Baton Rouge Business Report [March 2024]

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Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy

Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy

MARCH 2024 • BUSINESSREPORT.COM 2024 Business Awards and Hall of Fame


Congratulations to all the honorees! Your talent has made significant contributions to the industry and your hard work, perseverance and unwavering commitment to excellence sets you apart as leaders. Thank you for being role models in the great city of Baton Rouge.”



George Foster, Founder Guaranty Media (Posthumous)


Perry Franklin, President Franklin Associates



Mo Vij, CEO

Nanette Noland

The Powell Group



Jaime Glas Odom, Founder & Owner Queen of Sparkles


Pala Group

Scott Barringer, President and CEO

3 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024


Giving generously can do more than help those in need. You can be rewarded by making your contributions to charity from a retirement account. When you use your tax qualified IRA to donate to a 501c(3) charity, the withdrawal is not taxable as ordinary income. This can greatly help to reduce your overall taxable income for the year.



Individuals with Required Minimum Distributions (those over age 73). A required minimum distribution is a calculated mandatory amount that you must withdrawal from your Traditional, SEP, Simple, or Employer plan upon reaching age 73. If not taken a penalty could be imposed. By giving to a charity straight from these retirement accounts, you can help to avoid this penalty.


Starting in 2024, families who are saving for education in 529 plans will be allowed to roll over unused funds from those accounts into Roth individual retirement accounts (IRA) for the same beneficiary without incurring tax penalties. Some provisions are listed below.


Giving generously can do more than help those in need. You can be rewarded by making your contributions to charity from a retirement account. When you use your tax qualified IRA to donate to a 501c(3) charity, the withdrawal is not taxable as ordinary income. This can greatly help to reduce your overall taxable income for the year.

Individuals with Required Minimum Distributions (those over age 73) may deduct withdrawals from their tax return if it is donated to a charity.


There is a contribution limit of $100,000. GIVE OUR OFFICE A CALL TO LEARN MORE!

• 529 Plan account must be opened for over 15 years.


• Funds used to rollover held at least 5 years.

• Lifetime limit of $35,000

• Starting in 2023, donors can also direct a one-time, $50,000 QCD to a charitable remainder trust or charitable gift annuity.

Individuals with Required Minimum Distributions (those over age 73). A required minimum distribution is a calculated mandatory amount that you must withdrawal from your Traditional, SEP, Simple, or Employer plan upon reaching age 73. If not taken a penalty could be imposed. By giving to a charity straight from these retirement accounts, you can help to avoid this penalty.

• The Charitable Gift Annuity provides lifetime income to the donor (and specifically the spouse) and at the end of the lifetime of the donor(s), the charity keeps the funds.

• Roth IRA in the name of the same 529 beneficiary (student)


There is a contribution limit of $100,000. GIVE OUR


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News 40 Is a girl’s new best friend grown in a lab? How the south Louisiana diamond industry is diversifying options for buyers  44 Making waves The Water Campus is a decade old. What has it accomplished? Publisher 8 Trailblazing entrepreneurs Intelligence 11 5 Things to Watch 12 Whitney Johnson: Is your gut instinct keeping you from your next dream? 15 Briefing: News, notes and charts to keep you in the know 16 Design: The Origin Hotel 19 Thought Leader: Revelry software developer Stuart Page on lessons learned from working with AI 16 44 62 Viewpoint 51 Rolfe McCollister Jr.: Gov. Landry is the man who wants to be king Your Business 53 Company News 60 Moving Up 62 Recharge: Barry Erwin | Home-cooked cuisine MARCH 2024 BUSINESSREPORT.COM STARTUPS TO ICONS BUSINESSREPORT.COM 2024 Business Awards and Hall of Fame Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region CONNECT WITH US: CONTENTS ON THE COVER Startups to icons Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy Design by: Hoa Vu 23 6 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, but it’s also one of the most preventable. Fortunately, the rate of people diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer continues to drop because more people are getting screened earlier and changing their lifestyles to avoid health risks.

And even more good news: The best cancer care is right here in Baton Rouge. Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Institute offers the first nationally accredited rectal cancer program in the state.

If you have risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as being older, overweight, tobacco or alcohol use or family history, talk to your primary care provider about screening.

Early detection is the best protection.

Trailblazing entrepreneurs


By definition, it is designed to create significant improvements or create new value in the market to maintain competitiveness, adapt to changing market dynamics and meet evolving customer needs.

But true innovation also inspires growth, resilience and transformation in our community.

This year’s Business Awards and Hall of Fame honorees certainly embody that spirit of innovation. Their impressive achievements are a testament to how creative thinking and bold action reach beyond a business enterprise to impact the broader community we call home.

Consider the story of George A. Foster Jr. His ability to see beyond the conventional boundaries of business serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative potential inherent in every sector. His knack for building relationships—illustrated by his memorable interactions with Hollywood icons—underscores the universal truth that innovation is as much about people and connections as it is about technology and processes.

Nanette Noland’s stewardship of The Powell Group showcases another dimension of innovation: leveraging business success for community good. Under her leadership, The Powell Group has made substantial contributions to local charities, proving that business innovation can indeed drive social change.

The work of Perry Franklin in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina highlights the critical role entrepreneurs can play in addressing complex community challenges. His admirable efforts in disaster recovery and urban planning embody the essence of innovation, by turning adversity into opportunity and making tangible differences

in the lives of affected communities.

The same can be said of Mo Vij and his 365Labs. By developing a streamlined law enforcement agency platform, the company is making a significant impact on public safety, deploying technological innovation to achieve more efficient community services. This is after he built General Informatics and sold it. He now finds himself in rare company as a two-time award winner with two different companies.

Pala Group’s transformative journey serves as an inspiration for companies across the Capital Region, demonstrating the value of diversification and employee empowerment in navigating economic challenges.

And Jaime Glas Odom’s transition from petroleum engineering to fashion, creating the Queen of Sparkles line, highlights the limitless possibilities when one dares to innovate. Her journey is a vivid illustration of how innovative thinking can lead to unexpected and lucrative ventures.

These trailblazers and their courage, creativity and willingness to embrace change can’t help but inspire us all to nurture a culture of innovation that propels our region toward a brighter, more prosperous future.

The Business Awards and Hall of Fame reception is on the evening of March 20 at the Crowne Plaza. Want to join us for the celebration? Go to events.

The best is yet to come!

Publisher: Julio Melara


Chief Content Officer & Executive Editor: Penny Font

Managing Editor: Allan Schilling

News Editor: Holly Duchmann

Staff Writers: Jordan Arceneaux, Dillon Lowe

Multimedia Editor: Oscar Tickle

Contributing writers: Sam Barnes, Kelli Bozeman, Emily Hebert, Maggie Heyn Richardson

Contributing photographers: Don Kadair, Tim Mueller, Collin Richie


Sales Director: Kelly Lewis

Account Executives: Emma Dubuc, Nancy Bombet Ellis, Meredith LaBorde, Ethan Shipp, Matt Wambles

Digital Operations Manager: Devyn MacDonald

Customer Success Manager: Paul Huval


Director: Taylor Gast

Creative Director: Timothy Coles

Corporate Media Editor: Lisa Tramontana

Content Strategist: Emily Hebert

Project Manager: Kendall Denney

Account Executive: Judith LaDousa


Marketing & Events Coordinator: Taylor Andrus

Marketing & Events Assistant: Mallory Romanowski


Business Manager: Tiffany Durocher

Business Associate: Kirsten Milano

Office Coordinator: Sara Hodge

Receptionist: Cathy Varnado Brown


Director of Creative Services: Amy Vandiver

Art Director: Hoa Vu

Senior Graphic Designers: Melinda Gonzalez Galjour, Emily Witt

Digital Graphic Designer: Ellie Gray

Graphic Designer: Sidney Rosso


Audience Development Director and Digital Manager: James Hume

Audience Development Coordinator: Ivana Oubre

Audience Development Associate: Catherine Albano

Customer Experience Coordinator: Kathy Thomas

A publication of Melara Enterprises, LLC

Chairman: Julio Melara

Executive Assistant: Brooke Motto

Vice President-Sales: Elizabeth McCollister Hebert

Chief Content Officer: Penny Font

Chief Digital Officer: Erin Pou

Chief Operating Officer: Guy Barone

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Volume 41 - Number 21

PUBLISHER BRIEFING ©Copyright 2024 by Melara Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved by LBI. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report (USPS 721-890 ISSN 0747-4652) is published monthly by Louisiana Business Inc. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. Business address: 9029 Jefferson Hwy., Ste. 300, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. Telephone (225) 928-1700. Periodicals postage is paid at Baton Rouge, La. Subscription rate is $96.00 for 12 issues, with 2 additional issues published annually in April and December. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report 9029 Jefferson Hwy. Ste. 300, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report cannot be responsible for the return of unsolicited material— manuscripts or photographs, with or without the inclusion of a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Information in this publication is gathered from sources considered to be reliable, but the accuracy and completeness of the information cannot be guaranteed. No information expressed here constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities.
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Thank You, George

George A. Foster, Jr.

He was one of a kind.

He was generous to all.

He was humble to the core.

He was and always will be a Hall of Famer.

Guaranty Corporation salutes Mr. Foster and we thank him for his 69 years of service to our Baton Rouge based, family-owned business.

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Your health is our


Make it yours, too.

Running him to band practice. Getting her to the doctor. Checking on your mom. Making sure everyone has lunch. No wonder you can barely t in your healthcare.

At Woman’s Hospital, our priority is women’s health. And nobody keeps women healthy and on top of their game like we do, because when you’re feeling good, you can take care of all the things you do for those you love.

Each year, more than 100,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers. Some have unique signs and symptoms while others have no obvious symptoms at all.

Make your health a priority and see your gynecologist every year because early detection can save your life.

5 THINGS to watch this month

LEADERSHIP IS WHAT it’s all about. The Junior League of Baton Rouge Women’s Leadership Conference, that is. It’s set for March 5 at the Crowne Plaza, beginning with a networking breakfast at 7 a.m. The program begins at 8:30. Keynote speaker is author, Peloton instructor and Nike athlete Tunde Oyeneyin. Visit to see the rest of the agenda.

THE REGULAR SESSION of the Louisiana Legislature convenes at noon March 11. At the top of the agenda? A looming “fiscal cliff.” Some $420 million in annual revenue from a temporary .45-cent sales tax is coming to an end. And then there are major transportation projects to be funded. At press time, 200 House bills and 49 Senate bills had been filed on topics ranging from banning COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren to regulations for virtual currencies.

BITES, BOOZE AND bad dance moves. That’s how the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry bills its Back To Business event to celebrate opening day of the legislative session. The fun begins at 5 p.m. at the LABI Center for Free Enterprise, 500 Main St. It’s complimentary, but you do need to register for a ticket to attend. Get details from LABI

HOT TOPICS FOR financial managers. Technological challenges and opportunities are on the horizon. Best practices for financial contingency planning. Those are some of the topics Vanessa Graham will tackle in the March episode of Business Report‘s “Strictly Business” series with business leaders across the Capital Region. The episode, which airs at 11 a.m. March 20, takes a deep dive into corporate financial management. Register at strictlybusiness.

GET READY TO VOTE your preference in Louisiana’s presidential primary election. Voters registered as a Democrat or Republican will cast their votes for the presidential nominee as well as state central and parish executive committee members in their respective parties. Early voting takes place March 9-16, excluding Sunday; the election is set for March 23. Municipal elections are also on the ballot in 24 parishes, including East Baton Rouge. Visit voterportal.sos. for details.

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Is your gut instinct keeping you from your next dream?

WHEN I WAS in college, I went to an information session at the law school. This moment sticks in my mind because I unexpectedly saw a family friend there. He ended up going to law school. I did not. In fact, I didn’t do anything in the world of laws and courtrooms after that session—other than the occasional jury duty.

Why? Because it didn’t feel right.

WHITNEY JOHNSON is CEO of leadership development company Disruption Advisors and has 1.8 million followers on LinkedIn. You can reach her at whitney@

I’ve since thought about that moment, and many more like it, where I didn’t pursue something—because it didn’t feel right—and I have wondered, was it really “not right” for me? Was it genuinely something that was not meant for me, not apportioned within the cosmic order of the universe?

Or was it just ... uncomfortable, because this would have been the launch point of a new S-curve, where I was disrupting my view of myself, and what I thought I could ask of myself.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve made it my life’s work to help people and companies navigate growth and change, so that when they feel awkward and find themselves pulling back, they have the tools to make that choice.

Does this truly not fit with my identity—or is this normal, because I have stepped into this place of deliberate self-innovation, of remaking and refashioning myself?

If you, like me, struggle with this launch point, here are some suggestions to assess if you should persist on this new S-curve just a little longer, or jump to another.

interest, instead of fleeting curiosity, our identity is aligned with what we’re doing. If not, our motivations can feel porous, prone to evaporating when the launch point gets tough. What’s driving you—and why?

