results of a study commissioned by the Energy Department on how allowing companies to sell U.S.-produced natural gas overseas would affect prices for American consumers. The study is due out this summer. The Obama administration supports domestic natural gas and isn't opposed to exports, White House energy adviser Heather Zichal says, but also is committed to "protecting American consumers and making sure we're sending the right signal to industry and the manufacturing sector." Applications filed with the Energy Department could put the United States on track to export about 16 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas each day—nearly a quarter of U.S. daily production in 2011. But few expect all of those proposals to win federal approval, and it could be years before construction is finished on those that are approved. Get the full story here.
Economists less bullish as early 2012 gains wither
As the second half of 2012 gets under way, economists say they're increasingly pessimistic about short-term growth, as sales and profit gains of earlier this year are disappearing. Their forecasts are gloomy also because of the potential impact in the United States from Europe's financial crisis, the possible expiration of the Bush tax cuts in December, and the prospect of major cuts in federal spending. A survey by the National Association for Business Economics released this morning also found less evidence of hiring, confirming the trend in recent monthly jobs reports from the government. In the quarterly survey of 67 economists who work for companies or industry trade groups, 22% reported rising employment in July, down from about 30% in the last three surveys and 42% a year ago. On the positive side, only 9% reported falling employment. The rest said it was unchanged. Just 39% of the economists surveyed reported rising sales at their companies in July, down from 60% in April. There was a similar trend on corporate profit margins, with 29% reporting rising margins in July, compared with 40% in April. "The survey results suggest worsening economic conditions," says Nayantara Hensel, a business professor at National Defense University, who analyzed the results for NABE. "The rising sales and profit margins experienced earlier in the year may have been short-lived." See a summary of the survey results from the NABE here.
Families borrowing more to meet rising college costs
Even wealthy families are scrambling to cover rising college costs by borrowing more and spending less, according to new research out today from student lender Sallie Mae and the polling firm Ipsos. Families earning more than $100,000 took out more loans in 2011 than the previous year, according to the study, while more students are saving money by attending less-expensive schools and living at home. "In the last few years, parents and students reached into savings to make sure kids got through college," says Sarah Ducich, senior vice president for public policy at Sallie Mae. Many families have exhausted those funds, she says, just as schools have tightened up scholarships and grants, and tuition is still going up. For 2012, those awards made up 21% of a family's total cost, down from 25% last year. Families are making up the difference by borrowing more. According to the fifth annual report, wealthy parents borrowed on average $3,399 in 2011 compared with $2,306 the previous year. Students also took out more loans: $2,591 in 2011, about $500 more than in 2010. The typical family now borrows 18% of total college costs in student loans and 9% in parent loans, compared with 15% for students and 7% for parents last year. A small portion of all families—less than 3%—is financing college by charging credit cards, borrowing from retirement funds or using home equity loans. Almost 70% of families eliminated schools from their lists because of their cost, compared with 64% who did so last year and 56% in 2008.
News roundup: LSU's first three home football games will be at night … La. produce growers have new marketing group … Study: Viewers turning to YouTube as news source
Yonder come my kin-folk in the moonlight: LSU's season opener against North Texas on Sept. 1 in Tiger Stadium will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU, the SEC announced this morning as the league released the full television slate for the first three weeks of the season. The league also announced that LSU's home game on Sept. 8, against Washington, will be televised on ESPN and will kick off at 6 p.m. Last week, LSU announced that TigerVision will televise the Idaho contest in week three, also a home game with a 7 p.m. kickoff. Get more details and see the complete schedule for the first three weeks here.
A new leaf: Produce growers in Louisiana have a new organization—the Louisiana Fruit and Vegetable Growers—to turn to for marketing, lobbying and information about production. LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot, the group's secretary, says, "We want to meet at least annually and to produce a semi-annual or quarterly newsletter to keep the members up to date on what's happening in the industry." Learn more about the organization here.
News hound sniffs the air: A new study released this morning by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism says that YouTube is emerging as a major platform for news, one to which viewers increasingly turn for eyewitness videos in times of major events and natural disasters. The study is the result of a 15-month examination of the most popular news videos on the Google-owned site. It found that while viewership of TV news still easily outpaces those consuming news on YouTube, the video-sharing site is a growing digital environment where professional journalism mingles with citizen content. Read the full story and access the complete report here.