Week in Review, March 13-17: Plaquemines LNG, AxoSim, Gulf Wind Technology
NEW ORLEANS — No doubt, there will be books and documentaries galore about last week’s Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank failures, which rank as the second and third worst in U.S. history. Right now, everyone just wants to know that it won’t be the start of a trend.
Chris Ferris, president of New Orleans-based Fidelity Bank, stresses the fact that 91% of the country’s banks are well-capitalized and not in danger of following SVB and Signature into troubled territory.
“The majority of the banking industry is much better diversified in terms of where they make their investments and who they bank,” he said. “So if one particular industry or segment has a hard time — like what’s happening in the tech world right now — it doesn’t spell problems for the bank as a whole.”
SVB, which controls more than $200 billion in assets, is known for supporting roughly half of the country’s venture-backed technology and life-sciences companies. The failure of Signature, which is about half that size, is being blamed on last year’s cryptocurrency collapse.
Here are more of this week’s top business headlines:
On March 13, Venture Global LNG announced the successful closing of $7.8 billion in project financing for the second phase of its massive liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Plaquemines Parish. The company says the total $21 billion investment (phases one and two combined) is the “largest project financing ever done.” “Venture Global is proud to announce a positive final investment decision for phase two of Plaquemines LNG, less than 10 months after sanctioning phase one,” said Mike Sabel, the Virginia-based company’s CEO. “Our company’s continued ability to commercialize, obtain financing and build our projects in an extremely competitive market is a testament to our team’s proven track record of discipline and execution.” Michael Hecht, of Greater New Orleans Inc., said the phase two financing is “great news for the region and a chance to further our country’s role in weaning the world off Russian gas.” “The massive size of this investment is only possible due to the global demand for clean, affordable natural gas, and the confidence that the largest customers and investors in the world have in the Venture Global team,” Hecht told Biz New Orleans. “The result of this investment will be thousands of good jobs in Plaquemines and in greater New Orleans, millions in new tax revenue for our state, and geopolitical stability for Europe and the free world.”
On March 16, New Orleans-based biotech startup AxoSim celebrated the expansion of its footprint at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center (1441 Canal Street). The ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a reception in the NOBIC lobby, was attended by BioDistrict supporters, including elected officials, business organizations and board members from both entities. The new partnership expands AxoSim’s current operation to more than 4,000 square feet to be used for neuroscience drug discovery operations. The company’s proprietary NerveSim and BrainSim platforms provide “accurate, predictive models of the human nervous system, rapidly delivering clinically actionable human data early in the drug development process,” said a spokesperson. AxoSim said its platforms have the potential to reduce the time and cost of new drug R&D for neurodegenerative disorders, in addition to its applications in toxicology. It said the technology has been shown to achieve research milestones at a “fraction of the time and cost of conventional animal testing, allowing AxoSim’s biopharma partners to develop more effective and safer drugs with greater speed and efficiency.”
Gulf Wind Technology has announced that Shell New Energies US LLC (Shell) is investing $10 million to create the Shell Gulf Wind Technology Accelerator program. At a new research, training and technology facility at Avondale Global Gateway, the partners will explore ways to develop wind turbine rotors that will operate in challenging wind conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. GWT hopes to create a “demonstrator” turbine as early as 2024 as it combines research and development of new technologies with a workforce development facility aimed at “accelerating the Gulf of Mexico offshore wind learning curve.”
Louisiana-based energy services company Danos has announced the acquisition of offshore labor supply operations in the Gulf of Mexico from Wood, a multinational engineering and consulting company headquartered in Scotland. Wood reported a sale price of $17 million. “We have been in the people business for 76 years,” said Eric Danos, CEO of Danos Ventures, in a press release. “Providing highly skilled personnel to build, maintain and operate our customers’ assets safely is what we do. And we’re excited that this recent acquisition expands our ability to do that.” Danos is a third-generation, family-owned business headquartered in Gray, Louisiana. The company’s 2,700 employees serve nearly 175 customers across 21 states and the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Louisiana Illuminator: Gov. John Bel Edwards has rejected a state board’s decision to grant Folgers Coffee Co. millions in property tax exemptions, restoring the initial decisions local taxing authorities in New Orleans made. Edwards issued a statement Monday saying his denial of Folgers’ applications under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) will be made official after he receives them from Louisiana Economic Development, the state’s economic development agency. The governor’s rejection negates a decision by the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry earlier this month and could prompt a judge to lift a court injunction that is currently blocking Orleans Parish from collecting on a multi-million dollar property tax bill that Folgers has so far avoided paying.