Exploration doesn’t mean commitment. The good thing about a launch point is that the stakes are often very low. Make small bets with yourself, incremental tests that give you a clear picture of your actual progress. Instead of picking a dream and setting that as the bar for success or failure, make little forays into the new endeavor. You’ll build a better sense of what this S-curve really looks like, and it’ll be easier to make a decision. Just because you date an idea doesn’t mean you have to marry it.

Accept that you might be having conflicting thoughts, opposing narratives dueling it out. Mental dissonance is part and parcel of being human. So take a step outside of your head. What do the people in your life say, who know you better than you know yourself? What does your partner, or your children think about this new launch point, and about your conflicting feelings? These important individuals who have known us through personal change can tell us, yes, this does align with who I see you want to be, or they can say, no, listen to your gut and find something else.

If someone asked you why you’re trying something new, what would you say? And then—what would you say if that person pushed back on your reasons? When you’re pursuing a new S-curve rooted in genuine

When limiting beliefs are at play, you really can’t believe everything you think. We’re not perfect creatures, and we jump at shadows and make bad bets. But sometimes you have to separate that storm inside from the reality of a situation.

Sometimes you have to learn to rebel against the sergeant at arms inside yourself, and be comfortable with living a little dangerously.

12 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
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The ITEP order: What it means

THE NEWS: With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Jeff Landry has redefined the rules of Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP.

THE DETAILS: Landry’s executive order—signed in the middle of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry annual meeting in February—eliminates rules that require participating businesses to prove they will create and retain local jobs. That means companies can now apply for tax exemptions for most any largescale investment in Louisiana. It does specify that maintenance expenses, environmental compliance upgrades and replacement parts that are not part of an extensive restoration do not qualify for ITEP awards.

“This program is about capital investment,” Landry says. “It is not about job creation.”

Also, ITEP applications will now be sent to a local industrial board comprising representatives from the taxing agencies in that parish. The

board will have 45 days to consider it before passing it on to the state industrial board. If there is ever a disagreement between a local industrial board and the state industrial board, the governor will make the final decision.

WHY IT MATTERS: The ITEP program is designed to incentivize companies to invest in Louisiana with an 80% property tax abatement for up to 10 years on new investments and capitalized additions. Since 1998, Louisiana has awarded more than $20 billion in local tax breaks to industry through the program, according to an Ohio River Valley Institute analysis.

NOTHING BUT PRAISE: LMOGA President Tommy Faucheaux says the changes will create a more predictable tax climate for companies considering an investment, creating growth opportunities that will “streamline the ITEP process, encourage industry investments and support economic growth and properity in Louisiana.”

“A good deal benefits both sides.”
Tyler Lane, executive manager, Gerry Lane Chevrolet


Louisiana, a coalition of church and civic groups highly critical of the program, released a statement that reads in part, “If a corporation gets a tax exemption, not to bring in a new plant or create jobs, but just as a public subsidy for its routine capital investments—investments, that is, that

would have happened anyway— the result is not economic development. It’s the opposite.”

WHAT’S NEXT? The order goes into effect for all ITEP applications moving forward, effective Feb. 21, but does not apply retroactively to applications or exemptions.



Treasurer and CEO, Lamar Advertising

JAY JOHNSON IS widely regarded as an expert in working with capital markets and real estate investors, critical to Lamar as it had converted to a REIT five years prior to Johnson’s hiring in 2019. He is a seasoned corporate executive, having held the same titles at DiamondRock Hospitality, where he led all financial activities for the publicly traded lodging real estate investment trust company, including treasury, investor relations, tax, risk management, financial reporting and analysis. Before that, Johnson was at S&P 500 company Host Hotels & Resorts, where he completed more than $14 billion in debt and equity capital transactions in his role as senior vice president and treasurer.

STRATEGY FOR A HEALTHY WORK-LIFE BALANCE: “Two cellphones— one for personal use and one for business. It allows me to unplug from work from time to time.”

How do I stand out? How do I become irreplaceable? With a crowded workforce, an unstable job landscape, and the rise of AI, these questions are the ones that everyone either is or should be asking. William Vanderbloemen posed them over the past

15 years while running an executive search firm. Through extensive research of more than 30,000 top leaders and proprietary data, the author of Be The Unicorn: 12 Data-Driven Habits that Separate the Best Leaders from the Rest, the author has identified the dozen traits and habits that the top performers have in common: authenticity, responsiveness, agility, and the ability to problem solve, among others. Bonus content: The book helps readers understand how to develop these soft skills in their own lives to achieve greater success and, of course, be the unicorn.
THE 500
Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry
15 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

Origin Hotel

NEARLY TWO YEARS in the making, the unique boutique Origin Hotel began hosting guests in January.

The new inn is located in downtown Baton Rouge at the corner of Saint Ferdinand Street and North Boulevard in the spot once occupied by Holiday Inn Express. The pet-friendly hotel with valet parking offers 87 guest rooms, an all-day restaurant, a hotel bar and coffee shop, as well as a rooftop bar with panoramic views overlooking downtown.

The hotel’s design-forward elements blend art deco touches with contemporary, on-trend patterns and hues. But what stands out most are flourishes that remind guests they’re in Baton Rouge, including jewel-toned tiger wallpaper in guest room bathrooms, tiger-striped hall carpeting and Do Not Disturb door hangers that read “Paws Off.”

“When it comes to the interior designs of all the Origin Hotels, we want to make sure that every Origin is unique and is tied to the community,” says Baton Rouge General Manager Braylon Hyde. “Of course, here you’re going to get that southern Louisiana flair.”

The lively lobby includes a model tiger and wall art behind the front desk fashioned from pneumatic tube canisters, a nod to the 68-year-old building’s past life as a downtown bank. The lobby also features T-shirts and merchandise from local vendor Sweet Baton Rouge.

The hotel’s Cajun-Creole restaurant, Passé All Day Café, overseen by executive chef Denise Williams, is on the ground floor along with the hotel’s bar and coffee kiosk. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and

dinner with a menu that features dishes like Catfish Origin, with fried, grilled or blackened catfish served over crawfish etouffee. Other menu items include favorites like shrimp remoulade and a fried oyster Caesar salad.

The hotel, a Wyndham Hotels & Resorts property, is a first for Baton Rouge. “We’re very excited about entering this market,” says Tandem Hospitality President Jacob Van Winkle.

The fourth floor features the Eye in the Sky rooftop bar with a wraparound terrace delivering clear vistas of the downtown library and Old State Capitol, North Boulevard Town Square and the stately live oaks that line North Boulevard. A gym is also located on the fourth floor.

“We consider the Origin to be a catalyst to kick downtown Baton Rouge into high gear,” Hyde says. “This will be a destination, as well as a place to stay the night.”


Media reports put the purchase of the building housing the Origin Hotel at $7 million.

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17 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024







Lessons learned from working with AI

It goes without saying that artificial intelligence is all the rage in business. But how can companies hope to find the best possible uses for it when the technology is changing on a near-daily basis?

Speaking at the TEC-Next conference in downtown Baton Rouge recently, Revelry software developer Stuart Page sought to answer that question.

Based in New Orleans, Revelry specializes in building custom software solutions that are fueled by AI. One of the applications that Page and his colleagues have built in recent months is a software product management development solution powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4. Over the course of the development process, Page said he and his team learned a lot of valuable lessons about working with AI.

“I’m not here to tell you about our amazing application and our successes,” Page said. “I’m here to tell you about all of the dismal mistakes we made and the lessons we learned from them.”

In his presentation, Page distilled those lessons learned into five key points.


The odds are that you won’t find immediate success. A “learn as you go” mentality is important for software development in general, but Page said that when it comes to working with AI, that mentality is absolutely critical. It’s also important to acknowledge your limits and avoid flights of fancy.


Find an expert on the problem that you are trying to solve, not an expert on the technology that you are using to solve it.


Because AI technology is constantly evolving, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field. One novel trick for query writing that Page shared is that a large language model’s output will be enhanced if you tell it to “take a deep breath” before responding, despite the fact that the LLM has no concept of breathing.


When building something with AI, it’s possible if not likely that someone else is building or already has built the same thing. In the event that another company with more resources develops something that your company has been working on for months, do not be discouraged. There are often advantages to having your own systems in place.


Says Page: “You need to surround yourself with creative, critical and curious people.”

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Pricey public pensions

THE PRICE OF some government pensions clearly are on the minds of Louisiana legislators. Ahead of the regular session that begins mid-month, several bills had been filed targeting the Municipal Police Employees Retirement System. At issue: The loss of law enforcement personnel across the state is adding to its unfunded liability. Most notably, the city of New Orleans is facing a fine to cover police pension losses that could top $38 million over the next 15 years. Meanwhile, employer contribution rates—the percentage of payroll that agencies must pay with tax dollars into various retirement systems—for Louisiana public pensions remain high across the board. Here’s a sampling of the 2023/2024 contribution rates.


Louisiana State Police Retirement System


Louisiana State Employee Retirement System: Wildlife & Fisheries


Louisiana State Employee Retirement System: Elected judges


Louisiana State Employee Retirement System: Louisiana state employees


Louisiana State Employee Retirement System: Legislative plan


Municipal Employees Retirement System


Louisiana School Employees Retirement System


Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana: K-12 teachers


Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana: Higher education


Sheriffs’ Pension & Relief Fund

SOURCE: Louisiana Division of Administration

Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry would like to congratulate Hall of Fame

Laureate Nanette Noland and all the recipients of the 2024 Business Awards and Hall of Fame. recipients of the 2024 Business

21 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024
22 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

2024 Business Awards and Hall of Fame


Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy

Six pioneering entrepreneurs and companies who have reshaped the Capital Region economy


COMPANY OF THE YEAR (large): Pala Group

FOR FOUR DECADES, Business Report has recognized the disruptors and visionaries shaping our region’s economic evolution through the annual Business Awards & Hall of Fame.

This year’s honorees, as selected by a community panel of judges, are no exception.

In the pages that follow, you’ll immerse yourself in the inventive journeys of individuals such as George A. Foster Jr. of Guaranty Corporation and Nanette Noland of The Powell Group, whose legacies continue to inspire generations of innovators. Explore the strategic ingenuity of Perry Franklin of Franklin & Associates and the entrepreneurial spark of Jaime Glas Odom, better known as the Queen of Sparkles.

COMPANY OF THE YEAR (small): 365Labs

And discover the groundbreaking contributions of companies like 365Labs and Pala Group, whose relentless pursuit of innovation and commitment to community enrichment set new benchmarks for businesses throughout our region.

The Business Awards were launched in 1984 to pay tribute to remarkable individuals and companies in the Capital Region and celebrate their many accomplishments. In 1993, Business Report partnered with Junior Achievement to present the awards and added a Hall of Fame category to recognize those with a lifetime of achievement.

All of this year’s honorees will be celebrated at a special event on March 20.

HALL OF FAME: George A. Foster Jr. of Guaranty Corporation (posthumus) HALL OF FAME: Nanette Noland of The Powell Group EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Perry Franklin of Franklin & Associates Jaime Glas Odom of Queen of Sparkles
23 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024
“That was his overall deal: He believed if he got the right people in place and he gave them the freedom to operate, they would do well.”

Open-door policy

George A. Foster Jr.’s devotion to the people of Guaranty Corporation helped him score successes in insurance, broadcasting and other arenas over a 69-year career.

A BALLROOM FILLED with Hollywood heavyweights was a far cry from the ballfields of the late George A. Foster Jr.’s tiny Louisiana hometown of Pollock, but there he was all the same—sitting elbow to elbow and swapping stories with “Festus” from Gunsmoke

In other years at the CBS affiliates convention in Los Angeles, Foster would shake hands with Lucille Ball and puff cigars with The Dukes of Hazzard’s “Boss Hogg.”

Attending this annual event was one of the perks that had come with what was a quick but ultimately wise decision for his company, Guaranty Corporation, to branch out from life insurance and

purchase WAFB-TV Channel 9 in 1964.

It was one of many shrewd decisions that Foster, the second-generation leader of the company, made over the course of 50 years as head of Guaranty Income Life Insurance Company, or GILICO, and Guaranty Corporation.

But as this evening in California would prove, people are people no matter how humble or famous— and Foster had a knack for relating to them all.

“He and his wife were very easy to talk to,” recalls Foster’s wife, Darlene, referring to the Gunsmoke actor whose real name was Ken Curtis. “He told us how

he had ridden the rodeo circuit in Louisiana and loved the food, especially crawfish bisque. So when we were coming back from the New Orleans airport on our way home to Baton Rouge, we stopped at a restaurant that canned their own crawfish bisque, and we bought some and sent it to Festus and his wife. They liked it so much that they later sent us some salmon that Festus had caught himself.”

