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Archive for July, 2011

New law whittles appeals chain for healthcare providers

July 31st, 2011 No comments

A bill that became law July 1 will streamline the certificate of need process for healthcare providers, but could also be the beginning of the end for the entire CON process, said a key House committee chairman.

House Bill 826, passed last session, provides a direct appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court for hospitals dissatisfied with a CON ruling from the State Department of Health. Before a hospital can expand, build a new facility or purchase certain equipment, the department of health must first grant a CON for the project. Previously, if the agency denied a provider’s CON, the first route of appeal was to a chancery court. Often, though, the final decision would lie with the Mississippi Supreme Court. The new law eliminates the chancery court from the appeals chain.

“We’re having a problem with (litigation) on all CONs and the CON process,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, the bills’ author and chairman of the Public Health and Human Services Committee. “What that does is hold up the progress of healthcare for sometimes two to three years. It always winds up in the supreme court anyway.”

One CON fight that is currently before the state’s high court is the back-and-forth between  St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson and Florida-based Health Management Associates, which recently opened a new hospital in Canton. St. Dominic wants to build a satellite facility in Madison, but HMA has opposed those efforts, citing the redundancy of two major hospitals within 10 miles of each other. The department of health ruled in HMA’s favor last August, and a Madison County chancery judge affirmed that ruling last December.

The two sides are in the process of submitting briefs to the supreme court.

According to an attorney who represents St. Dominic, this new law would have saved the hospital a lot of time and money.

“For example, we had an order (denying) the Madison County CON from the department of health on Aug. 26, 2010,” said Jonathan Werne, of the Brunini Firm in Jackson. “Well, we immediately appealed that to the chancery court, both parties briefed it, and Judge Cynthia Brewer in Madison County issued a decision on Dec. 22, 2010. We then appealed that decision like seven days later (to the Mississippi Supreme Court). So there’s a four-month process that we could have avoided, saving time and expenses to both sides.”

Paul Arrington, vice president for business development at St. Dominic, said the bill’s time- and money-saving design is its main purpose, but it could also potentially serve to quicken the availability of new medical care. “The sooner you get a decision, the sooner you can start providing whatever the healthcare system delivery is. It’s not just purely about time and money.”

The bill cleared each chamber of the Legislature unanimously.

“Why the hell go through appeals?” Holland said. “Why the hell drag it on? Let’s just send it straight to the top and cut out the middle man.”

With CON-streamlining bill now a statute, Holland said he expects the legislative session that starts in January to include at least one bill aimed at eliminating more than the middle man.

“In my heart of hearts, I believe this is, quite frankly, a clarion call for the abolition of CONs. I believe pretty strongly in the free enterprise system. I believe we’re to the point, with the maturation of the healthcare delivery system, that CON has held down costs. There’s no doubt about that. But certainly, I think all of this is leading to us getting into the 21st century and getting rid of CONs.  They’re becoming obsolete.”

Legislation that would have eliminated the CON process has passed the House before, but has died in the Senate.

“We talk about it fairly often, publicly and privately, but nothing has happened yet,” Holland said.

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First Craft Beer Week offers thanks, promotes culture

July 31st, 2011 No comments

It wasn’t quite a victory lap, but there was plenty of celebrating last week for the first Mississippi Craft Beer Week.

Gov. Haley Barbour made Craft Beer Week with a proclamation, and Raise Your Pints took it from there, using the time to hold 23 events across the state to promote the state’s fledgling craft beer culture.

Raise Your Pints is a nonprofit, grassroots organization that has unsuccessfully tried the past few legislative sessions to raise the alcohol-by-volume cap on beer made and sold in Mississippi, and to legalize homebrewing.

Butch Bailey, president of RYP, said last week’s craft beer-focused get-togethers had two missions.

“It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ to these venues, like Brent’s Drugs and Hal and Mal’s and places like that, who have supported us and to say thanks to the individuals who have  donated money and called their legislator and helped us.

“And the other point of this (was) to show the powers that be that this works. We’ve got over 23 events all over Mississippi in one week and we packed the house on every one of them. People will pay a lot of money for this, we’ll all act responsibly, we’ll all have a good time and people will make a lot of money. This works. This is an event literally built around this type of beer product, and yet the next morning the world didn’t end, nobody got killed, people acted responsibly. Wow, what do you know?”

