Senior primary care center opening

CenterWell Senior Primary Care opened its primary care center Thursday in the former Stage Store in Lafayette.

The center, designed as a one-stop shop for senior-focused primary care for those with a Humana and Aetna Medicare Advantage plan, held a grand opening Thursday at its location at 539 Bertrand Drive.

It will also offer longer visits with patients as well as specialists such as social workers to help with behavior and social needs like as food and transportation.

The staff includes Dr. Brad Blappert, a well-known primary care physician in Lafayette, and Amy Oakes, center administrator with CenterWell.

Former Energy Plaza sold for $4.6M

The deal to sell the former Energy Plaza building to the Lafayette Parish school system was finalized at a sale price of $4.59 million, records show.

School officials bought the four-story, 78,000-square-foot building at 202 Rue Iberville from Talos Petroleum, according to the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court, almost $1 million below the building’s appraised value following its move to consolidate office space and leave the Chaplin Drive location.

The sale price was reduced partly because the building requires $68,000 in exterior repairs and a roof replacement estimated at $350,000, both of which will be covered from the roofing contingency item in the capital improvements fund, meeting documents said.

School officials will also overhaul the new office space, which includes basic renovations, constructing and retrofitting a new board room, and relocation, technology and furniture, fixtures and equipment costs.

The total cost to overall the new building sits at $3.58 million, according to board documents.

In 2015, the building went through major renovations, according to the listing, including the common lobby, hallways, ADA-compliant restrooms and new elevator cabs.

Rainy spring hampers sugar cane crop

Those record cold temperatures that hit around Mardi Gras did not slow down the sugar cane in south Louisiana, but the rainy March may have done more damage.

The weather in March and April was not ideal for growth, said Kenneth Gravois, LSU AgCenter sugar cane specialist. Damage from that cold front from February, meanwhile, was limited to a few isolated fields and “nothing more than normal,” he said.

It’s the rain that has been the biggest challenge, particularly in April.

“A dry spring never killed a cane crop,” Gravois said. “And it’s not been a dry spring. In looking at the meteorological data, this is going to be the second- or third-wettest April on record. So we’ve had enough rain.”

The freeze did reduce the disease and number of insects and pests, Gravois said. Diseases such as brown stripe and brown rust should be reduced, and the number of West Indian cane flies should be lower.

The forecast for the rest of May has temperatures conducive for cane growth, but intermittent rain is also in the forecast. Nighttime temperatures above 70 degrees and daytime temperatures above 85 should spur growth, he said.

This year’s crop should cover 500,000 acres this year, which represents a 20% increase during the past decade.

“Even though the crop is a little behind,” Gravois said, “if we start getting warm and dry for the month of May, we can catch up a lot of that growth. By far, the conditions that we harvest the previous year’s crop has the biggest effect on the next year’s crop. So we had relatively dry conditions for harvesting the 2020 crop. That bodes well.”

Stimulus checks cited in worker shortage

Business at south Louisiana-based Sonics are up 50% over last year, but the company is still battling staffing and supply issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, owners said.

Speaking with Jan Swift, of the Discover Lafayette podcast, Kergan Brothers Sonic CEO Ted Kergan and President Gary Wilkerson said the stimulus checks coming at the same time as income tax refunds convinced some employees they did not have to go to work.

The company has had supply challenges, including the inability to get straws delivered.

Sonic faces the same problem many in the restaurant and other industries are facing with an inability to fill its staff. Wilkerson said in an earlier report that each of the company’s 56 locations could use as many as 10 more employees.

Sonic raised its starting wage to $8 an hour and is offering a referral program where employees can earn an additional $75.

“It’s hard to find people whose financial interests are best served by going to work,” Kergan said. “After the first of the year in most years, people get their income tax refunds so they have some free money. In this case, the government released stimulus checks which turned out to be $1,400 per person in each household. One of our employees came in and said his family had $10,000 in the bank.

“Once people got that big amount of money, they didn’t want to go to work but they did want to go out and spend. It’s not just our business that has been impacted. It’s every single business.”

The straws, he noted, were sent from China but were stranded on a container ship in Long Beach, California. The reason? Every longshoreman went on vacation after receiving stimulus checks.

“Literally every one of them,” he said.

Hampr gets Benson Capital investment

Hampr, an app-based wash-and-fold laundry service launched last year in Lafayette, has landed an investment from Benson Capital Partners, a venture capital firm backed by New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

The business hatched by Lafayette business owner Laurel Hess a little over a year ago is now in the New Orleans market and 13 others, including Dallas, Phoenix and Denver. Its peer-to-peer model allows it to scale quickly with little capital expenses, which has led to its quick growth over the past year.

Created in 2019, Benson Capital Partners aims to find and invest in fast-growing new businesses in Louisiana and the Gulf South region.

“We believe hampr’s demonstrated success across its expanding footprint signals a strong marketplace is emerging within this sector,” said Mike Katz, managing director of Benson Capital Partners. “This investment aligns us with an up-and-coming start-up located in Louisiana that is primed for scale. We’re thrilled to help propel the company to the next level.”

It's the last development for the rapidly expanding business that recently graduated from the Techstars Austin accelerator program, which chooses only 10 businesses and includes a $120,000 investment along with access to mentors, investors, advisers and a network of other business leaders.

Hampr customers can purchase an annual membership for $39 and place an order with local “washrs,” who pick up the order and return the laundry clean and folded.

“We are so excited about this partnership with Benson Capital Partners as we expand throughout and beyond Louisiana,” said Hess. “We have seen crazy growth and traction in our second year and are excited to use this investment to further our business and add to our team. This partnership comes at a perfect time, allowing us to harness our momentum in growth after launching in our sixth state earlier this year."