Developing relationships like this unlikely one was a vital part of both work and life for Foster, says his son, Flynn Foster, who now stands at the helm of the company that his grandfather and a group of other north Louisiana businessmen

launched in 1926. That was only two years after George Foster was born in Pollock, a place where he would excel in a variety of sports as a youth before enrolling in the Georgia Military Academy after high school graduation.

Like many young men of his generation, a desire to serve his country interrupted his education goals, and he turned down a football scholarship to the University of Georgia in order to join the Army Air Corps in 1943.

“He was training to be a fighter pilot and ended up in about a monthlong coma due to an air compression chamber mishap when he was in training,” Flynn

HALL of FAME [posthumous]
24 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

Foster says. “It almost killed him. That ended his flying days.”

Foster remained in the Air Corps until his honorable discharge in 1946, earning the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations Ribbon with two bronze Campaign Stars and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Campaign Star. Back stateside, he enrolled at LSU. “But after three years, he was ready to go to work,” Flynn Foster says.

That’s when he joined his father, George A. Foster Sr., at Guaranty. Upon the elder Foster’s death in 1961, he was ready to step up into the role of GILICO president. Three years later came the sudden opportunity to purchase WAFB-TV Channel 9. It was not the normal way of doing business for Foster, who his wife says was a thoughtful man who carefully considered the facts before making a major decision. But in this situation, he had less than 24 hours to act.

“Tommy Gibbens, the manager at Channel 9, came over and told him the station was for sale and that another company was considering buying it,” Darlene Foster explains. “Tommy said, ‘I think Guaranty needs to buy it. Let’s keep it in Baton Rouge hands.’ By the next day, George had made up his mind, and they bought a TV station.”

Flynn Foster says his father’s “non-impulsive” nature and his company’s lack of experience with the television industry were overridden by his trust for Gibbens, who agreed to continue to run the station. “That was his overall deal: He believed if he got the right people in place and he gave them the freedom to operate, they would do well,” Flynn Foster says.

Guaranty’s new broadcasting acquisition also came with a radio license that had not yet been built out. That changed in 1968, when Guaranty constructed a tower and studios and WAFB-FM 98.1 went live on the air. The station changed formats a few times before landing on its current rock niche as WDGL-FM Eagle 98.1 in 1996.

In 1988, AFLAC approached Foster and expressed an interest in buying Channel 9. Now known primarily for its insurance offerings, “the duck” was then buying up similar stations around the South. This was the era of cable TV’s growing popularity, and Foster could see that audiences would soon become more fragmented.

When AFLAC asked him to name his price, he threw out an outrageous number, 50% more than any appraised value the TV station had ever received, Flynn


Born in Pollock, Louisiana, to parents George A. Foster Sr. and Claudia Pardue Foster. The delivery takes place in his parents’ bedroom.

1943 Enlists in Army Air Corps; goes on to serve in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines.


Honorably discharged from the Air Corps; enrolls at LSU.


Begins career with Guaranty Income Life Insurance Company, which his father and north Louisiana businessmen founded in 1926. Also in 1946, the company purchases the old Baton Rouge General Hospital and renovates it into modern offices for the firm.



Baton Rouge Bank & Trust Company is founded with GILICO as 25% owner and Foster as board chair.



Begins purchasing additional radio stations in Ohio, California and Louisiana.


Guaranty Senior Living is founded with the opening of Innisfree Senior Living Facility in Rogers, Arkansas, and Windsor Senior Living in Mandeville


Guaranty Media becomes the flagship broadcast outlet for LSU sports. It is the first radio company in the country to broadcast on FM stations all of a university’s football and men’s basketball games in addition to all of the school’s women’s basketball and softball contests.


Guaranty Sports Network is formed to broadcast LSU baseball games on TV.


Graduates from Pollock High School; begins attending Georgia Military Academy.


After the death of his father, he is named president of GILICO.


Guaranty Corporation purchases WAFB-TV Channel 9 and begins Guaranty Broadcasting, a new subsidiary.


GILICO acquires Houston American Life Insurance Company.


GILICO acquires General Life of Missouri Investment Company.


Builds tower and studios for WAFB-FM 98.1, which was part of the earlier TV station purchase but had yet to go live on the air. The station will later change call letters to WGGZ (Z98) in 1984 and then to WDGL (Eagle 98.1) in 1996.


GILICO acquires Petroleum State Insurance Company.


Guaranty launches ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge.


Named Broadcaster of the Year by the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters.


Retires from day-to-day operations and becomes chairman emeritus of Guaranty Corporation; son Flynn Foster becomes president/CEO and board chair.


Dies at the age of 94.

1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
25 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

Foster says. “And AFLAC said, ‘OK.’ It was what my dad would refer to as a Godfather offer—one that was too good to refuse.”

Though Guaranty Corporation was no longer in the TV business, it doubled down on radio, purchasing more than a dozen stations in Ohio, California and Louisiana over the next several years. In 1998, the company’s interests collided with Foster’s passion for sports as Guaranty Media became the flagship broadcasting outlet for LSU sports. It would become the first radio company in the U.S. to broadcast on FM all of a university’s football and men’s basketball games in addition to all of the school’s women’s basketball and softball contests.

Meanwhile, Guaranty’s insurance side was seeing its own steady gains. In the 1960s and ’70s, GILICO acquired three out-of-state insurance firms. Between 1998 and 2016, when GILICO was sold to Kuvare after 90 years of family ownership, the company had tripled in size from $150 million in assets to more than $500 million and had

expanded to 31 states.

“He was a very humble guy,” reflects John Lancaster, who assumed the role of president of GILICO in 1998. “He was a great storyteller, but he was soft-spoken. Every time we had a sales meeting with the agents and their families, they just loved him and loved to hear his stories.”

If it wasn’t enough to juggle the disparate domains of insurance and broadcasting, Foster broadened the company’s portfolio in many other sectors as well. In 1967, Baton Rouge Bank & Trust Company was founded with GILICO as 25% owner and Foster as board chair. In 1998, he founded Guaranty Senior Living with the opening of facilities in Mandeville and Arkansas.

“By doing that, he knew that market, and it helped us to develop a unique product that was a combination of long-term care with an annuity, and that was instrumental in GILICO’s growth,” Lancaster says. “Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, we were one of the few companies that had that kind of product.”

Foster spent 50 years as the head of Guaranty Income Life Insurance Company, or GILICO, and Guaranty Corporation. George Foster broadened the company’s portfolio.
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The businessman was as comfortable in a duck blind or behind a barbecue pit as he was in the boardroom.

The list of companies that Foster either started or led didn’t stop there; it also included Guaranty Real Estate Management, Guaranty Energy, Foster Investment Corporation and Convent Marine. Outside of work, he served on the board of Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

But Foster was as comfortable in a duck blind or behind a barbecue pit as he was in the boardroom. Following in the footsteps of his father, he was an avid duck hunter and often took colleagues or clients down to Pecan Island for a sporting weekend.

He also loved cooking; Darlene Foster recalls him hosting a cochon de lait in the backyard and on many other occasions smoking 45-pound slabs of meat and slathering them with his secret sauce.

“And he loved to cook chili,” she says. “Once a year, he would make this huge iron pot of chili and take it to Guaranty for the employees to eat for lunch.”

Most importantly, Darlene Foster says, he was devoted to his family, including six children and a

growing brood of grandchildren who called him “Bop.” He read The Night Before Christmas to the whole clan every Christmas Eve, and then the book that he had read from was presented to one of the grandchildren as a keepsake. “That was a real special thing,” she says.

Foster retired from day-to-day operations at Guaranty in 2011. With the new title of chairman emeritus, he continued to go in to the office with some regularity until his death on April 19, 2018.

Today, as Flynn Foster sits behind the same desk that his father led the company from for so long, he reflects on his dad’s impact on the community in which he lived and worked.

“I can’t count how many people have told me he gave them their first job or their first loan or their first opportunity,” Flynn Foster says. “They tell me how much they loved him and how kind he was to them. Our company motto now is, ‘Enrich lives. Serve others.’ He would have never come up with that phrase, but it’s exactly what he did his entire career.”

Foster was devoted to family. Puffing cigars with The Dukes of Hazzard ’s “Boss Hogg.” Though soft-spoken, Foster was known as a great storyteller who captivated those around him. Issue Date: Mar2024 Ad proof #3 • Please respond by e-mail or phone with your approval or minor revisions. • AD WILL RUN AS IS unless approval or final revisions are received within 24 hrs from receipt of this proof. A shorter timeframe will apply for tight deadlines. • Additional revisions must be requested and may be subject to production fees. Carefully check this ad for: CORRECT ADDRESS • CORRECT PHONE NUMBER • ANY TYPOS This ad design © Melara Enterprises, LLC. 2024. All rights reserved. Phone 225-928-1700 WE’VE MOVED! Securities and advisory services offered through Cetera Advisors, LLC. member FINRA/SPIC, a broker/dealer and Registered Investment Adviser. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity. The staff of Horizon Financial Group welcomes you to visit us at our new home facing Pecue Lane between Perkins Rd. and I-10! 15015 Jamestown Boulevard, Suite 100 Baton Rouge, LA 70810 | (225) 612-3820 | 27 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024
“I was a little ahead of my time in most everything, I guess.”


Piloting success

From learning to fly planes at an early age to leading The Powell Group as CEO, Nanette Noland is driven to succeed.

NANETTE NOLAND HAS always been a bit ahead of her time. Her father taught her how to drive a car once she could see over the steering wheel, and she had a strong desire to fly a plane long before she turned 16, the legal age to hold a pilot’s license.

It seems she has always wanted to do things early. “I was a little ahead of my time in most everything, I guess,” Noland says. So, it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to become CEO of her family’s business, The Powell Group, in 1991 following the deaths of her brother and mother within a month of each other.

At the time, it was a rare thing for a woman to hold such a position. Nevertheless, over the ensuing 30 years she guided the diversified holding company through decades of unparalleled growth in agribusiness, radio broadcasting and real estate. Noland feels she has a personal drive to succeed that many people lack. “I’m very blessed to have that come naturally to me; some people have to work for it.”

Today, The Powell Group operates the largest rice farm in Louisiana, and its rice processing plant sells 100-pound bags of rice to the Caribbean basin, West Africa and Europe. Additionally, Agrilectric Power Partners, a Powell Group company, burns about 200 tons of rice hulls per day to generate electricity. The resulting ash is then used to absorb environmental spills, or as insulation in the making of steel.

In all its endeavors, The Powell Group emphasizes serving the communities in which it operates

28 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

by investing a percentage of its profits each year in local charities.


Noland discovered her gift for leadership as a preteen, when in the seventh grade she was asked to fill in as a substitute teacher for the fourth-graders at her school. It led to a personal revelation. “I then realized that people depended on me even when I didn’t think they did,” she says.

It was a pivotal moment that set the pattern for her life. In addition to her duties at The Powell Group, Noland has served on more than 25 nonprofit and 10 for-profit boards and associations over the years, many times in leadership roles. She also taught an MBA-level entrepreneurship class at LSU for several years. Along the way, she has received numerous awards and honors from hospital systems, multiple chambers of commerce, LSU, the Young Presidents’ Organization and YWCA.

Her personal interests are decidedly diverse. She began flying planes in college and is currently licensed to fly single-engine and multiengine planes and jets. She also plays the piano, organ and guitar, and has sung in a choir since elemen tary school. At one time, she even dreamed of dropping everything to become a singer on a cruise ship.

Today, she relishes her role as a soloist at St. James Episcopal Church, as well as her occasional appearance as the lead singer with a dance band. She’s also a member of the American Contract Bridge League and won in mixed pairs competition during an international tournament.

Her role as a member and chair on Baton Rouge General’s board of trustees has been a particular pas sion. “Sometimes they get the short straw in the community, but they’re our only community hospital and that makes it important,” Noland says. “They serve so many people that cannot pay; and next year, that number will go up.”



At the age of 13, plays three hands of gin rummy against a champion “duplicate bridge” player and wins all three hands



Is nationally ranked in speech and debate during high school.


Launches Mundus Travel Agency, which soon becomes the largest travel agency in Louisiana, boasting $17 million in sales within 10 years of its opening.


Steps into The Powell Group position after her brother, Willis Noland, dies in a boating accident. He was the president and CEO at the time. The company was originally formed in the 1890s by three families.


Begins co-teaching entrepreneurship class in LSU MBA program


Joins St. James Episcopal Church choir.


Creates Kids’ Orchestra, an orchestra for underprivileged children


Building on decades of expansion and growth, The Powell Group acquires four radio stations broadcasting out of Panama City Beach, Florida.


She no longer serves on the board but says she still loves the hospital and the community it serves. She is also heavily involved in St. James Place, the only certified continuing care retirement center in Louisiana, as a board member and chair.