This past legislative session was the third attempt by RYP and the lawmakers who sponsored their bills to reform the state’s beer laws. At 5 percent, Mississippi’s ABV cap is the lowest in the nation, making it illegal to make and sell 86 of beeradvocate.com’s Top 100 Beers in the World. Homebrewing beer is illegal. Bills to raise the ABV cap and to legalize homebrewing have died in committee each of the past three sessions. Raising the ABV cap would allow for a broader selection and keep beer aficionados from having to travel across state lines – taking the tax money with them — to buy something other than the 14 percent of the Top 100 that is available here. Each of the states that border Mississippi has a higher ABV cap, and has seen homegrown breweries take root.

Last week’s events weren’t meant to bemoan political roadblocks, Bailey said.

“It’s a fundraising tool for us. Not all the events are set up that way, but some of them are, and it raises awareness. This is not a fringe thing. It’s not a bunch of people going out to the riverbank and drinking to get drunk. It’s different, and this is our way to try and educate the state about this.”

The money raised will help defray the costs of the lobbyist RYP has hired, something Bailey says proves the membership of RYP – none of whom are paid – “care that deeply about advancing Mississippi’s craft beer culture. It’s a big thing, and it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Jackson-based lobbyist Hayes Dent, of Hayes Dent Public Strategies, has lobbied for RYP the past few months. Bailey said the group hopes to raise enough capital between now and the start of the next legislative session in January to keep Dent on retainer.

In an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal last week, Dent said the benefits of the RYP legislation are popular with politicians.

“This is a jobs bill,” he said. “This is economic development, pure and simple. This is about helping Mississippi be competitive with other states. This is a new industry, and nobody argues the fact that we need new and better-paying jobs in Mississippi. These guys are on to something.”

One of those guys is Brad Reeves, who owns the popular Jackson soda fountain Brent’s Drugs and who sits on RYP’s board of directors. Brent’s served as a venue for one of the Craft Beer Week events.

“Being a neighborhood place, we can get some folks in the Belhaven and Fondren neighborhoods who might be familiar with Brent’s but who might not be familiar with Raise Your Pints,” Reeves said. “And of course, the idea is to look at changing the beer laws in Mississippi to allow for more beer and more options.”

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Vicksburg’s business community returning to some normalcy

July 25th, 2011 No comments

The first week of May, business owners along Vicksburg’s Washington Street corridor were preparing for the Mississippi River to unleash a flood the likes of which the city hadn’t seen since 1927.

They were also preparing for a slow-to-non-existent summer tourist season. Nearly three months later, the water has receded, and the bulk of the summer has passed. The results were mixed, with the water’s threat contributing to a bump in business before the bottom fell out in June.

Daniel Boone, who owns Highway 61 Coffeehouse on the northern end of Washington Street, said there was a strange dynamic in May: As the water levels a few hundred yards out his front door rose to a crest of 57.1 feet, so did traffic at his coffee shop.

“During the high water, business was great,” Boone told the Mississippi Business Journal in an interview last week. “We had so many people coming to see the really dramatic view of the flood that was basically across the street from us. We had lots of media and lots of just sight-seers. That was great for a week and a half.”

It didn’t last. Once the river reached its crest, the rubberneckers who had flocked to Vicksburg to catch a glimpse had lost interest. “The novelty was gone,” Boone said. Also gone was a lot of the out-of-town business Boone said makes up about 20 percent of his overall take.

The malaise extended through June, and Boone’s fears of the high water scaring away tourists – even though the rural areas outside the city limits were the areas affected the most – were realized. The busloads of tourists that show up to gamble at Vicksburg’s casinos – only one of which was closed – and to patronize the local businesses that make up the Washington Street area disappeared. Boone said June was “way down” from previous years. “What I was mainly concerned about was that people, especially foreign travelers, when they had travel plans, were going to see the news and cancel their plans, and that’s what happened.”

July, though, has offered hope. The same international travelers who stayed away in June have started to trickle back in, Boone said. Within the past week and a half he has had customers from Romania, Germany and England in for a cup of coffee.

“That’s always my gauge on (Vicksburg’s tourism economy) is the international people we get in here,” Boone said. “We’re in a down economy, so we’re just looking for degrees (of upward movement). We do feel like it’s started to turn back up a little bit, even though the hot summer here is never that great for a coffeehouse anyway. I think we’ve already maybe seen the worst of it.”

Down the hill from Highway 61 Coffeehouse, the worst of the flooding is over for Mary Landers. Whether the worst of its effects have passed is still unsettled. Discount Furniture Barn, which has been in Landers’ family since the 1970s, closed completely for a month, Landers said, its access road that runs parallel to the riverbank submerged. It reopened right after the Fourth of July.

Two weeks before she had to close her store, Landers said the access road was impassable, so even though she was open, her customers had trouble reaching her. The same was true nearly two weeks after she opened back up.

