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Venture Capitalists Getting Jazzed

  Private investors are all abuzz about a proposed program that would entice insurers to invest in Louisiana entrepreneurs and small businesses by offering them $200 million in tax credits. It's called the Louisiana Entrepreneurial Assistance and Development Program, or LEAD, and is outlined in House Bill 732 by Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge. Specifically, the legislation calls for "venture and expansion capital" and stipulates the state's Office of Financial Institutions would review applications beginning in February 2010. Applications will be approved on a first-come, first-served basis.

  W. Anthony Toups III, senior vice president of Advantage Capital Partners in New Orleans, says the price tag may come as a shock, especially since the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall that's expected to grow in coming years. He adds, however, that LEAD could be packaged as revenue neutral or even positive because other investment incentives will come off the books in future years as the credits are applied. Moreover, the new private investments will generate other tax dollars, and the legislation allows the state to participate in profits under certain circumstances. LEAD could likewise be viewed as a stimulus for private investors and entrepreneurs.

  "Louisiana is already at a disadvantage for attracting venture capitalists, and the economy has only made the situation worse," Toups says. "Louisiana also has angel investors willing to gamble on good investments and, on the other side, big banks willing to make loans sometimes. But there's a gap in between and that's where the state can help." — Jeremy Alford

A Possible Boost for I-49

  A Lafayette lawmaker wants to create a special commission that would promote transportation projects in areas important to the oil and gas industry. The end result could benefit initiatives already underway in the New Orleans region. The commission would be an extension of recent efforts to brand southeast Louisiana as "America's Energy Coast" — a public relations campaign for coastal restoration and hurricane protection — and piggyback on the regional popularity of projects such as Lafourche Parish's La. 1 South and the Lafayette-New Orleans I-49 connector (a proposed hurricane-evacuation alternative).

  Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, has proposed renaming the existing Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission and transforming it into a new 15-member commission with the power to tax an eight-parish region, borrow money and contract with private companies. The resulting Energy Corridor Commission is further outlined in Michot's Senate Bill 176. The boundaries of the proposed political subdivision would include Iberia, Lafayette, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Vermilion parishes. "This brings all of the stakeholders together from along the route," Michot says. As the economy faces tough times, Michot says the commission could offer alternative funding solutions, such as taxing districts in the areas of developing projects and possibly even tolls. — Alford

Is It Time To Consolidate The Coast?

  A Terrebonne Parish lawmaker wants the state to merge nearly all of its coastal-related agencies and boards into one office under the control of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, says his proposal would streamline the state's various efforts, which have expanded during the past decade in the midst of increased public attention and the wake of devastating hurricanes. "This is something that we have to do," Dove says. "The state has made the coast a top policy issue and this takes that commitment one step farther. We need one dedicated office that does nothing but work on this issue."

  Dove's 65-page House Bill 833 would create the "Office of Hurricane Protection, Flood Control and Coastal Restoration." Louisiana's coastal projects are now attracting billions of dollars in federal money, state support and private donations. An entire industry has sprouted around the cause, encompassing everything from engineering and maritime to biology and geology. The bureaucracy that supports it all can sometimes seem like a maze. For instance, the state's leading coastal board, responsible for signing into contracts and drafting important policies, is the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). The Governor's Office of Coastal Activities promotes the policies of the governor and represents the executive branch's coastal arm. Additionally, the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation is charged with advising the governor on his coastal policies. A variety of offices in the Department of Natural Resources deal with everything from coastal permits to drilling, and then there are the departments of Environmental Quality and Wildlife and Fisheries.

  Dove, chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, wants to fold all these groups into a new state agency. If his legislation passes, practically everything coastal-related — from oyster lease compensation to a hurricane levee in Westwego — would go to one place. Dove says a time may come when the proposed agency will require an upgrade to a full-fledged department. "It really should be an entire department to itself, but the Louisiana Constitution only allows for 20 departments," Dove says. "If we end up in a constitutional convention after this session, I think this is one of the things we should look at." — Alford

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