The Powell Group incorporates B.H. Mitigation, adding to the company’s forest industry portfolio, which includes clearing land, replanting trees, managing forests and selling timber. The acquisition creates an avenue of additional profits from the land by planting trees, managing forests and selling the preservation of those forests.

Early 1970s

Travels Europe and Asia with her mother.


Arrives in Baton Rouge.


Named Queen of Lake Charles Mardi Gras.


Helps to found the Louisiana Partnership for Technology and Innovation, a private nonprofit organization that assists in Louisiana’s economic diversification by fostering the creation and growth of small emerging enterprises.


The Powell Group starts Powell Broadcasting with the debut of two radio stations. Located in Sioux City, Iowa, Powell Broadcasting quickly expands, acquiring two additional stations in 1998 and two in 2008, for a total of six stations in the Sioux City/Le Mars area. That same year, The Powell Group expands its rough rice purchase programs with the acquisition of the Hardy Rice Drier, a grain-drying facility.


Places in an international bridge tournament.


Receives diploma from Harvard Business School.
1970 1980 1985 1990 1995 2005 2010 2015 2020
2000 29 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024


Even leaders need mentors and Noland was blessed to have two stalwarts of industry in her corner: Milton J. Womack, founder of Milton J. Womack Inc.; and John W. Barton Sr., owner of Jack’s Cookies.

They were a fountain of knowledge during Noland’s early years. “Both of those men made me feel like it was OK for me to be in business,” she says. “To a great extent, they energized me toward achieving my goals. I knew that I needed to be a leader and not a follower, and they made that an OK thing.”

The pair also helped ignite her passion for community involvement.

“Milton asked me to help raise $1 million in the 1980s for the Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge so they could purchase a building on Lobdell Avenue,” Noland recalls. “At the time, fundraising wasn’t in my repertoire, but I couldn’t say no to those two. In the end, John brought me the final $75,000 check from ‘Doc’ Pennington to reach the $1 million.”

She also credits Womack and

Barton for fostering her desire to see people grow under her leadership.

“They inspired me to become a better manager and, in turn, a better mentor. Those work together, hand in hand,” she adds. In fact, Noland began mentoring a young female leader some five years ago. “We decided from the get-go that we would be totally honest with each other and confidential. It’s a bit of a two-way street. She’s also a great person for me to share problems with because she has excellent insight.”

Noland’s leadership acumen has been further honed through her membership in the Young Presidents’ Organization, or YPO, and later, the Chief Executives Organization, or CEO. Her career would have been very different had she not been introduced to the group, as it provided a venue for her to learn from other leaders.

“For decades, this organization has provided a sounding board for me,” she adds. “I’ve received an unbelievable education. One of the organization’s programs, the Forum,

NINE YEARS AND COUNTING… Issue Date: mar2024 Ad proof #2 • Please respond by e-mail or phone with your approval or minor revisions. • AD WILL RUN AS IS unless approval or final revisions are received within 24 hrs from receipt of this proof. A shorter timeframe will apply for tight deadlines.
Additional revisions must be requested and may be subject to production fees. Carefully check this ad for: CORRECT ADDRESS • CORRECT PHONE NUMBER • ANY TYPOS This ad design © Melara Enterprises, LLC. 2024. All rights reserved. Phone 225-928-1700 BATON ROUGE, LA 225-383-6117 SHREVEPORT, LA 318-621-9000 BILOXI, MS 228-868-7269 JACKSON, MS 601-939-9655 OKLAHOMA CITY, OK 405-745-2274 TULSA, OK 918-270-4007 LUFKIN, TX 936-999-7100 PARIS, TX 903-737-8920 TYLER, TX 903-595-6440 30 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
Nanette Noland relishes her role as a soloist at St. James Episcopal Church.

provides a place for me to speak from my own personal experiences and to be completely confidential. With that confidentiality, people can make themselves more vulnerable and transparent.”

Noland recently attended an annual leadership program with 180 other CEO members at the Harvard Business School, during which she evaluated business case studies as part of an intensive learning exercise. “When I get in the group, I’m always the only woman,” she says. “I try to learn something from everyone. The best learning opportunities come from me communicating with the other members.”

As a result of such experiences, she has learned some valuable lessons.

“I’ve learned to do a better job of recognizing and seizing the opportunities in front of me,” she says. “You must be available and in the moment. You look for those opportunities, and if you practice it will become part of your repertoire.

“Also, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, and continue being creative—particularly if you’re at the top,” she adds. “No

one who has been wildly successful lacks creativity.”


Noland sees her priorities evolving somewhat in the coming years, although she expects to remain heavily involved in her company. The Powell Group has plans to expand its business by investing in organic products. “It has the most margin of any product we could possibly sell,” she says.

She hopes to find time for other things as well. At the top of the list is “being the best grandmother I can be” to her 1-year-old grandson. “I also want to make my life a little easier,” she says. “I want to travel and continue to be relevant in our community.”

But perhaps most importantly, she hopes to build a lasting legacy.

“I think the world is a little bit better because I’ve been here, but I think that’s yesterday’s news,” she says. “It’s important that I continue to grow and contribute. After all, the rearview mirror doesn’t show you very much.”

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As queen of the Lake Charles Mardi Gras (below) in 1977. At right: As a rising businesswoman.


Putting people first

In the wake of disaster, Perry Franklin created Franklin Associates to offer new ways of problem-solving.

OVER THE COURSE of its storied history, few events have altered Louisiana like Hurricane Katrina.

The mammoth storm slammed into the coast in August 2005, later triggering a levee breach and massive flooding in New Orleans. Katrina was responsible for 1,392 fatalities across Louisiana and Mississippi and $190 billion in damage. It remains America’s costliest hurricane.

Three weeks after Katrina, Hurricane Rita struck southwestern Louisiana, adding another $28 billion to the state’s damage total and displacing thousands more.

The back-to-back events scattered Louisianans across the country, with many unable to return home for months or years after the storms. Katrina, in particular, also exposed systemic weaknesses in disaster response and preparation, and it triggered the transformation of the little-known field of disaster management.

Executive director of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance at the time, Perry Franklin was on the front lines of the recovery effort, volunteering with the state to help create a housing trust fund for storm victims. The fundamental problem at the time was closing the financial gap between what insurance would pay for storm damage and what it would cost to fix a home.

It became abundantly clear, Franklin says, that returning storm victims to their communities was going to require new ways of problem-solving.

“We really didn’t have professionals who knew how to utilize Community Development Block Grant funds, and things of that nature, outside of the few state and local employees who had handled those kinds of dollars at a very small scale,” Franklin says.

Franklin was also watching the storm’s impact play out among his New Orleans extended family, as members attempted to rebuild lost homes and businesses from the couches and spare bedrooms of family in Baton Rouge.

Suddenly, the door to a new idea cracked open.

“My uncles, aunts and cousins who ran businesses, they lost everything,” Franklin says. “And I was like, ‘hang on, I know something about something that could be helpful toward the restoration of the state. And we’ve been in business since that moment.”

Formed in 2005, Franklin Associates has a twofold mission. It provides long-term disaster recovery and grant management services to communities as they attempt to rebuild. The firm also conducts outreach

and public engagement for urban planning and revitalization projects. To date, it has held more than 6,000 public meetings.

Mirroring the mission of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, the organization he helped shape, Franklin located the business in Mid City, renovating a decommissioned Presbyterian church on North Foster Drive for the company’s headquarters. The space also includes the company’s ancillary business, The Executive Center, an on-site training and conference facility.

Known for his quick laugh and easy smile, Franklin talks passionately about his company’s commitment to conscious capitalism. It’s possible to grow a venture, he says, while doing public good.

“I think intentionality is a good word,” Franklin says. “What I was learning all those years working in the nonprofit sector was an intentionality to apply toward the private sector. The motto of our company is, ‘Putting people first.’ And we have done that on every project we have ever participated in.”

The 18-person firm cut its teeth on the Road Home program, the state initiative that ultimately assisted more than 130,000 Louisianans affected by Katrina and Rita and dispensed more than $9 billion in rebuilding funds.

From 2006 to 2009, Franklin Associates helped locate large numbers of displaced residents across 16 states. Its teams were the face of recovery in many instances, setting up laptops in hotel ballrooms in cities such as Houston and Memphis to show homeowners how to work through red tape and tap into resources that could help them rebuild.

Since then, catastrophic weather events have become more common, and the field of long-term disaster recovery has continued to evolve. Large events like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, as well as the rapid succession of hurricanes and extreme wildfires in 2017, triggered new federal regulations. Franklin and his team responded to those changes, helping communities interpret how to tap recovery dollars to help homeowners and communities rebuild.

Returning displaced residents home delivers a palpable sense of professional satisfaction, Franklin says. But he’s also passionate about the side of his business that gives communities a stronger voice in urban planning and infrastructure projects.

“I feel very good that we have done something to shape the importance of public involvement,” Franklin says. “It all ties back to our mission, putting people first.”

32 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
“I feel very good that we have done something to shape the importance of public involvement.”
PERRY FRANKLIN, founder and president, Franklin Associates
33 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024


All Hail the Queen

From fashionable workwear to glittering game day apparel and beyond, Jaime Glas Odom has forged her own colorful entrepreneurial path.

THE ROLLING STONES’ She’s a Rainbow blasts from the speakers of the Raising Cane’s River Center as Jaime Glas Odom glides down a red carpet lined by screaming friends and fans. A spotlight follows her every move, illuminating the multicolored fringe on the gown she designed herself. Framing her blonde hair is a sunburst-style crown studded with brightly hued jewels. In this meta moment—as Karnival Krewe de Louisiane welcomed Odom as its new monarch in January—the Queen of Sparkles has literally become the queen of sparkles.

Odom’s reign as royalty for the charity-focused KKDL Mardi Gras krewe is a fitting milestone in her career, which has reached a crescendo with loyal customers who can’t get enough of the shimmering sweatshirts, mini dresses, sequined blazers and more that are part of the Queen of Sparkles clothing line she launched in 2021. The brand is sold in some 1,500 stores across the U.S., and Queen of Sparkles’ Instagram stories are continually filled with reposts of customers proudly wearing her products.

But Odom’s success in the fashion world wasn’t something anyone could have predicted when the Baton Rouge native and University High School graduate was working toward earning dual degrees in petroleum engineering and international trade and finance at LSU. She says she always enjoyed fashion—even designing her own prom dress—but took the practical route based on her interest in math.

“I thought engineering would be a good career and I could still enjoy fashion on the side, maybe making my own things,” Odom recalls.

Odom did become an engineer, and ironically it was through that work that she found a bridge back to fashion. Noticing that the required flame-resistant coveralls were ill-fitting for a woman, she decided to

create her own designs. Her company HauteWork—at first a side hustle and then a full-time pursuit—was the first flame-resistant clothing firm in the nation to focus exclusively on apparel for women.

By 2019, Odom was ready to dive further into fashion. HauteWork was acquired by National Safety Apparel, and Odom turned her energies to Sparkle City, a clothing company she had created with a partner the previous year.

The timing was perfect, as Joe Burrow was leading the LSU football team toward a national championship. Odom’s glittering game day designs were snapped up by local followers. “It really blew up in 2019, and neither of us was ready for it, but when stuff like that happens, you just do what you have to do to capture it,” Odom says. “But we never took a moment to plan what it would all look like in the future.”

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Odom to move back to Baton Rouge from her then-home in New Orleans, and Odom agreed to be bought out of the company. But you can’t keep the sequins away from a sunshine soul like Odom for long. In March 2021, she launched Queen of Sparkles, and the sewing machines haven’t stopped whirring since. Success came quickly for the new brand, with hundreds of stores placing orders within the first few months.

Social media has also played a major role in the Queen’s ascent to its current throne, and Odom points in particular to “Bama RushTok”—the fall 2022 TikTok trend in which potential new members of sororities at the University of Alabama showed off their rush-week outfits. Many of the young women were wearing Queen of Sparkles, and many more who were following along on their phones liked what they saw.

“It’s been a steep growth and learning curve,” says Odom, now 35. Some of those lessons were learned the

hard way, like when manufacturing delays from a facility in Mexico taught her the necessity of adding penalty clauses for delays to contracts, or when a third-party logistics company failed to live up to expectations and prompted her to bring fulfillment back in house.

Each of these experiences helped Odom strengthen her management muscle as she dealt with her products’ increasing popularity.

Multiple moves into bigger warehouses have led to the building out of a new home in the former Tuesday Morning location next to Jubans Restaurant on Perkins Road. As of press time, Queen of Sparkles was preparing to take over the space in late February, the timing coinciding with Odom’s goal of expanding her wholesale business and even forging international wholesale relationships.

Though the new digs are in a shopping center, Odom has no plans for a storefront, instead leaning into her support of Baton Rouge boutiques that proudly stock her wares. Queen of Sparkles does offer items from its numerous and varied collections— featuring themes from holidays to pickleball to rodeo—through its website, but it ships products to stores weeks before dropping them through its direct-to-consumer channel.