““Everybody knows how bad the economy has been,” she said last week. “And this certainly didn’t help me any.”

Landers said her building did not take on any water, but it came within two feet at the front door and one foot at the back door. The 57.1 foot crest was a touch lower than the National Weather Service’s original estimate.

““If it had crested at 57.5 feet it would have been in the building,” she said. “I was very lucky. Loss of business is the biggest deal. I guess we’re back to normal. It’s still slow, but it’s been slow for some time now. I’ve had some foot traffic, but it’s not like it used to be. That’s everywhere, though, not just me.”

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MDA, MSU will try to revive ‘tired’ stripcenters

July 25th, 2011 No comments

A retail trend that started right after the end of World War II has become a modern problem, and the Mississippi Development Authority is starting the process of finding a solution.

Stripcenters, retail clusters that could feature everything from supermarkets to department stores, were one of the most visible products of the post-war U.S. economic development boom.

Often situated on the outskirts of downtown areas, they replaced the more traditional one-stop shopping areas that had flourished before the proliferation of the automobile.

With small and mid-size communities now diverting their retail opportunities back to the downtown areas, the worm has turned. The downtowns stripcenters stripped vacant 70 years ago are returning the favor. Empty stripcenters often quickly become blighted. The “Tired Stripcenter Program,” a partnership between the MDA and the Carl Small Business Center at Mississippi State’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, is designed to revitalize them.

“We’ve got a great Main Street program here in Mississippi,” MDA interim executive director Leland Speed said. “You go around and you start looking at all these towns, and they’re starting to get their act together with their downtowns. But to get there, you have to leave the highway and drive past a bunch of old closed department stores or Sunflowers or Jitney Jungles or something like that. They’re depressing. They’re just downright ugly. Every dang town is cursed with these things.”

Speed himself was in on the development of a stripcenter in Jackson, in the Fondren area where a hardware store and a whole foods store now sit. “So I’m guilty,” he said.

The biggest problem with stripcenters, Speed said, is their average shelf life is only between 15 and 20 years, meaning the ones built long after the post-war era have outlived their usefulness.

“The retailing universe changes,” he said. “The store isn’t the right size or the chain gets killed by competition, or something. We can’t just sit here and be victims. We have to develop an active response.”

Federal government policy has done its part to contribute to the explosion of stripcenters and the eyesore they become when they’re empty, said John Poros, director of the Carl Small Business Center. Readily available loans from the Federal Housing Administration and the Interstate Highway Act of the mid-1950s made the box-shaped stripcenters concrete gold mines. That all changed when their tax depreciation method was lowered to seven years, down from 40.

“With that, it doesn’t make sense to build something that’s long-lasting and you take care of. It makes sense to build something cheap,” Poros said.

Speed and Poros agree that pumping life back into the outdated stripcenters will require plans of action as varied as the tenants they once housed.

“You have to take an overall approach,” Poros said. “Maybe there are places to redevelop the strip to become a different program. You might get multi-family housing. You might begin to think about using parts of the strip for civic purposes or even parks and other (venues for) recreational activities. People are looking for things like that more and more when they go out to shop. All these lifestyle centers are doing very well because they understand that. Figuring out how to bring that sort of sensibility to the commercial strip is important.”

Connecting the revamped stripcenter’s new tenants to one another – as opposed to their entrances being exclusively around the edges – will have to be a common theme. “That can become a way to revitalize aesthetics, which is so important to the retail environment,” said Poros, who added that no specific communities have been targeted yet for the program.

“There are a lot of different tools, and every different place is different. It’s clear that people in their preferences are going more toward these places where they can find everything in one place, which really goes back to the old town centers where you can go one place and find everything that they need and also have a pleasant experience there. If you can build it into people’s daily lives, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

Details of a seminar the MDA and the Carl Small Business Center hope to conduct this fall are being finalized.

 “We’re still working on what exactly we’re going to do,” Poros said. “There will certainly be a kickoff meeting about this, but we’re still trying to figure out when and where.”

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Wang: GreenTech on track for production this year

July 20th, 2011 No comments

In a couple months, it will have been two years since GreenTech Automotive CEO Charles Wang showed up in Tunica and announced his plans to manufacture electric hybrid sedans and sports cars there.

Since then, GreenTech has acquired a company that built the MyCar, a neighborhood electric vehicle, and said it would build that in Horn Lake in the old Dover Elevator building, hopefully by the end of the third quarter.

We recounted all of that in a story in this week’s Mississippi Business Journal. What didn’t make the story is any comment from GreenTech, due to us not having received a response from a company spokesperson before we sent the paper to the press.

