Baptist Hospitals merger is a done deal

Mississippi Baptist encompasses four hospitals and a handful of other health care services across the state and employs more than 3,700 health care professionals. Memphis Baptist includes 17 affiliate hospitals, six of which are already in Mississippi, and employs more than 14,000 people.

High voltage transmission project submitted for review

A plan to build a 400-mile electricity transmission line from the Texas-Louisiana state line to the Mississippi-Alabama state line was formally submitted to the Mississippi Public Service Commission this week for approval. Officials of Southern Cross Transmission Project, a unit of the wind power-driven San Francisco-based utility company Pattern Energy, said their proposed transmission line could power hundreds of thousands of homes. In the company’s filing submitted late Tuesday, Southern Cross asked the commission to approve a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which would give Southern Cross the green light to start building their line. Examining the project could take a few months, Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown said. The commission will also host public hearings to let affected landowners and public officials voice their praise or concerns over the projects before it makes its decision.

New college name boosts DSU’s ‘best kept secret’

Delta State University’s College of Business is flying under a new name: the College of Business and Aviation. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board recently approved the renaming of the academic college. “I believe changing the name to the College of Business and Aviation helps promote two very important items,” said Dr. Charles McAdams, Delta State’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “First, the name lets everyone know that we have a (commercial) aviation program. This is significant as we are the only IHL institution with an aviation degree.

Biloxi lowers state and city flags

Biloxi’s mayor has ordered the state flag and the city flag removed from all city facilities, the Sun Herald reports. When Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich took office in May 2015, the state flag was taken down from City Hall. The flag, adopted by the Legislature in 1894, contains the Confederate battle emblem. State public universities and some municipalities have no longer fly the flag. “He thought everyone at all city facilities had followed suit, but much to his surprise, they had not,” city spokesman Vincent Creel was quoted by the Sun Herald on Monday.

‘Billion Dollar Buyer’ shares story of his success at Ole Miss

Tillman Fertitta, CNBC’s Billion Dollar Buyer, headlines an event at The Pavilion on the Ole Miss campus May 5. Most recognizable for his television show, which premiered on the cable network in March 2016, Fertitta is better known in the business world as chairman and CEO of Landry’s Inc.

Landry’s owns and operates more than 500 properties, including more than 40 brands such as Landry’s Seafood, Chart House, Saltgrass Steak House, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Claim Jumper, Morton’s The Steakhouse, McCormick & Schmick’s, Mastro’s and the Rainforest Cafe. Five Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino locations are in the mix, as well as numerous other hotel properties and other entertainment destinations. Admission to Fertitta’s appearance is free, with the first 1,000 attendees receiving a free lunch. The event is sponsored by Renasant Bank, Evans Petree, P.C. and White Construction and hosted by the University of Mississippi School of Business, Ole Miss Athletics and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Gulf Coast restoration projects get $50M

A $50 million plan to restore water quality and boost parts of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s economy received a green light this week. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality announced that the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council—which is represented by Gulf Coast states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the secretaries from the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Commerce and Agriculture, among others—has approved its State Expenditure Plan. This plan includes projects geared toward improving water quality along the shoreline and Mississippi Sound, said Marc Wyatt, director of the Department’s Office of Restoration, on Wednesday. These projects include the Mississippi Gulf Coast Water Quality Improvement Program ($45 million); Pascagoula Oyster Reef Complex Relay and Enhancement ($3.5 million); and Compatibility, Coordination, and Restoration Planning ($1.3 million). Wyatt said the department submitted the plan for council approval late last year soon after gathering input from the public at the department’s first-ever Mississippi Restoration Summit in November.

Edds named Mississippi Arts Commission chair

Butler Snow attorney Stephen Edds has been named chairman of the Mississippi Arts Commission, the law firm announced in a press release. The Commission, made up of fifteen members appointed by the governor, serves as the official grants-making and service agency for the arts in Mississippi. “Steve’s passion for the arts is well known throughout the firm and the state,” said Donald Clark Jr., Chairman, Butler Snow. “We know that he will serve as an effective and positive leader of the Commission.”

