Week in Review, June 7-11: Top New Orleans Business Stories

New Orleans, Louisiana, Usa At Crescent City Connection Bridge Over The Mississippi River.
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NEW ORLEANS – This week, Louisiana lawmakers completed a nine-week legislative session during which federal pandemic aid and surprisingly robust state tax collections led to an unusual circumstance: a surplus of money to spend. Representatives spent their time deciding how to use it, making changes to the state’s tax structure and debating social issues. (Read more from the AP.) 

Here, from staff and wire reports, are more of the week’s top business stories:

Ochsner Health and St. Tammany Health System celebrated the grand opening of a $50 million new cancer center located on the campus of Ochsner Health Center in Covington and near St. Tammany Parish Hospital. The 75,000-square-foot facility will offer care from a multidisciplinary team of specialists and sub-specialists. Doors open to patients on June 14. …

ExxonMobil announced plans to invest more than $240 million in capital improvements at its Baton Rouge refinery. The suite of projects will improve processing capability, increase flexibility for meeting market demand, advance overall site competitiveness and install technology for an expected 10 percent reduction of volatile organic compound emissions. The projects will help retain 1,300 existing jobs at the refinery, and ExxonMobil estimates the upgrades will support more than 600 construction jobs on-site over three years. The investment also will provide more than 20 full-time job opportunities for graduates of the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative, a collaborative program spearheaded by ExxonMobil in 2012 to provide no-cost, fast-tracked industrial craft training for community residents. …

Starting Dec. 16, Alaska Airlines will offer nonstop flights between New Orleans and Portland, Oregon. There will be three flights each week leaving Armstrong International Airport at 8 a.m. and arriving at Portland International at 11:10 a.m. The flights from Portland to New Orleans will depart at noon and arrive at 6:30 p.m. (All flight times are local.) “Since March, our bookings for leisure travel have exceeded what they were before the pandemic,” said Brett Catlin, vice president of network and alliances at Alaska Airlines, in a release. “For many of our guests, there’s an increased confidence that comes after being vaccinated. They were cooped up for well over a year – now they’re ready to relax, enjoy and explore. With these new routes, we can whisk them away to destinations that have a warm sparkle in the wintertime.” …

Veteran banking executive James Hudson, who founded and led Omni Bank for 23 years, will open Citizens National Bank’s first south Louisiana branch this fall as its president of the New Orleans region. Citizens National Bank is a 36-year old banking partner based in Bossier City with branches throughout Northwest Louisiana. The bank, with over $1.3 billion in assets, is led by President and CEO Jason D. Smith. The New Orleans region branch is expected to open this fall in Metairie. In the meantime, Hudson is assembling a staff to serve the area. …

Louisiana’s Main Street Recovery Program grants are not subject to state taxes under legislation that recently became state law. Senate Bill 11 by state Sen. Kirk Talbot created the state tax exemption for COVID-19 disaster relief that businesses report in federal gross income. The exemption will be applied retroactively. The new law only applies to state tax obligations. For federal income tax purposes, the grants still will be taxed. “The Main Street Recovery Program was an expense reimbursement program. “This law is about fairness,” said Talbot. “Grants went to small businesses who absorbed added costs to keep their doors open during the pandemic. Businesses shouldn’t be given a state tax bill for grants that reimbursed them for pandemic-related expenses.” …

A bill that would cap the annual increase of residential property tax assessments in Orleans Parish has cleared the Louisiana House and Senate will go before voters in 2022. According to Rep. Matthew Willard, the bill’s author, HB 143 would cap the annual increase on a taxable assessment for residential properties with a homestead exemption at 10 percent. The limitation would not apply to rental or commercial properties. The 10 percent cap will not apply if the property changes ownership or if a home’s value is increased during an assessment year due to renovation or additions to the home. …

In a sign that the city’s tourism economy is on the way back, Preservation Hall reopened its doors for live shows on June 10. “It makes my heart sing that the esteemed musicians who are the earth, air, blood and heartbeat of this magical city will bring their joyous tradition to Preservation Hall after the longest period of silence in our 60-year history,” said Preservation Hall Creative Director Ben Jaffe in a press release. The French Quarter venue’s doors have been closed for 15 months due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

… In a sign that the tourism isn’t quite back to full health, organizers have canceled the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience for the second year in a row. Voodoo, scheduled to take place in late October, was among many festivals around the world canceled last year because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. A brief message posted Thursday on the festival’s website didn’t say why there won’t be one this October. People who have already bought tickets will be emailed about options to use them in 2022 or get refunds, it said. “As our city reopens with an abundance of events to reconnect with, we look forward to holding our reunion when we can fully embrace the Voodoo experience,” the statement said.

Categories: A Week In Review, Today’s Business News