Tuesday afternoon, we got a reponse to a list of questions we submitted. Among the questions were if the MyCar production was still scheduled to start this year, if construction had started on the Tunica facility, what sort of timetable GTA had for starting production in Tunica, and for an update on the raising of private capital via the EB-5 Visa investment program. Through the EB-5 program, foreigners can acquire permanent residency status by investing a minimum of $1 million into an economic development project in the U.S., or $500,000 in a project in an economically depresseed area.

Tunica would qualify as an economically depressed area, so we’ve been operating under the assumption that EB-5 money related to its GreenTech facility would have to meet the $500,000 minimum. We’ve been unable to confirm that, though, because GreenTech has been short on details in the rare public comments it makes.

The same was true of its latest offering.

“We are making progresses in accordance with our business plan and we will have our SOP (start of production) this year,” read an emailed statement attributed to Wang. “We have already begun construction in Tunica.”

So it sounds like the MyCar will start rolling off the lines in Horn Lake sometime this year; whether it’s by the end of the third quarter is still unclear. And Tunica? Construction has apparently started on the facility, but when production will start is a secret only GreenTech knows, and it’s not telling.

Marcus Dupree endorses Bill Luckett — but what about Ron Williams?

July 14th, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has made a habit of not paying much attention to political endorsements. That’s because they rarely mean much of anything. There are exceptions, but not many.

So when Democratic candidate for governor Bill Luckett announced Thursday morning that Marcus Dupree, who a lot of folks think is the best high school football player Mississippi has ever produced, had endorsed the Clarksdale lawyer, it was strange. Why? Because Dupree endorsed GOP candidate Ron Williams back in February. You can view video of Dupree making official his affinity for Williams here.

Dupree worked for Williams’ hazardous material clean-up company after the oil spill, which probably had a lot to do with his original decision to endorse the Moss Point businessman.

We reached Williams on his cell phone, and he said he had been made aware of Dupree’s switch this morning.

“Marcus is a good guy,” Williams said. “It is what it is.” Williams added that he was under the impression that Dupree was trying to get Morgan Freeman,who’s been a big part of Luckett’s campaign, to back a movie about Dupree’s life, which would explain the flip.

Williams didn’t seem overly bothered by Dupree’s decision, probably because of what we mentioned earlier — these things rarely pack any real voting punch. “But I’m starting to understand why Jackson is so messed up,” he said of the weird things politics can make otherwise reasonable people do.

 And this is among the weirdest we’ve seen in a while.

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Hood wants the GCCF, Feinberg to open the books

July 12th, 2011 1 comment

Real quick, here’s the full press release from Attorney General Jim Hood’s office.

Attorney General (AG) Jim Hood has filed a petition with the Court to force the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) and its administrator, Kenneth R. Feinberg to obey an AG subpoena pertaining to certain documents relevant to an investigation of the BP claims process.

 “Mr. Feinberg and the GCCF have continually made promises of compliance, but have failed to fully provide necessary information despite our repeated requests and reasonable efforts to resolve the issues,” said Attorney General Hood.  “All they have managed to do is delay, deny, deceive and dissemble.”

 The Attorney General’s Petition, filed in Hinds County Chancery Court today, asks the GCCF and Feinberg to respond to the subpoena that was served in February.  The petition says that the Attorney General has reason to believe that the GCCF and Feinberg may have violated or may be violating the Consumer Protection Act, and that he needs the documents requested in the subpoena to make this determination. 

 “We hope that by asking a court to open up the GCCF claims process for review, we will be able to ensure that victims of last year’s oil spill are being adequately and fairly compensated for their losses,” said Attorney General Hood.  “My job is to protect the citizens of Mississippi.”

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Hewes’ committee picks — strange? Yes. Smart? We’ll see

July 12th, 2011 3 comments

It was less then a week ago when Tate Reeves’ campaign released poll figures that showed him with a 40-point lead over Billy Hewes in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.

Tuesday morning, Hewes countered. At a press conference at the Capitol, Hewes revealed who he would name as chairmen of the most powerful committees in the Senate.

Here are his picks:

Appropriations: Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who has chaired that committee since Alan Nunnelee left for D.C.

Judiciary A: Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is the current chair of that committee.

Finance: Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who is the committee’s current chair.

Education: Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, is the current chair of that committee.

Speaking of Carmichael, he would ascend to president pro tem of the Senate, Hewes said.