Queen of Sparkles has licenses to sell branded apparel for 21 schools, with more in the pipeline. The LSU connection has been helped along by a relationship with women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who often wears Odom’s designs on the sideline.

Next up, perhaps, is a foray into ball gowns, based on the interest Odom attracted after designing her own for KKDL and then for this year’s Washington Mardi Gras.

“Getting feedback like that is so important,” Odom says. “The whole reason I started each of my businesses was because there was a need in the market. It’s all about listening to the customer.”

34 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
“It’s been a steep growth and learning curve.”
JAIME GLAS ODOM, founder, Queen of Sparkles
35 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

COMPANY of the YEAR [ 100 or more employees ]

A prosperous path

Pala Group’s rocky beginning transformed it into a stronger, more resilient company.

IN RETROSPECT, 2008 probably wasn’t the best year for the managers of Pala Group to borrow money and begin transitioning into an employee-owned company.

The founders unwittingly began the process of selling the industrial construction company via an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, at the cusp of the Great Recession.

The ensuing years would be characterized by steep downturns in revenues and significant layoffs across the country. “We were 100 percent leveraged as the economy took a major dive,” says Scott Barringer, Pala’s current president and CEO. “From the get-go, we were challenged to figure out a way to generate cash flow even as we endured a 30 percent drop in business.”

The experience would ultimately transform Pala into a different entity, with diversification becoming an integral part of its business model.

“That time period opened our eyes to the volatility and risk of having a single business,” Barringer says. “It made us realize how quickly things can turn. Once we got things stabilized, we began to intentionally create and acquire businesses to diversify the company.”

Having diversified cash flow streams “has kept us sleeping at night,” says Craig Pierce, vice present of corporate development. “We’ve been better able to weather the ups and downs of the business cycle.”

Pala will soon reap the rewards of that fateful decision in other ways. Sometime in 2024, the contractor will pay off the entirety of the ESOP transaction debt, as well as additional debt accumulated from its various acquisitions.


Pala’s rocky start was a necessary step in its corporate journey, as it propelled the company on a very different but more prosperous path. In fact, Pala recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a record year in revenue.

Barringer says being employee owned and diversified are Pala’s big differentiators. An ESOP is essentially an employee retirement plan, whereby the employees are given shares of stock and ownership in the business.

“Everyone here behaves and acts like an owner,” he says. “Regardless of their job or position, whether a helper on a crew or someone in upper management, everyone takes pride in doing their job the best they can.

“There’s something more to earn than just your paycheck when you’re an employee-owner of a business. There’s the creation of value in the

enterprise, and that translates into value in their retirement plans.”

The approach has led to an impressively low employee turnover rate. For instance, Scott Couper, Pala’s former chief operating officer, retired last September after a rare 44 years with the company. It was the only place Couper ever worked. He was hired as a draftsman while in college, then promoted numerous times over the years before ending his career as COO.

Couper says having his future tied directly to the company’s profitability forced him to think more long term about his career, even as a young man. He says corporate and individual goals work in tandem at Pala.

“Employees feel they’re part of a team,” Couper says. “They’re often asked for their opinions about corporate decisions and celebrate and share victories together. I felt I had ownership in the goals and vision of the company, and in turn I worked harder toward those goals.”


It’s the company’s focus on diversification, though, that enabled Pala to navigate the various economic storms over the years. In the process, it has become a more horizontal, diversified and collectively stronger organization.

In 2012, Pala created the Smart Safety Group, an industrial safety solutions company, “from the ground up.” In 2017, it acquired U.S. Fusion & Specialty Construction, providing specialty installation and welding of plastic pipe and liners. And in 2021, it created Elite Helical Solutions to expand into the helical piles market. More recently, Pala acquired ARCCO Power Systems, a provider of industrial generators and related services.

Each company is run independently and has its own president and COO. “Our various businesses serve diverse markets and typically don’t have customers that overlap,” Barringer says. “We let them run their businesses as they’d like, while we provide oversight to ensure they stay true to our values, ethics and risk profile.”

The various presidents meet once a month to provide business updates, point out potential opportunities and seek ways to work collaboratively that are beneficial to the larger group. “But at the end of the day, they retain their individuality as companies,” Pierce says. “They just happen to be part of a larger enterprise. It’s important that they don’t abandon those things that made them who they are.”

Maintaining the corporate culture, even as it diversifies, has been both challenging and essential. Before each acquisition, Pala ensures that corporate visions are aligned. “That way, we weren’t having to reinvent the wheel,” Barringer says. “The companies all have similar views on risk and what risks are acceptable. Each of them also shares the same values and treats everyone like a family member.”

They’re also equally strong supporters of industry and community groups such as Associated Builders & Contractors, Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, Louisiana Chemical Association, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Industry Makes, and Toys for Tots. It has been an undeniably successful business model. “We’ve evolved from a single construction company in the 1970s to a parent company with three distinct operating entities,” Barringer says. “The intentional focus on diversification was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a group. I’m not sure we’d be where we are today without that.”


As it relishes its newfound financial freedom, Pala isn’t standing still. In November 2023, the company partnered with private equity firm Carr’s Hill Partners of New Orleans to generate more cash and capital for Smart Safety. “We see a lot of opportunity for growth in that business, which will enable us to grow the business in a way that we couldn’t have done on our own,” Pierce says.

It will also add a new industrial rubber lining service at US Fusion. The new investment in equipment and personnel will enable the company to tap into the growing market.

Of course, there will be challenges along the way. In particular, Pala will continue to struggle in finding skilled laborers, much like other contractors. It’s a problem that will likely be exacerbated this year by an expected surge in industrial projects.

The company is proactively and collectively working with others in the construction community, through organizations such as GBRIA and ABC, to stay ahead of the curve. “Just being able to attract and hire the people with the skill sets to do these jobs is everyone’s biggest headache right now,” Barringer says.

Nevertheless, it’s not Pala’s first rodeo, and he feels the company’s foundation of resilience and adaptability has equipped it to weather any storm.

36 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
“We were 100 percent leveraged as the economy took a major dive.”
SCOTT BARRINGER, president and CEO, Pala Group

COMPANY of the YEAR [ fewer than 100 employees ]

Bringing order to the law

Software developed by 365Labs is helping law enforcement agencies streamline data and improve efficiency.

FEW SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS feel the pressure of high expectations like law enforcement, and fewer still do it while also juggling a diminishing workforce. If you’re a logistics whiz, pondering that thorny social problem might seem the challenge of a lifetime, a rare opportunity to design some heady rejiggering that just might have the power to lower crime rates and increase public trust.

That’s the kind of big brain thinking that Mohit “Mo” Vij has never shied away from.

His newest company, 365Labs, builds software to serve the public safety sector, helping law enforcement agencies across the nation’s cities, counties, parishes and townships streamline data and drive efficiency.

Since its first products were released in 2021, 365Labs has expanded to 75 different municipalities in 11 states. In 2023, it ranked No. 314 on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies and was No. 3 among public safety companies. It was also the No. 2 company on the LSU100 list of fastest-growing businesses operated by an LSU alum.

Vij, a transplant from India, arrived in the Capital City more than 30 years ago to attend graduate school at LSU. In 2001, he founded the firm General Informatics at LSU’s Louisiana Business and Technology Center, and the firm quickly grew. Today, it has more than 250 employees across the Southeast.

Pledging to keep General Informatics in his adopted city, Vij built the gleaming, modern office park @Highland to provide a home for employees and to showcase Baton Rouge’s potential to the company’s nationwide partners. The site will soon add housing and retail to its 8.5-acre parcel at Highland Road and Bluebonnet Boulevard.

The seeds for 365Labs were planted at General Informatics. The company counted numerous law enforcement agencies among its IT clients, who were looking for solutions to historic inefficiencies and siloed record-keeping. As Vij and his teams worked to develop new platforms for these entities, they noticed gaps and outdated modes, revealing an arduous, antiquated system that screamed for a comprehensive overhaul. Vij saw an opportunity to create a suite of integrated platforms specifically designed for public safety.

“It’s one of those things that people don’t generally get into, public safety IT, because there’s a barrier to entry. You have to understand what’s happening on the inside,” Vij says. “But we got an inside

look as an IT service provider, and we then made a decision to 100 percent focus on this.”

Vij spun off the concept that would become 365Labs in 2016, attracting new partners and private equity investment to support what became five years of research and development.

The driving principle was to enable law enforcement agencies to become more efficient by jettisoning analog record-keeping for a best-in-class digital platform capable of populating across divisions. The company’s products have the potential to improve everything from 911 response time to the processing of traffic violations.

“Even small, public safety agencies could end up having six to 10 different systems to handle their record-keeping, and John Doe may exist differently in all of them,” Vij says. “And the more we looked at this, the more we realized that this is a national problem. And you start understanding why government takes longer because they have to enter this piece of information in 10 different places.”

Vij says that by innovating how law enforcement officers process information it will free them from minutiae and allow more time for meaningful tasks. Moreover, the public will ultimately experience greater transparency and efficiency. He likens 365Labs’ work to the health care sector’s transition to electronic medical records in 2009.

365Labs’ robust sales have been led by Executive Vice President and partner Joe Lunt, who joined the company in 2021. Vij has also attracted experienced talent from around the country to work on the project, enabling 365Labs to ramp up quickly and begin working with new clients like the city of Phoenix and California’s San Bernardino County, the largest county by size in the country, covering more than 20,100 square miles.

“We probably have the leading product suite in the country,” Vij says.

One of the most promising aspects of 365Labs’ work is its potential to respond to the gnawing nationwide problem of a diminishing law enforcement workforce pipeline.

“We have a 30 percent vacancy here in Baton Rouge and that’s a national trend,” Vij says. “So, you start saying, ‘Hey, if the system can take care of the paperwork these people have to do, maybe we don’t need to fill the 30 percent. Maybe we can pay the people who are working a higher rate, and we can get more qualified people. Maybe we don’t need big numbers. We just need the right people.’”

38 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
“We got an inside look as an IT service provider, and we then made a decision to 100 percent focus on this.”
MOHIT “MO” VIJ, president, CEO and chief software architect, 365Labs
39 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

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Is a girl’s new best friend grown in a lab?

How the south Louisiana diamond industry is diversifying options for buyers


a diamond, there are many questions to ask yourself.

Before the 2000s, diamond buyers mainly had to consider the cut, color, clarity and cost (also known as the four “C”s). But once scientists perfected commercial quality lab diamonds and they were recognized by the Federal Trade Commission as real diamonds, customers had to make an additional choice: labgrown or natural diamonds.

Since their introduction, labgrown diamonds have shaken up the global jewelry industry. As they’ve become easier for scientists to make and have gone down in price for buyers, the market for lab-grown diamonds has grown exponentially.

In Baton Rouge, as across the globe, jewelry retailers and manufacturers are seeing more and more customers requesting lab-grown diamonds, especially for engagement rings.

But while some jewelers and customers appreciate the accessibility lab-grown diamonds provide, others believe there is still misinformation


surrounding them and there should be a clearer differentiation between the two.

Natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are visually, chemically and physically the same. The key differences between the two are how they are made, the story behind them, the cost and perceived value.

“There’s sort of a romance there with natural stones,” says Elgin’s Fine Jewelry Vice President Lee Elgin. “They’re mined and they’ve been around for a long time. There’s a degree of certainty to them. It’s hard to say if lab diamonds are a fad or if they’ll stick around.”


Lab-grown diamonds are sold at a fraction of the price of mined diamonds. For years, large diamonds were purchased mainly by the rich and famous. Now with lab diamonds, the average person can get a nearly 2 carat lab-grown diamond for a little over $1,000, compared to a natural diamond that can cost almost $5,000 for the same size,

Natural diamonds are formed deep below the earth’s surface over 1 billion to 3.3 billion years. Each diamond extracted from the earth is like a snowflake, no two are identical. They come in a variety of colors and clarity based on natural circumstances like heat and pressure. This method of harvesting the fruit of the earth after billions of years makes natural diamonds a rare luxury.

Humans, however, have discovered a way to expedite nature’s process through science. Natural diamonds can take just days or weeks to grow in a lab, depending on the desired size and quality of the stone, according to the International Gem Society.

The most common method used to create gem-quality lab diamonds is known as chemical vapor deposition, or CVD. This process creates diamonds by filling a chamber with a mixture of gasses, adding a substrate like a thin sliver of diamond seed or graphite and then heating the chamber under extremely high temperatures. Dozens of stones can be grown at the same time and different treatments can be used to create colorless diamonds or unique colored diamonds like pink, red, blue or yellow.

40 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |
“If you bought a lab-grown diamond five years ago and you looked at it today, I guarantee you that it is significantly worth less today if you wanted to go replace it.”
SCOTT BERG, owner and co-president, Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry

according to diamond industry analyst Paul Zimnisky.

