Happy New Year! This year… as every year, I come before you to report on the state of our City and Parish.
So many of our accomplishments that keep our local economy strong have been well reported, even on a national level…
but I’d like to start by running through some of the top headlines from 2013.
Forbes ranked Baton Rouge Number 7 on its list of best cities for information jobs…
number 14 on its list of America’s top Engineering Hubs… and a Top 25 place to retire.
We were ranked the third best city in America for Chemical Engineers… the 7th best city for Savvy Young
Families… and a top city for hospitality and dining out.
We’re a top five Emerging Hub for Entrepreneurs… and to further prove our economic competitiveness,
the Baton Rouge Metro was ranked Number 1 for Economic Growth Potential… and the Number 1 Major Market of the Year.
So let’s give our community a round of applause for competing against the very best cities in America… and finishing
Last March, IBM chose Baton Rouge for a first-of-its kind software development center… a project that will create 800
new jobs… and by September, we broke ground on the new office complex that will house IBM in downtown Baton Rouge.
Today, IBM is already here… building its workforce with graduates of LSU, Southern University and the Baton Rouge Community College.
We have a strong working relationship with the leadership of our universities and community college… and now we will include
the student government presidents in working with us to assure young leaders’ viewpoints are incorporated in our forward planning.
At the end of the year, we announced a plan to redevelop the old Baton Rouge City Dock as a partnership
among the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the city, state, LSU and Southern University to build a campus that will put Baton Rouge at the forefront of coastal research.
For a number of years now, I’ve been meeting with other Mississippi River Mayors
and organizations dedicated to making sure we have a healthy and sustainable river and coast for generations to come.
Just last year, I joined the Governor of Illinois in Chicago for a series of Big River meetings.
Now we will have a campus right here in Baton Rouge where the best minds can come together to work on solutions to issues
related to rivers and deltas that have global significance.
In other areas, CB&I… formerly the Shaw Group… announced it is expanding by 400 jobs here
in Baton Rouge.
Honeywell is investing $200 million in new manufacturing projects, including a production facility here in East Baton Rouge Parish.
We are currently working on another 30 or more potential projects that could bring another 5,000 new jobs to Baton Rouge.
And of course, who can forget the excitement surrounding the announcement that Costco is coming to Baton Rouge or the opening of Trader Joe’s?
Our film industry continues to grow in Baton Rouge with 2013 again topping over $105 million in direct spending in our
community, bringing the total now spent here by film productions since we started our Baton Rouge Film Commission to more than $700 million dollars.
What is especially remarkable… is that the majority of films in our market this past year were made by independent film
companies, which hire a larger number of local crew and vendors. What this proves is that Baton Rouge now has the skilled workforce, locations and support needed
to successfully host productions of any size and budget.
We had a tremendous experience last year with the movie Maze Runner… a 20th Century Fox
production that will be released worldwide in September. This production was based in our market for over six months, hired more than 120 crew members…
and even utilized alternative sound stages, like the conversion of the old Sam’s Club Warehouse on Airline Highway.
It all went so well, that 20th Century Fox continues to look at Baton Rouge for major production.
I met with Fox studio executives when I attended the American Film Market in November and I believe we will see even more production from them.
And how about Bonnie and Clyde? The first television miniseries to be simulcast across three
networks scored some of cable TV’s highest ratings… and was filmed right here in Baton Rouge.
So whether you bump into Nicholas Cage over dinner at Galatoire’s… or watch Bonnie and Clyde
steal a car in a shoot-out in the Garden District…or see a giant fire ball over the Mall of Louisiana…
please relax and remember… what you’re really witnessing is a major economic driver for the Baton Rouge economy.
We scored again thanks to the generosity of Women’s Hospital, when we purchased its
former campus at below market value to create a Public Safety Complex. This brings us long awaited working
space to house the Baton Rouge Police Department and Sheriff’s Office on one campus.
When it comes to public safety, we had a very dramatic 26 percent decrease
in homicides in the City of Baton Rouge last year…in part thanks to the good work our Baton Rouge Police, D.A. Hillar Moore and others are doing with the BRAVE Project.
Simply put: It’s working.
And while the BRAVE team is making a difference in
the 70805 and 70802 zip codes… we’re being proactive, working with civic associations and building
better relationships to help keep all neighborhoods safer.
While we are talking about all the things going well for Baton Rouge and
East Baton Rouge Parish…let’s talk seriously for a few minutes about something that could
threaten the progress we have made.
There is a move underway by a small group of people to form a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish.
While we continue to hear from citizens and businesses in this area who are
opposed to this move, there is a petition process underway that could lead to an election if enough signatures are recorded.
A new city would attempt to capture sales taxes paid in our major retail areas…
the Mall of Louisiana… Siegen Marketplace… L’Auberge Casino… Perkins Rowe… and all of the retailers throughout the Bluebonnet and Siegen area.
A new city would have to elect a Mayor… another Council… an elected Police Chief.
Then it would have to assume responsibilities for police, fire, garbage collection, public works and
other typical city services for more than 100,000 people.
In other words, it would have to duplicate the government and services currently being
provided by our consolidated form of government. And you know what duplicating services means… duplicating costs.
Incorporating a new city is a very complex issue… one that is not based on a sound
fiscal rationale… and one that will most certainly face many legal challenges.
Who will pay for the years of legal expenses this will result in? What will happen when large tax increases are needed just to maintain existing levels of services?
How would we make up funding lost for police protection… the District Attorney,
Coroner’s Office, and the District Courts?
This has the potential to adversely affect public safety for the entire parish. What impact will this have on our bond rating? Our ability to finance programs
like Green Light and Sewer Rehab at the interest rates we now enjoy?