The Hyatt Centric French Quarter New Orleans has announced the completion of an extensive interior renovation that includes a redesign of the lobby, guestrooms, meeting spaces, fitness center and food and beverage spaces. Since 2012, the 254-room hotel has been located at 800 Iberville Street in the former home of the D.H. Holmes department store. The hotel features 12-foot ceilings, 10,660 square feet of flexible function space, an outdoor courtyard with pool, a poolside bar and a 24-hour fitness center. The redesign, led by Studio 11, highlights “paneled high ceilings, warm metals and a moody color palette that set the stage for bold splashes of geometric patterns complemented by natural woods and intricate brass detailing,” as described by a hotel spokesperson. Studio 11 has office in Texas and New York.
On March 14, the Surface Transportation Board announced the approval of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s acquisition of Kansas City Southern freight rail company. The Southern Rail Commission has favored the merger, as the tracks owned by KCS will be transferred to CP, which has previously announced that it will work with Amtrak, SRC and other local partners in the efforts to start passenger rail service along multiple routes. The conjunction of the two railroads will be known as Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC). Amtrak is anticipating a beneficial working relationship with CPKC, as the two have already agreed to share the tracks along the I-20 corridor and between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. CPKC has also committed to funding infrastructure improvements along the routes. This collaboration will lead to the expansion of long-distance passenger rail service in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, aiding in the economic development of cities along the routes.
CrescentCare, a nonprofit community health center, joined real estate developer Gulf Coast Housing Partnership at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new clinic at 2515 Canal Street. The facility will house programs for primary care, behavioral health, sexual health services and more. “We are thrilled to break ground on our new Mid-City location, which will allow us to expand our programs and provide even more innovative healthcare solutions to those in need,” said Alice Riener, CrescentCare CEO. “Since our founding as NO/AIDS Task Force in 1983, we’ve been dedicated to supporting underserved communities. We’re proud to celebrate our 40th anniversary with this exciting expansion.” CrescentCare’s Mid-City expansion has a total development cost of approximately $21.6 million and is funded by New Markets Tax Credit allocations from GCHP, Capital One and Hope Enterprise Corporation; Historic Tax Credit investment from Chase Bank and Stonehenge Capital; and conventional financing from Enterprise Community Loan Fund and Hope Credit Union.
The University of Holy Cross has announced a new multiyear collaboration with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana designed to increase educational opportunities for the Hispanic population in southeast Louisiana. The new UHC-HCCL partnership is intended to help educate, empower and advocate for the Hispanic community and serve as a link to the business community at large. School leaders hope to foster continued economic growth, along with the development and promotion of area Hispanic businesses. The partners will co-promote luncheons, roundtables, symposiums, summits, trade shows and galas.
On Friday, March 24, five new pickleball courts will make their debut at City Park Tennis Center. The facility’s center court has been permanently reconfigured to house four dedicated courts for the increasingly popular sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. A renovation of a former tennis practice court brings the total number of pickleball courts to five. The construction project was led by Australian Court Works — based, incongruously enough — in Mississippi. “We are so excited to ‘get in the game’ that has been taking the nation by storm,” said City Park Conservancy President and CEO Cara Lambright in a press release. “The tennis center will offer a unique environment for pickleballers of all levels to exercise, and socialize, in a world-class setting. We’re thrilled to share this sport, and this space, with the community.” Pickleball has been around since the 1960s — but it’s grown in popularity dramatically over the last five years. LeBron James and Drew Brees are fans. Last year, CBS aired a star-studded tournament hosted by Stephen Colbert.