One-third of engagement rings in 2022 were sold with lab diamonds as the center stone, according to wedding planning website The Knot. So if more people are purchasing labgrown diamonds for their engagement rings, does that mean jewelers are making less money from engagement ring sales? Michael Sigler, store manager at Adler’s in Metairie, says yes.

“I think we’re losing money because the average engagement ring sale is a lot less,” Sigler says. “You may be able to recover that in volume, but I do think sales are going down a little bit. I’ve never seen something drop in value so fast as the lab diamonds. The factories are making more than what the demand is. They overproduced the product.”

Adler’s started selling lab-grown diamonds in 2022 after getting requests from their customers. Sigler says there has always been an alternative to diamonds such as moissanite and cubic zirconia, but this is the first time he has seen a nonearth diamond actually compete with natural diamonds.

Local jewelers say customers under the age of 30 are more likely to purchase lab-grown diamonds.

“Older people like to stick with natural diamonds, that’s what they

know,” Elgin says. “Initially, it was about being ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. Now, most people make their choice based on affordability. The prices of lab-grown diamonds continue to come down.”

While many jewelers have adapted to the recent demand of lab-grown diamonds, others have stayed true to only selling natural diamonds. Scott Berg, owner and co-president of Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, says the company doesn’t feel lab-grown diamonds are currently being represented to the consumer clearly.

“If you bought a lab-grown diamond five years ago and you looked at it today, I guarantee you that it is significantly worth less today if you wanted to go replace it,” Berg says. “We don’t feel comfortable that the value at the retail store has not come down to where it is from the manufacturer. Retailers are making enormous profits from selling [lab-grown diamonds]. Our core values say we’re in it for the long run and we’re never going to take short-term profits that are detrimental to the longterm game.”


Many retailers and consumers, however, see lab-grown diamonds as an eco-friendly and ethically

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sourced alternative to natural diamonds. Natural diamonds have a history of being associated with conflict diamonds (also known as blood diamonds), which are diamonds mined in a war zone often by forced labor and sold to fund armed rebel movements.

Though conflict diamonds have been a global issue in the past, Berg says that Lee Michaels abides by the Kimberley Process and only partners with communities in Africa that ethically source diamonds. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a global initiative launched in 2003, was designed to control and monitor the trade of rough diamonds and prevent the shipment and sale of conflict diamonds, according to the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

The environmental and ethical impact of diamonds is a hot topic for both natural and lab-grown diamonds. Lab diamonds require a large amount of heat and energy to create gemstones that imitate the same intense process that forms natural diamonds.

“For the most part, these

“There’s sort of a romance there with natural stones.”
LEE ELGIN, vice president, Elgin’s Fine Jewelry

man-made diamonds are being created in China and India in large warehouses,” Berg says.

“You need this immense amount of power to create a lab-grown diamond. They’re using coal to create the power because that’s typically been the source. They haven’t switched as quickly to other energy sources because they probably don’t have the resources to. The blanket claim [that lab-grown diamonds are more ecofriendly] can be very inaccurate.”


more confident and sure about their diamond purchases.

“Lab-grown diamonds are sold on the same scale as a natural diamond,” Berg says. “That scale has been transferred to man-made diamonds and they are not as rare as the natural diamond. Therefore, that scale should not be used.”

Louisiana jewelers may not share the same stance on lab and natural diamonds, but they do share the common belief that the type of diamond someone wants to buy is their choice.

“We made the decision to add lab diamonds in 2016,” says Harold

Dupuy, vice president of Stuller, a fine-jewelry manufacturer in Lafayette. “We’ve got a big natural business, but we came to the conclusion that it’s a consumer’s choice. It was a legitimate product and as long as you fully disclose what it is, it’s the consumer’s choice and we shouldn’t be the one dictating what the consumer buys.”

The final decision may be in the customer’s hands, but with clearer definitions of what separates a labgrown from a natural diamond and a fair pricing scale, some local jewelers believe that customers will feel

Dupuy predicts that lab-grown and natural diamonds will eventually separate into two distinct markets and the gap in price will be so extreme that consumers will lean one way or the other. He also predicts that it will be less common for lab-grown diamonds to be used for engagement rings and will be used more in fashion jewelry.

“Lab-grown diamonds have a bright future in quantum computing and semi-conductor space,” Dupuy says. “The future of labgrown is more on the industrial side. The [man-made diamond] growers started in the jewelry industry, but decades from now the jewelry side will be small compared to some of the more advanced scientific applications [of diamonds].”

43 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

We thank you for over twenty years of providing leadership and service as a member of the St. James Place Board of Directors.

Making waves

The Water Campus is a decade old. What has it accomplished?

IT HAS BEEN a decade since community leaders and local and state government officials gathered at the old municipal dock overlooking the Mississippi River to announce plans for The Water Campus—a project intended to serve as a world-class research hub for coastal restoration and water management solutions.

Born from talks that started following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Water Campus stretches some 30 acres, from the riverfront toward Nicholson Drive. At the time of the development’s announcement, leaders billed the research campus as the future economic and cultural southern anchor of downtown Baton Rouge.

Today, the $100 million first phase of the campus is complete, drawing researchers and scientists, state officials, and students alike, who say the access the campus

provides to like-minded neighbors helps foster creative collaboration in tackling the state’s most daunting coastal restoration and water management quandaries.

The project was a win-win for the city-parish, LSU and BRAF, says Christel Slaughter, board chair for both the Wilbur Marvin Foundation and Commercial Properties Realty Trust, BRAF’s real estate development arm. The Water Campus has been billed as the brainchild of BRAF and its then-CEO, John Davies.

“When you enter into a project with the potential scope and scale of the Water Campus you have broad ideas, then you try and remain nimble to take advantage of opportunities as they ebb and flow,” Slaughter says. “We knew we had an opportunity for a public-private partnership to help develop a

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“We knew we had an opportunity for a public-private partnership to help develop a part of the cityparish that needed redevelopment.”

part of the city-parish that needed redevelopment.”

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation tapped Dover, Kohl & Partners, a Florida-based firm specializing in revitalization, in 2014 to design the campus, and construction broke ground the following year.

At the time, there were only three tenants with definitive plans to move operations into the fledgling development: The Water Institute of the Gulf, the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and LSU’s Center for River Studies.

Nevertheless, the design team laid out a sprawling vision for the campus.

Preliminary concept designs for the project show more than a dozen buildings, including government offices, multitenant office buildings, residential buildings, restaurant and retail space, and a hotel.

Today, only about one-third of the area has been built out but developers and officials still deem the campus a success, earning awards as a top resiliency,

recovery and mitigation economic development and being named the best economic development project in the country overall at the 2022 International Economic Development Council Awards.

LSU’s first river modeling lab— which modeled sediment distribution throughout the Mississippi River—was built on the campus, next to the vet school, in 2003. But after six years, school officials began to explore building an expanded facility for better physical modeling of the river, according to Clint Wilson, director of the Center for River Studies.

“We saw the move to the Water Campus as medium risk,” recalls Wilson. “We may be the only building out there in the Water Campus for a while, but eventually there will be more tenants—and that turns into a high-reward opportunity for LSU and students if it happens.”

Today, the Center for River Studies is home to the Lower Mississippi River Physical Model, a 90-by-120-foot movable bed physical model considered to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. The model shows how sediment is transported in the lower Mississippi River and its surrounding delta, and serves as a complementary planning tool to computer models and field data collection efforts.

The model, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, draws roughly 500 people during the Free First Sunday event each month, where visitors can enjoy downtown’s  museums for free.

Next door is the Coastal Restoration and Protective Authority, or CRPA, and across the street along the riverbank sits the Center for Coastal and Deltaic Solutions, which houses The Water Institute of the Gulf, or TWIG, a not-for-profit applied research and technical services institution founded after Hurricane Katrina.

Beaux Jones, who took the helm at TWIG last summer following the untimely death of longtime leader Justin Ehrenwerth, calls the Water Campus a physical manifestation of the ideal that Louisiana can seize economic opportunities based on its expertise in handling coastal restoration and protection and other water management issues.

“If we make a collider of all those


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“Eventually there will be more tenants—and that turns into a high-reward opportunity for LSU and students if it happens.”

expertises, we can have both a measurable impact on other people’s ability to be resilient, but also create economic, cultural and intellectual opportunities for the state of Louisiana,” Jones says.

TWIG has seen considerable growth since relocating from One American Place in downtown Baton Rouge to the Water Campus. While the institute’s only client for the first five years was the state of Louisiana, TWIG has since worked with the state governments of Virginia, Florida and South Carolina as well as with nations Argentina and the Philippines.

Next door, 1200 Brickyard Lane also houses a handful of tenants whose reach extends far beyond the Capital Region. It is the first multitenant office building on the campus, and it has taken some time to fill the 94,000-square-foot building that was constructed in 2019, as its rental rates remain among the highest in Baton Rouge.

Last spring, the Water Campus was 79% occupied and was leasing for $32 per square foot—the same rate as in 2020. The average rate for

46 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |



The Water Campus is announced.

2015 Ground breaks on the first buildings.


The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority moves onto campus.


The Center for Coastal and Deltaic Solutions, housing The Water Institute of the Gulf, opens at the site of the old city dock.

LATE 2016

LSU’s Center of River Studies opens.


1200 Brickyard Lane opens as the development’s first multitenant office building. Stantec is the only tenant at the time of construction.


• LSU’s Stephenson Technologies unveils its Joint Cyber Range and Training Center.

• Aptim moves into 1200 Brickyard Lane.

• The Water Campus is recognized as the top resiliency, recovery and mitigation economic development initiative and the best economic development project in the country overall at the 2022 International Economic Development Council Awards.



• General contractor The Lemoine Company relocates its Baton Rouge offices from Airline Highway to 1200 Brickyard Lane.

• Gov. John Bel Edwards announces that a new Louisiana Cyber Coordination Center is being established on the campus.

• 200 Water Street, a 20-unit residential apartment complex, opens on the Water Campus.

LSU’s Coastal Sustainability Studio and LSU’s Center for Coastal Resiliency move to the campus, with the two offices occupying the entire first floor of the Center for Coastal and Deltaic Solutions.

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Class A office space downtown was $26.06 last year, according to the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors.

Global engineering and design firm Stantec was the first to announce its move into 1200 Brickyard Lane, in 2019, and was later joined by general contractor The Lemoine Company, which moved its Baton Rouge offices from Airline Highway to the campus in 2020. Lemoine’s move is also notable because the company served as the contractor for earlier work at the Water Campus.

The state’s budding cybersecurity sector has also planted its roots on the campus. LSU’s Stephenson Technologies Corporation partnered with the Louisiana National Guard in 2019 to develop the state’s first Joint Cyber Range and Training Center, which opened in 1200 Brickyard Lane in 2022. Environmental solutions firm Aptim also opened its new headquarters in the building in late 2022.

Altogether, some 13 commercial tenants—as well as 20 residential

“We can have both a measurable impact on other people’s ability to be resilient, but also create economic, cultural and intellectual opportunities for the state of Louisiana.”

apartments—are located on the campus, though there’s room for more growth. As to the future of the Water Campus, the developers say additional phases are expected but there has been no decision on a timeline or what the phases would look like. Plans could also hinge on future development along the Nicholson corridor.

Last year, Commercial Properties bought some 30 acres off of Nicholson roughly a mile south of the Water Campus, and the development team says it is watching both the future development of that property and the Nicholson corridor as a whole.

“Future phases will incorporate some science and research of some kind,” says Carolyn Martin, CEO of Commercial Properties Realty Trust. “I think there will be a hotel in the next phase. Some of it depends on where the world ends up with people working in an office or not.

“If we can help the state recruit some businesses, I can see the Water Campus as being a type of incubator as well.”

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LOUISIANA HAS HAD governors who want to rule rather than serve.

Even those without the monarchial drive have significant power in our state, what with legislators, lobbyists and those doing business with the government routinely bending the knee to kiss the ring—or something lower on the backside.

Jeff Landry, our new governor, is giving every indication that he just can’t wait to be king.

It is encouraging, however, to see a little pushback and signs of independence from legislative members led by Senate President Cameron Henry who are opting not to let Landry tread on them.

Still, don’t expect the governor to back off his effort to amass power.

Gov. Landry: The man who wants to be king

He started with the surprise move—one he never mentioned on the campaign trail—to change the primary system, calling for a closed system to control who wins and makes it to a general election.

He has issued an edict to change the state Supreme Court districts and how the chief justice is selected. Why? Because Landry does not like current Chief Justice John Weimer—a fact no one seems to mention.

11-member board to nine, with a five-member majority appointed by the governor. The Supreme Court would appoint two board members, down from the current four, which Weimer, Landry’s enemy, has handled. The Legislature was pushing back on the power grab, so we will see how it ends.