And when it comes to the Green Light Program…79% of the money currently being spent
on Green Light Projects is being spent within the boundaries of the proposed new city. This amounts to more than $322 million dollars being paid by the residents of the
entire parish to build up the infrastructure in this area.
It’s like the story of the Little Red Hen. You remember… after she found some
grains of wheat scattered in the barnyard, she planted the wheat… watered it… harvested it… ground it into flour…
and then baked some bread. But after all the work was done, all the other barnyard animals wanted to
eat up all the bread.
We are talking about the major retail corridors for East Baton Rouge Parish built up and
supported by residents throughout the parish… so why should it now be held hostage in a disagreement over schools?
There are many serious debates currently going on in public education… I know them well. There is the debate over Common Core and how that transition is going… you’ve seen
problems with how the voucher program is working… some charter schools failing. There is no perfect school system.
Which is why every one of us should be committed to improving our schools.
But I suggest to you the way to do that is not to cripple the strongest local economy in the
State of Louisiana… and one of the strongest in the nation. The way to do that is to work together to fix what is broken.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, our public, private and faith-based schools all play an important role.
Isn’t it ironic that we teach our school children to pledge allegiance to our flag with the words,
“One nation under God… indivisible”… but now we’re talking about people who want to divide us in the name of the children?
After decades of working for racial harmony… a few want to turn back the clock instead of allowing
Baton Rouge to move forward and be recognized as one of America’s greatest cities.
My two sons are friends with a young white kid from Central… and a Vietnamese student
from south Baton Rouge. They play basketball together… go to school… take trips together. And yet they
never focus on how they might be different from each other… they’ve just built friendships around those interests they share. Isn’t it ironic that our children have figured out that they have more in common to build
upon than their differences?
Consider the next generation. They have a better vision for the future than the people who
are leading this effort to carve up our parish.
And when we look to the future… it’s the next generation that we are building this community for.
So how are we doing it? We continue to revitalize our downtown… with more residential units… we build
more bike paths… new libraries… better parks… we build a healthier city, a better quality of life and we work hard to
bring the kind of jobs here that will keep the next generation working in Baton Rouge.
We revitalize Mid-City with projects like Ardendale in the Smiley Heights area and bring high tech educational
opportunities and new residential options. We make government more efficient like we’re doing with our Department of Public Works that is using
GPS to track tasks… online permitting and access to information the public never had before. We continue to open new markets with Taiwan… Turkey…
and other countries because the next generation thinks globally… and they want a city that does, too. And most importantly, we roll up our sleeves and work together to give them the education they deserve. But we do not allow a small group of people to divide us… weaken our Capital City… bankrupt our future… or financially cripple this great city and parish…
the home of the LSU Tigers… and a great Jaguar Nation.
That is not the future our children deserve. It is a burden we should not leave for the next generation.
To build a city and parish for the future, we’ve made partnerships that are helping us build a
trained workforce, bringing business groups and labor organizations together, utilizing the volunteer expertise of
groups like SCORE… and helping match people with jobs so they can achieve success.
We have a nationally recognized Healthy City Initiative that involves all of our hospitals…
Pennington… our LSU and Southern Ag Centers… BREC and others to help each and every one of us live a longer and healthier life.
With a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, we’re taking farm-fresh fruits and vegetables
into neighborhoods with little access to healthy foods… and you should see the crowds.
When I got the call that Santa Monica, California was interested in looking at all we are doing… I knew Baton Rouge was starting to make a difference.
Simply put: it’s working.
To build the quality of life families want, we support entertainment options that also bring visitors who
support our local businesses. Our Bayou Country Superfest expands this year from two nights to three… after Tiger Stadium was
selected, as one of the last venues in the George Strait Farewell Tour. So whether or not all your ex's live in Texas… you’ll want to be in Baton Rouge for Memorial Day
weekend and that historic moment in country music history.
On New Year’s Eve, we kicked off an exciting new tradition for Baton Rouge with a celebration
called Red Stick Revelry… dropping a 9-foot LED lighted Red Stick from 60-feet above Town Square. The police estimated more than 15,000 people filled the streets to enjoy live music on our new
Crest stage and ring in the New Year. This was a celebration made possible by private funding… one that will now make Baton Rouge a New Year’s Eve destination for regional travelers… filling our restaurants and hotels.
And if you were downtown that night, you saw Baton Rouge at its very best. Older folks with walking canes… young families with baby strollers… people of every age and race who came together for a very moving experience. And after some great music and a live television broadcast that WAFB sent out to the Raycom Media
network of 53 stations in 18 states… 15,000 voices joined together in singing Auld Lang Syne. It was another extraordinary moment in one of America’s greatest cities. If you weren’t there, don’t miss it next year because it will be even better.
I want to leave you with the fable about the old man who, on his death bed, summoned his
sons around him to teach them an important lesson before he died. He ordered his servants to bring him a large bundle of sticks bound together, then he said
to his oldest son, “Break it.” The son strained and strained but with all his efforts, he was unable to break the bundle.
Then the other sons tried, but none of them was successful. So the father said to them, “Each of you take a stick.”
And when they each had a stick, he called out to them: "Now, break them," and each
stick was easily broken. "Now you see," said their father. “Unity gives strength.”
Ladies and gentlemen… we are better together. The state of our city and parish is strong…
and it is our duty to keep it that way.
I love this city and parish… and while our differences make us stronger when we come together…
we can never allow them to tear us apart so that we break like a twig. Remember the old man’s lesson to his sons: Unity gives strength.
2014 promises to be another great year… and at the end of it, we will be even stronger.
May God bless the good people of East Baton Rouge Parish… and may God Bless America.