So let’s review: Hewes’ picks for critical chairmenships and president pro tem come from Rankin, Jackson, DeSoto and Lauderdale counties. You don’t have to be any kind of political expert to know that those are among the most populated GOP hotspots in Mississippi. Still, it’s odd, and Hewes has certainly backed himself into a corner and most likely alienated a few members (like Fillingane) of his party.

Even if you don’t put much stock in Reeves’ poll numbers, the fact remains that Hewes is considerably behind in the campaign cash race and the all-important name-recognition game.

Three weeks are left until the primary, a period Hewes called “an eternity.”

So we’ll be waiting a while to see if this was a shrewd political maneuver or an act of desperation.

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Private money, new stadium for Jackson State football loom as roadblocks for UMMC mega facility

July 10th, 2011 No comments
There are two major hurdles to clear if the area around University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is to become a medical research and treatment “city.”
Jackson State University has to relinquish control and management of Veterans Memorial Stadium, and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment from new and existing medical facilities has to be gathered. One will be easier than the other.
Legislation passed in the 2011 session transferred management responsibility of Veterans Memorial Stadium to Jackson State July 1. The university will now bear the expense of operating and maintaining the 70-year-old facility with a capacity of about 62,000. Included in that legislation, though, is a clause that gives the school the option of returning the stadium to the state on July 1, 2014, if the operational costs are more than the school could handle.
Michael Thomas, JSU’s vice president of business and finance, said the school is confident it can maintain the facility cost-effectively, and said he “couldn’t envision” the stadium returning to state ownership after that three-year window.
“Even with that, the ultimate goal is that we have our own stadium close to campus just because we think that would be more beneficial to JSU,” Thomas said last week in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal.
The timeline for a new stadium and the first phase of the medical city are intertwined. Thomas said putting a preliminary timeline for construction of a place for the Jackson State Tigers to play their football games has not been established. He added that conversations among the school and UMMC have started to determine the future of Veterans Memorial if and when a new facility takes steps toward reality. Those talks include, Thomas said, finding ways to procure private funding.
“The initial conversation was looking toward a public-private partnership,” Thomas said. “We really haven’t thrown around any (cost) figures. We have to decide what the capacity would be, and what additional amenities it would have. The ultimate goal for both parties would be for Jackson State to have a new stadium, and UMC would be able to have their medical corridor. UMC was extremely supportive of that.”
Last year, UMMC put the finishing touches on a master plan that would guide the medical school’s existing facilities and its growth over the next 35 years. Dr. David Powe, UMMC’s chief administrative affairs officer, said the plan left in place Veterans Memorial Stadium. The growth path started at the school’s facilities and extended toward the farmer’s market on West Street, and called for the development of a bio-research park.
Powe said the medical school’s first priority as it pertains to Veterans Memorial is to let Jackson State drive the decision on whether to keep it or to raze it. If Jackson State builds a stadium either on or close to its campus, UMMC would regain ownership of the old facility.
“We don’t have a football team, so we would have no use for the stadium. So we would develop a plan for the development for that property,” Powe said. “There’s a lot involved here, and we don’t want to cloud the issue. We want to make sure everyone understands that we’re in full support of Jackson State.”
Ideally, a medical city would include a mixture of research, academic and clinical sectors, to go with a retail component, Powe said. It would have to include a huge amount of private investment, the recruitment of which has already begun through a joint effort between UMMC and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is one four Republicans on the gubernatorial primary ballot, has recently made the creation of a medical city that extends from State Street to Hawkins Field a part of his campaign. Bryant said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal last week that the percentage of private investment, based on early projections, would have to be “between 70 and 75 percent” with the state kicking in the rest. Exact cost figures have not been determined yet, he said.
“Obviously, we don’t have the money in state government (to fully fund such a mammoth project). You don’t want to bond to that extent, but the medical community is the fastest-growing segment of the economy. We need to take advantage of it. We’re very early in the process.”
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A quick glance at latest poll numbers in Lt. Gov. race

July 6th, 2011 1 comment

Tate Reeves’ campaign released Wednesday morning poll numbers that show the treasurer is leading his opponent in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Billy Hewes, by more than 40 points.

Out of 500 likely voters in the Aug. 2 primary surveyed by OnMessage Inc., 56 percent said they would vote for Reeves. Hewes garnered 16 percent.

What caught our eye immediately was that the results of the poll, taken June 29-30, showed that Reeves led in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, which Hewes has represented in the Legislature for two decades.

Obviously, the importance of these numbers lies in the eyes of the beholder. Reeves and his followers will likely take them as gospel; the Hewes camp probably won’t give them much more than a passing thought. The wisdom or folly of either approach will be decided Aug. 2.

For the full release from the Reeves campaign, click here.

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