Recently, Landry signed an executive order impacting the granting of ITEP approvals. All future applications will now go before a single local economic development board—rather than each impacted taxing authority—with a 45-day window to act. The application then goes to the state board of commerce for approval. Should the two boards disagree, it’s up to the king—err, the governor—to decide. Surprise, surprise.

As I write this during a special session on crime, many bills are sailing through the approval process because crime is a top statewide issue, and the public is fed up and wants action. (I am fed up, too, especially with many judges.)

Like every governor, Landry makes appointments to hundreds of boards and commissions. He has been strategic, though naming former congressman and White House adviser Cedric Richmond, co-chair of President Biden’s reelection campaign, to a coveted seat on the Superdome Commission is a head-scratcher.

Dr. Ralph Abraham was named secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals—good ol’ Louisiana politics.

I figure there must be a story behind the appointment of a 26-yearold Wildlife and Fisheries secretary from South Dakota whose outdoor experience was being on the rowing team at Ohio State University. Huh?

I was pleased to see Cabinet members like Secretary Susan Bourgeois of LED and former Rep. Taylor Barras as commissioner of administration. I am also optimistic about Landry’s BESE appointees. They can each help the governor and Louisiana succeed.

The next revelation of the governor’s thirst for power is how he will handle the money in the state budget. What gets funded? Who gets rewarded, and who gets punished? That’s the case with every governor, but Landry has shown he desires a crown and obedience. That, sadly, reflects the traits of some governors in our past. We don’t need to go backward.

I am a native of Louisiana and want to see our state succeed. I have children and grandchildren here and don’t want to see them leave like so many others over the past eight years of outmigration. I worry it will continue under Landry, but hope I am wrong.

Rolfe McCollister Jr. is a contributing columnist. The viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Business Report or its staff.

He is attempting to change the state public defender system by eliminating the board’s authority in selecting individual public defenders and giving the job to a czar appointed by the governor.

Remy Starns, the current state public defender, supports the change, though it must be noted that Starns is also on the LSU Board of Supervisors and up for reappointment this summer. Isn’t it interesting how Louisiana politics work.

The bill would also reduce the


This feature is a tribute in honor of Business Report founders, Rolfe McCollister Sr. & Rolfe McCollister Jr.

I haven’t seen any of the media ask him to explain the politics of that appointment. Landry will have seven appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors this summer, representing about half of LSU President William Tate’s board.

Landry also made Cabinet appointments reflecting “deals for endorsements” he got during the campaign. Richard Nelson, once an opponent who dropped out of the race, has been named secretary of revenue. And former congressman

WE ARE ALMOST to the end of the armor of God for the child of God. A warrior needs proper armor, for there are real enemies. As Ephesians 6:12 declares, “our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Therefore Paul says, “And take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” We are not to run others through with a physical sword,

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Gov. Landry and his style of politics and lack confidence in his leadership. I vigorously opposed him in the recent governor’s race. Some of his above antics and actions confirm why. Unfortunately, I predict there will be more—and much we never hear about. However, the yearly outmigration number is a solid measurement metric as Louisiana is the only Southern state losing population and jobs.

It will take vision, not politics, to change that. Keep a close watch on the man who wants to be king.

but at times discern if there is a demonic spirit or force at hand. And following Jesus’ example as He was tempted by the devil, Jesus took up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and used it against the enemy. It is good to know the Word of God, for the enemy twisted with Jesus as well as with Eve. We resist the enemy with the Word and He must flee. James 4:7. Take up your sword mighty warrior.

—Jeff Mitchell, Retired COL and Army Chaplain

51 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024


TORCH: The Academy of Politics

Baton Rouge’s BiPartisan Candidate Accelerator

The Baton Rouge Alliance for Students Action’s unique boot camp, TORCH, provides unparalleled training for aspiring candidates and campaign staff dedicated to fostering change in the community. The organization, whose work focuses on transforming education in our city, develops and trains civic leaders looking to take their leadership to the next level. Of the 35 graduates of the program, two Republicans and two Democrats have run for elected positions, and two of those are currently serving in public office. Applications are open now for the next cohort.

“Whether you aspire to run for local office, work on impactful campaigns or champion quality public policy, this program is your stepping stone,’” says Baton Rouge Alliance for Students Action’s CEO Adonica Pelichet Duggan. “In the most recent local election cycle, we supported candidates in winning a super-majority of seats on the East Baton Rouge School Board, replacing several long-entrenched incumbents. We continue to recognize the value of cultivating a strong set of

student-centered, and highly motivated civic leaders.”

The Alliance was formed in 2021, with the vision of empowering families, elevating community voices, and engaging both current and future leaders. Duggan says the politics of education are challenging, but that a desire to do what’s best for children is a shared value across our community. “Our key theory of action is to develop and support a pipeline of strong leaders who understand what it means to be student-centered, who value parents’ choices in their children’s education, and who are courageous enough to take on the challenge of elected leadership.”

Although the organization is focused on transforming education in our city, it does not limit its development and training programs to those seeking education-related offices. Through TORCH and other programs, the Alliance home grows the capital region’s next set of elected leaders at all levels and types of government, from metro council and school board to state legislature and beyond.

“The program is free of cost and nonpartisan,” says Donnie Miller, the Alliance’s Chief Program Officer, “We need people from every corner of Baton Rouge working on behalf of the children - the future - of our city.” TORCH is just the start of the Alliance’s work, which includes not only leadership development, candidate training, and campaign support, but also board stewardship. “We don’t just give people the tools they need to get elected. We also give them the support they need to be effective at the business of governing,” Miller says.

Baton Rouge’s education system is set up for progress, and with the right leadership and policies that give every child access to a high-quality school that fits their needs, elected leaders can ensure a better economic future for Baton Rouge. The state is making great strides in issues like literacy and school finance transparency, and it’s critical that local leaders pick up the mantle to do their part. Applications for TORCH are due March 21, 2024 and can be found at the Alliance Action’s website.

52 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |


Baton Rouge Community College recently unveiled The Closet, a resource designed to provide students with professional attire at no cost, ensuring every student can make a positive first impression in job interviews and professional settings. BRCC invites individuals from the community who are interested in supporting The Closet to contribute by donating new or gently used, clean business or business casual attire. Donations can be dropped off from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at The Closet, in the Bienvenue Student Center on the BRCC Mid City Campus, 201 Community College Drive. For

more information, contact Terri Dawson, BRCC director of student life, at dawsont2@mybrcc. edu or 225.216.8535.

Davis Healthcare Real Estate has completed the yearend acquisition of Zachary OMF I, a 24,465-square-foot outpatient medical facility in Zachary. It represents the firm’s first acquisition in Louisiana. Davis Medical Investors LLC acquired the property for approximately $8.6 million. The single-story Zachary OMF I is at 4845 Main Street. The building was developed in 2011 as a local hub for outpatient surgical procedures. At the time of the acquisition, the building was 100% leased to three synergistic tenants: Zachary Surgical Center, Ochsner Health and Moreau Physical Therapy.


Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University’s dietetic internship program has been approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and

better with friends

Dietetics to be reorganized into a Future Education Model Graduate Program in Nutrition and Dietetics, becoming the first university on the Gulf Coast to receive this recognition. For more information or to register, visit The application deadline is July 15.



Dr. Ronald Andrews, chief medical officer/chief health equity officer and private practice physician, has been named among the 2024 class of health professionals being recognized with the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. Andrews is president of the East Baton Rouge Medical Association. In 2020, the Louisiana Department of Health recruited him to assist in the state’s COVID-19 response campaign, Bring Back Louisiana. Additionally, he was at the forefront of innovation in 2018 when he advocated for Louisiana residents to receive care

via telemedicine, a full year and a half before the pandemic hit. Andrews was also recognized for his continued dedication to mitigating social determinants of health, improving the infant-maternal mortality rate in Louisiana, and for his longtime service in health profession shortage areas in Baton Rouge.

LSU psychology professor Julia Buckner has received two separate awards from the National Institutes of Health. More than $800,000 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse will fund research on the direct links between daily experiences with racism, including microaggressions, and alcohol and cannabis use and potential problems that result from use. Buckner’s studies are new in that they’re not only providing data on Black Americans’ day-to-day experiences with racism, but establishing how these events can lead to alcohol and drug misuse. Get more information about taking part in the study at

01MK7923 R12/23
53 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024
For life’s moments, big and small. We’re here with the strength of the cross, the protection of the shield. The Right Card. The Right Care.

Kwame Adkins FATHOM REALTY, LLC (985) 852-0208

Kristina Cusick TOWN & PARISH REALTY (225) 243-7277


The Greater Baton Rouge Association of REALTORS® would like to recognize the following REALTOR® Champions for their support of the real estate industry in 2024. Dedicated support from members like these allow REALTORS® to effectively advocate for the real estate industry, protect property rights and encourage home ownership.


Jerry Del Rio DEL RIO REAL ESTATE, INC. (225) 218-0888


Linda Dowden THE DOWDEN GROUP (225) 924-5930

Robyn Eunice DREAM HOME REALTY (225) 341-2108

Leslie Green RE/MAX SELECT (225) 298-6900

Mary Beth Crain



Lisa Landers RE/MAX PROFESSIONAL (225) 615-7755

Cheryl Leatherwood RE/MAX PROFESSIONAL (225) 615-7755

Candy Harris LACY BAAHETH & ASSOCIATES (225) 906-9350 Matt Hughes HUGHES REALTY GROUP, LLC (225) 753-6565 Alissa Jenkins LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Jennifer Hebert PENNANT REAL ESATE (225) 663-2112 Connie Kyle LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Frankie LaBorde LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Brent Lancaster BRENT LANCASTER & ASSOCIATES (225) 753-4980 Cathy Craddock MIKE WALKER REAL ESTATE (225) 291-1117 Antonio Cousin SERVICE 1ST REAL ESTATE (225) 503-2525 Liacia “Lacy” Baaheth LACY BAAHETH & ASSOCIATES (225) 906-9350 Kai Burton ANCHOR REALTY GROUP LLC (225) 267-7894 Shannon Andre-Dewey BETTER Yvonne Graham ENGEL & VÖLKERSBATON ROUGE (225) 331-8011 Bridgette Hardy NOVAK REALTY, LLC (225) Ginger Maulden COLDWELL BANKER ONE | PRAIRIEVILLE (225) 673-2600 David McKey COLDWELL BANKER ONE (225) 925-2500 Andrea McKey COLDWELL BANKER ONE (225) 925-2500 Larry Miller KELLER WILLIAMS REALTY RED STICK PARTNERS (225) 768-1800 Katie Miller KATIE MILLER REALTY (KMR) (225) 284-6181 Matt Noel COLDWELL BANKER ONE (225) 925-2500 Jodie Strain LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Lisa Oliver Thomas LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Carolyn Spicer LATTER & BLUMLAKE SHERWOOD (225) 292-1000 Scott Saporito COLDWELL BANKER ONE (225) 925-2500 Sandra Scallan WEICHERT, REALTORSVILLAR & COMPANY (225) 744-2610 Tiffany Palmer CENTURY 21 INVESTMENT REALTY (225) 291-2121 Amanda Parfait ENGEL & VÖLKERSBATON ROUGE (225) 331-8011 Stephanie Pierce KEYFINDERS TEAM REALTY (225) 408-5932 Tonya Toups KELLER WILLIAMS REALTY FIRST CHOICE (225) 744-0044 David Trusty TRUSTY INVESTMENT PROPERTIES, LLC (225) 810-9926 Ashley LaBorde Vuci LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Carolyn Webber RE/MAX REAL ESTATE GROUP (225) 768-7600 Jeffrey Welsh KEYFINDERS TEAM REALTY (225) 408-5932 Yvona Ward LATTER & BLUMPERKINS (225) 769-1500 Pat Wattam RE/MAX SELECT (225) 298-6900

Sales & Marketing Executives of Greater Baton Rouge recently announced the 2023 honorees for the Excellence in Sales & Marketing Award presented by Hancock Whitney. The honorees are: Greg Accardo, LSU Professional Sales Institute; Jason Broha, Turner Industries; Tammy Brown, LSU Cook Hotel and Conference Center; Katie Hebert, The Advocate; Jason Landry, Gage; Tyler Lane, Gerry Lane Enterprises; Natalie Noel, The Well Theory, The Healing Sole, Noel Family Distillery; Wynne Waltman, Graham Group; and Bryan Wesley, Wesley Construction. David Belanger of Community Coffee received the Nell Mitchell Doughty Lifetime Achievement Award.


Derrick Winn, a third-grade math and science teacher at Crestworth Elementary School in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, has been honored with the Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000

prize. The awards will honor up to 75 recipients across the country for 2023-24 as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator.