The Mississippi Legislature created the Mississippi Arts Commission in 1968 as a catalyst for private support of the arts. The release noted that the commission fosters networks of local leaders, artists of all disciplines, arts volunteers and patrons; consults on community arts development, performing, visual and literary arts, folk arts, and arts education; provides training in arts management, arts education planning, arts facilities planning and communitywide cultural planning; and promotes broad-based public awareness of the importance of the arts in education and community life.

State closes Old Natchez Trace Lake for dam repairs

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has closed the Old Natchez Trace Lake at Trace State Park west of Tupelo, the Daily Journal reported. The closure is necessary to drain the lake, which has begun, so that the agency can repair damage to the dam of the 565-acre lake, state Fisheries Bureau director Larry Pugh told the newspaper. The water level of the main lake was lowered in 2016 to begin repairs to the backside of the dam, where sections of dirt had started to slide, the Journal reported. The newspaper reported that winter rains and the development of additional slides on the front side of the dam forced officials to begin draining the lake to prepare for more extensive repairs. Officials said fishing is no longer permitted on the main lake, only on the small pond near the park entrance.

Nissan gives $250K to Mississippi HBCUs

Mississippi’s historically black colleges and universities are getting a boost from one of the state’s largest private employers. Nissan North America announced a $250,000 grant to help support science, technology, engineering and math programs at Alcorn State University, Coahoma Community College, Hinds Community College-Utica Campus, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Rust College and Tougaloo College. Jeffrey Webster, director of diversity and inclusion at Nissan North America, said in a news release that the company “recognizes that STEM education is critical to developing the next generation of innovators.” Nissan made a similar HBCU donation to Coahoma Community College in 2016, which helped promote STEM studies to 8 to 11-year-olds. The grant also helped pay for equipment, robotics and other materials.

Look, up in the sky … drones

Drones will be demonstrated and evaluated in Mississippi by the Department of Homeland Security starting this fall, the Sun Herald reports. Mississippi State University will lead the project. Research and development of small unmanned aerial systems, known as drones, will be conducted at Camp Shelby, which is the Army National Guard’s national drone-training center; buffer zone areas at Stennis Space Center, which is used for Department of Defense special-operations training; and restricted airspace accessible from the U.S. Coast Guard facilities on Singing River Island in Jackson County. “Mississippi has a number of unique assets that facilitate unmanned aircraft test flights that aren’t found in many other places, and we can fly year-round,” said Dallas Brooks, director of MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, who will lead the demonstration-range team. Drones will be evaluated in a variety of simulated scenarios such as border protection; floods, fires and earthquakes; highway and rail accidents and containment of hazardous-materials spills.

State reports second child flu death

The state Department of Health confirmed the state’s second death from influenza of a child under the age of 18 during the current flu season, the department said in a press release. The child was a resident of South Mississippi, the release said. The department noted that this was the 16th death since reporting of pediatric flu deaths began in the 2007-2008 flu season. Nationwide, 72 pediatric flu deaths have been confirmed for the current 2016-17 flu season as of April 8. Influenza infections can lead to serious complications and sometimes death, even for healthy children and young adults.

Brandon Presley to join national natural gas task force

Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley will help lead a national task force focused on expanding natural gas service to rural areas of the United States. The Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force, created by the National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commission, a nonprofit group of government agencies that regulate utilities across the country and U.S. territories, will study the demand for expanding natural gas service and infrastructure and come up with nontraditional ways of getting the energy source out to under-served areas in the country. The group will be led by both Presley and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner John F.  Coleman, Jr. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner. Association president Robert F. Powelson appointed Presley to the task force. Presley has previously advocated for adding natural gas infrastructure in rural areas of Mississippi.

Seven officials elected as Democrats join Republican Party mid-term

Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson and six other county officials elected as Democrats in 2015 have switched to the Republican Party, the Itawamba Times reports. Joining Dickinson are supervisors Charles Horn, Steve Johnson and Steve Moore, constables Terry Johnson and Doug Lesley, and coroner Shelia Summerford. During a brief ceremony on the county courthouse steps in Fulton on Thursday, Gov. Phil Bryant, Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Phillip Gunn, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef commended the local officials. “Itawamba County is truly the America we all love and believe in,” Bryant told the assembled onlookers.