Business issues on tap in 2014 legislative session

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LABI President Stephen Waguespack discusses issues of focus during the Bossier Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Issues Conference at Boomtown Wednesday morning.

With the state’s legislative session less than a month away, the Bossier Chamber got local business leaders up to speed Wednesday morning.

The Legislative Issues Conference with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) showcased the overall health of the state’s economy and what the organization will focus on advocating for during this year’s session.

LABI President Stephen Waguespack opened by saying the current economic climate isn’t unusual, with Louisiana featuring a cycle of booms and busts.

Although the state is poised to receive future $60 billion in projects and 250,000 jobs, the state needs to get into a “cruise control” level of growth.

“We’ve been through these cycles before…We have to get into systemic growth,” said Waguespack. “We have a perfect storm to get into systemic growth, but we’re not there yet.”

In that vein, LABI will be focusing this upcoming session workforce development and civil justice reform with an eye on the minimum wage increase.

Waguespack said workforce development comes down to technical skills/education background and soft skills.

LABI members are talking to students in school to show them the jobs that are available and helping them realize the potential of these future positions. LABI is also urging the state’s education systems to invest in programs that give students a degree in a career field where they can get a job.

“There’s no silver bullet to meeting (the workforce for) 250,000 jobs. We cannot go and reinforce one project, it’s a continuing effort,” said Waguespack.

Members put a strong emphasis on “soft skills” — critical thinking, leadership, appearance, customer service, punctuality, and organization.

“We’ve got to teach kids to do these things because they’re not getting it at the dinner table, anymore,” said Waguespack.

Bossier Parish Community College Chancellor Dr. Jim Henderson said his college is implementing development of these soft skills.

“Every program we develop has those core areas. It’s a new thing we need to build on — finding ways to assess those competencies and improve on them in addition to the technical skills,” said Henderson.

As for their efforts in civil justice reform, Waguespack explained that investors won’t continue to put their money into the state’s economy due to the number and type of lawsuits plaguing the business environment.

Members tell LABI that frivolous lawsuits are driving up costs and making goods and services more expensive.

Waguespack pointed out Louisiana only allows trial by jury if a lawsuit is $50,000 or more.

“If you’re a small business owner and get sued for $45,000, your business is on the line,” he explained.

He said the fight to change the legal business environment will be “bloody.”

“You’ll hear it will create gridlock, it will be costly, we can’t find judges in rural areas — 49 other states have figured it out, it’s not an issue,” said Waguespack.

Lastly, with President Obama calling for a higher minimum wage, many communities will consider passing a resolution and urging legislators to support it during the session.

Waguespack said wages inflate with a healthy market, and added those communities that push for that legislation will see a negative impact.

“This would harm those people they’re trying to benefit through those actions. Those small to midsize companies trying to keep their doors open will have to hire less employees and raise the costs of their goods and services,” said Waguespack.

He said a mandate is not the way to promote upward mobility.

“If you want to help people get out of low income, you train them, educate them, get them in a good job.”