LCTCS Chancellor Rick Bateman Jr. has been reappointed by Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, to serve on the Cybersecurity Education Management Council for a second term. The CEMC is tasked with promoting degree and certificate programs in cybersecurity fields offered by public postsecondary education institutions to meet the state’s workforce needs. The council advises and makes recommendations to the Louisiana Board of Regents concerning distributions from the Cybersecurity Talent Investment Fund.

The following individuals have been named officers on the Baton Rouge Community College Foundation board: Chas Roemer, president; Jennifer Burgess, vice

president; and Ralph Bender, treasurer/secretary. Other members serving for the 2024 term are: Michael Bledsoe, Marvin Borgmeyer, Brace “Trey” Godfrey III, Brian LaFleur, Robert Schneckenburger, Kabrina Smith, Joy Smith-Durant, Keila Stovall, Renita Williams Thomas and Alesia Wilkins-Braxton.

The following individuals have been named executive officers for the Baton Rouge Lodging Association: Nathaniel Tannehill, president; Amanda Acosta, vice president; Guss Alyatim, treasurer; and Gary Jupiter, immediate past president.


The Better Business Bureau of South Central Louisiana, headquartered in Baton Rouge, has announced its 2024 board of directors and officers, including  David Tucker as board chair. Tucker is vice president and sales manager at LUBA Workers’ Comp.

Joining Tucker in BBB board leadership roles are: Aaron Keating, Lipsey’s, vice chair; LeAnn Ragusa, EisnerAmper, secretary; Matthew Roussel, Currency Bank, treasurer; and Eric Landry of Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, past chair. New board members include Claiborne Duval,  Kelly Ghara,  Leah Marchand, Brad Hutchinson and  Mark Matthews.


Michael Brown has been appointed to the board of directors of Red River Bancshares Inc. and Red River Bank. Brown joins the board after a successful career in the financial services industry that spanned more than 30 years.

Kevin Harris, founder of Kevin Harris Architect, has been elected president of the ICAA College of Chapters and the Chapters’ representative to the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art board of directors. Harris launched his firm in

55 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

A guide to the most powerful and influential BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS in the Capital Region

Advertising in the Capital Region 500 will put your brand in the hands of the region’s most influential business leaders in Baton Rouge. Be a part of this special edition that will align your business with 500 leaders spanning 40+ industries.

To reserve your space in this special issue, contact Kelly Lewis at today!


1982. His book, The Forever Home, is in its second printing. He is also the recipient of more than a dozen design awards and has been featured in more than 50 books and print publications.


Randy Haynie has been named chair of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities board of directors. In addition, M. Cleland Powell III joined the board through a chair’s appointment. Haynie is the owner and president of Haynie & Associates, a government relations firm established in 1980 with offices in Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association board of directors has announced Leah Brown of Chevron as chair, and John Harrington of ConocoPhillips as vice chair for 2024.

Ten area providers have been elected to serve on the  North Oaks

Medical Center Medical Executive Committee for 2024. They were selected by their peers to serve as liaisons between the hospital’s medical staff and administration, and the North Oaks Health System board. The committee comprises: otolaryngologist Dr. D’Antoni “Tony” Dennis, chief of staff; emergency medicine physician Dr. John Krieg, chief of staff-elect; urologist Dr. Brad Lake and nephrologist Dr. S. Tahseen Rab, members at large; family medicine physician Dr. Hugo “Rowdy” Valdes, family practice chair; hematologist and oncologist Dr. Georges Tanios, medicine department chair; obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Jaime Edwards, department of obstetrics/ gynecology and pediatrics; general surgeon Dr. Daniel Linarello, surgery department chair; emergency medicine physician Dr. Brandon Cambre, emergency department chair; and nurse practitioner Lori Mayers, advanced practitioner appointee.

Dr. Mary Raven has been named chief of staff of Our Lady of the Lake

Regional Medical Center. She will serve a three-year term, which began in February. Raven attended medical school at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and returned to Baton Rouge for her internal medicine residency at Earl K. Long Medical Center. During her residency, she was awarded AOA recognition, won the resident teaching award in 2007, and was selected to be chief resident, 2008-2009. She then joined OLOL’s hospital medicine service and began working with the palliative care team in 2010. Raven practices palliative care full time, serves as medical director of the program, helped to develop the first outpatient palliative care clinic in the state in 2014, and enjoys teaching students, residents and fellows.


Matthew Valliere, CEO of CareSouth Medical and Dental, will serve as chairperson for the 2024 Capital Area Heart Walk. The walk will begin at 9 a.m. on

April 6 at Rhorer Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge. At 8 a.m., there will be family activities, hands-only CPR demos, healthy snacks, music, giveaways and more. As chair, Valliere will lead a team of 13 Baton Rouge-area executives to recruit companies and organizations in raising $750,000. Through this event, the leadership team and supporting organizations will raise funds for the American Heart Association, while leading action-oriented conversations about employee health, corporate engagement, community health and community transformation.


Associated Grocers Inc. has partnered with the Southern University men’s basketball team to sponsor its nutrition center, becoming the team’s exclusive grocery partner. The station is located within the men’s team locker room and is available to players throughout the season, and while they are on campus. In addition, this past summer, Associated Grocers served as the title sponsor of Southern

YOUR BUSINESS COMPANY NEWS Investment advice through Pelican Investment Advisors, LLC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Pelican Investment Advisors, LLC is not a Broker/Dealer. Planning is critical to success PELICAN PROS LOOKING FOR SMART, COMPREHENSIVE RISK & FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT ADVICE YOU CAN TRUST? CONTACT BETH | 225 293 9283 | “As Pelican Investment Advisor’s Managing Partner, I channel our expertise and experience to recommend strategies which can make Client’s goals become reality. One of our most important responsibilities is guiding Clients through market volatility and providing them the confidence to navigate downturns without being overwhelmed by negative emotions.” BETH DAVIS, CPA, PFS, CFP ® , CGMA Pelican Investment Advisor Managing Partner March 2024 BRBR Ad_FINAL.indd 1 2/21/24 10:05 PM57 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

University’s Elite Camp, where students from across Louisiana and Mississippi participated in a oneday basketball clinic led by coach Kevin Johnson and his staff.

Baker Donelson has announced a renewed commitment to the American Bar Association’s Free Legal Answers—a virtual legal advice clinic—with a major investment of financial and technology resources that will ensure the tool continues to increase access to advice and information about noncriminal legal matters for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Through this renewed partnership, three Baker Donelson technicians will work over a period of six months to rewrite and update the code for FLA while also improving the website’s data security. The firm is also making a $250,000 donation to ensure the ABA has the resources to further develop and maintain this next-generation version of FLA.

ExxonMobil has launched Leaders Inspiring the Faces of Tomorrow, a structured initiative

that will pair middle school students with mentors to facilitate career readiness and academic success by introducing and providing exposure to STEM careers in the energy industry. Through the program, 50 middle school students in grades six through eight from Istrouma Middle Magnet School and Scotlandville Middle Pre-Engineering Magnet Academy will be paired with mentors from 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge for

weekly sessions over the school year. The Foundation for East Baton Rouge Schools and YMCA of Baton Rouge will also collaborate with field trips, science days and STEM activities.

Gaitway Therapeutic

Horsemanship of St. Gabriel was one of the winners in the LWCC Holiday Giving Contest, an annual tradition supporting nonprofits in Louisiana. In lieu of

traditional holiday gifts, LWCC invited agent partners to nominate nonprofits that are leading the way in positively impacting the state. LWCC rewards finalists with a $20,000 shared cash prize. Gaitway Therapeutic Horsemanship, which empowers adults and children with disabilities through the healing power of horses, received $5,700.

A statewide team led by LSU has secured the largest grant ever awarded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, totaling up to $160 million over the next 10 years in support of Louisiana’s energy industry. The grant, called the NSF Engines award, will primarily focus on Louisiana’s energy transition and the decarbonization of the state’s industrial corridor. According to a statement from LSU, the funding will go toward creating jobs in the energy sector, developing innovative solutions to energy challenges, and training the energy workforce. The grant aims to position Louisiana as a global leader in energy-related research and development.


Lard Oil Company is proud to honor PALA Group and their commitment to providing exceptional, turnkey solutions in industrial construction for 50+ years. Here's to making every drop count even more in 2024! LARD OIL CONGRATULATES
Gaitway Therapeutic Horsemanship
58 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

The Library brings value to your small business or non-profit by helping you find the tools and resources to keep it moving forward. Stop by one of our locations, search our digital library, call a librarian, or even text our team with your top challenges and questions.

Visit • Available 24/7 Online • • Reference Service: (225) 231-3750
Invest in YOU!


Angele Belk has joined the team at JD Bank as a mortgage loan originator on the Northshore and in Baton Rouge. An experienced mortgage lender, Belk will work with customers in these markets utilizing a full selection of home lending tools. Belk has worked as a mortgage loan originator serving Louisiana and Mississippi since 1998. She specializes in conventional, FHA, VA, USDA and renovation loans.

assistant manager, and then business and branch services director for Resource.



Issue Date: Mar2024 Ad proof #1

• Please respond by e-mail or phone with your approval or minor revisions.

• AD WILL RUN AS IS unless approval or final revisions are received within 24 hrs from receipt of this proof. A shorter timeframe will apply for tight deadlines.

Danielle Manzella has been promoted by Resource Bank to chief retail banking officer and executive vice president. Manzella has spent her career in sales and management, with the last 21 years in the banking industry. Before being named CRBO, she worked as operations

• Additional revisions must be requested and may be subject to production fees.

Thomas “Tom” Corley has been elected as the incoming president and CEO of Community Coffee. Corley began his career as a sales representative with General Foods Inc. (now KraftHeinz) in Alexandria, Minnesota, where he worked for more than 30 years and was responsible for $18 billion in revenue in his last role as president of sales and food service. Since then, he has held executive roles leading sales and marketing organizations, and most recently was a board member and commercial adviser to several consumer packaged goods companies.


This ad design © Melara Enterprises, LLC. 2024. All rights reserved. Phone 225-928-1700

Two people have been promoted to the executive team at Guarantee Restoration Services. Marcie Richardson has been elevated to chief operating officer, and Nicole Cruz is now production director. With more than 20 years of experience in human resources, Richardson brings a wealth of expertise to her new role as COO. She served as human resources director upon joining the GRS team in March 2018. Cruz initially joined the company in March 2017 as a team coordinator. She is stepping up from her previous role as regional branch manager.


Sinella Aghasi has been

Recently ranked 48th in the prestigious LSU100, our reach extends across 30+ states, leaving an indelible mark in hospitality, commercial office space, retail, healthcare, and light industrial sectors.

years of silent but power ful craf tsmanship

Our stor y took a transformative turn in 2019 with the arrival of Br yan Wesley, our second generation With his visionar y leadership, Wesley Construc tion embraced the new era of marketing, where the projec ts completed truly speak for themselves

Our goal is simple yet profound: to earn your trust with ever y projec t Experience the difference that decades of exper tise and a passion for quality can make Our approach has always been a testament to our success where Wesley Construc tion builds not just struc tures but lasting par tnerships

promoted to associate executive director of Kids’ Orchestra. In this new role, she will serve as a liaison between internal departments and provide vision and strategy around future organizational needs. Aghasi joined Kids’ Orchestra in March 2022 and has served as director of grants and community partnerships and director of strategic initiatives with the organization.

Jon Carr has been named executive director of the Louisiana 4-H Foundation. Previously serving as director of development for the LSU Foundation as a fundraiser for the College of Engineering, Carr brings years of experience to a position encompassing multiple responsibilities, including serving as managerial leader and primary fundraiser.

ANGELE BELK JD Bank DANIELLE MANZELLA Resource Bank THOMAS “TOM” CORLEY Community Coffee MARCIE RICHARDSON Guarantee Restoration Services NICOLE CRUZ Guarantee Restoration Services SINELLA AGHASI Kids’ Orchestra
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success stor y is one of gratitude to our clients, our team, and our steadfast commitment to quality Wesley Construc tion is not just a name on a permit ; it’s a symbol of excellence forged through
JON CARR Louisiana 4-H Foundation
Crafting Legacies, Building Trust: Wesley Construction, One of Baton Rouge’s Premier Commercial General Contractor Since 1985.
60 BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024 |

Elevate Your Leadership & Your Team 2024

Two Impactful Speakers. One Incredible Morning!

ON FEBRUARY 7, Business Report hosted its annual Elevate Your Leadership & Your Team event. Over 1,000 attendees gathered at the HPC Arena to hear from two impactful speakers. International speaker Charlotte Gambill and 15-time New York Times Best Selling Author Jon Gordon brought inspiration, motivation and insight to the sold-out crowd. Thank you to our incredible event sponsors who continue to elevate our community!

61 | BUSINESS REPORT, March 2024

Barry Erwin

“The idea of going into the kitchen for an hour or so with a bunch of fresh ingredients and mixing them all together to come up with something that probably nobody else in town is eating that night is kind of a cool thing.”
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