Optimistic About Future Growth
● By Aimee Cormier
By Claire Salinas • Submitted Photos
Last year, economist Loren C. Scott called what Acadiana is experiencing a “historical boom.” The current $100 billion plus in industrial projects and the promise of 5,700 new jobs in the next two years confirm the continuation of this area’s significant uprising.
Lafayette Parish Economic Development
President and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority Gregg Gothreaux feels like the economy of Lafayette Parish is moving forward on many fronts.
“In recent years, we have seen record numbers for several economic indicators that LEDA tracks. According to reports, home sales hit a high of $727 million in 2014,” says Gothreaux. “Retail sales should also reach an all-time high in 2014 of about $6.4 billion when final numbers are reported later.”
Big companies like Costco and Bell Helicopter are coming to the Lafayette area, and, according to Gothreaux, their location choice is no accident.
“Many national retailers will not consider a region unless it reaches a certain population threshold or is already home to certain retailers,” Gothreaux explains. “Having retailers like Costco, Whole Foods, Nordstrom Rack, Field and Stream and others will put Lafayette on the map for retailers who may not have considered the region in the past.”
Although many fear the effects of plunging gas prices, Gothreaux feels the drop will have a minimal impact on the Lafayette region.
“Due to contractual obligations and investment costs, not all areas of the industry will be quickly impacted by lower prices,” says Gothreaux. “With lower oil prices, Lafayette’s economic growth may level off, but a decline is not expected in the immediate future.”
Iberia Parish Economic Development
According to Executive Director of the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation, Mike Tarantino, Iberia Parish now flourishes with business activity. One new source of business to Iberia Parish stems from Sasol North America, which is building a new $8.1 billion petrochemical complex in Lake Charles.
Tarantino explains, “This is probably one of the biggest projects happening in the United States right now. With the billions of dollars that Sasol and companies like Cheniere Energy are investing in Lake Charles, it’s going to be a really big opportunity for us to do business with a company that’s going to have national and international reach.”
Sasol has begun reaching out to other parishes for sub-contractors, suppliers and other related personnel. Sasol recently hosted a Business Opportunity Forum to provide information and answer questions about doing business with Sasol and its selected prime contractors. “Iberia Parish companies are getting work from Lake Charles and we expect many more opportunities as the ethane cracker and derivatives project progresses,” says Tarantino.
“Industrial ventures seem to be multiplying. Halliburton has made a significant investment in a major facility here in Iberia Parish. Likewise, Berard transportation has built a new facility here. The good news for everyone is that both companies are hiring now,” acclaims Tarantino. “The Port of Iberia has gotten a lot of interest from several different companies who have signed leases or are about to locate their businesses at the Port.”
Another company bringing jobs to the area is Metal Shark, which has expanded its existing shipyard in Iberia Parish. “It manufactures port patrol boats for the U.S. Coast Guard and many international navies around the world and employs many welders, machinists and fitters,” clarifies Tarantino.
Despite the recent drop in oil prices, Tarantino is not overly concerned.
“A lot of people think oil and gas prices will be low for the next 12-18 months, but these big deep water projects, the Sasol project and others are looking five to ten years out,” he reasons. “Those are going to be much more stable than jobs on the shallow water side or the land side, because these people are looking beyond the next 12 months. We think the upcoming year is certainly going to have its challenges, but right now businesses are still expanding, so far so good.”
St. Mary Parish Economic Development
Frank Fink, who is the director of the St. Mary Parish Office of Economic Development, feels differently than those in his neigh-boring parishes.
Fink explains that the parish “had a good run in 2014.” However, with the uncertainty of the oil and gas industry looming, Fink admits, “Right now it’s cloudy out, and we’re waiting to hear what the forecast will be brining.”
Fink explains the clouds result from declining prices in an economy where oil and gas account for, “15 to 20 percent.”
The parish did see growth through the opening of a branch of Metal Shark, the expansion of LAD Services, which opened a new shipyard in Baldwin, and the receipt of $3 million for a new industrial park in the Port of West St. Mary that should open by summer.
Adding around 580 employees to its workforce last year, St. Mary began import and export business out of the Port of Morgan City
Fink explains that although “there are clouds on the horizon, the long range future (of St. Mary Parish) is looking bright.”
Vermilion Parish Economic Development
Recently, Anne Falgout has been hired as the director of Economic Development in Vermilion Parish. Falgout explains she will serve as a liaison for the business community. “Whether a company is starting, expanding or relocating to Vermilion Parish, I’ll serve as a resource,” she says.
“We’ve started an educational series to inform business people of opportunities that exist and empower them to make good business decisions,” says Falgout. “We’re undergoing a major branding process to create an identity and promote our parish to the rest of the nation.”
Falgout claims her new organization will partner with Acadiana Economic Development Council, a 7-parish economic development organization, and work with One Acadiana and the other EDO’s around the region to bring opportunities to this area.
St. Martin Parish Economic Development
St. Martin Economic Development Authority Director Beth Guidry is excited about the growth the Parish experienced in 2014 and new construction projects on the horizon. “I think one of the biggest areas of growth for us by far continues to be the Highway 90 corridor. We finished our SMEDA Business Park two years ago, and that area of properties has seen growth.” Guidry points to the construction of new industrial parks that are privately owned and marketed, and says the Parish has experienced growth in employment numbers, sales tax revenue and property values as a result. “These all had a trickle-down effect, and overall helped our economy,” Guidry explains.
Guidry also touts the City of Breaux Bridge, not only for the growth being experienced in population and demographics for that area of the parish, but also for the strides that are being made to make the city a cultural hub. Citing Teche Center for the Arts, Guidry compares it to the ACA in Lafayette and applauds city leaders and art patrons who desire to see their city grow.
Guidry states she is also looking forward to St. Martin Parish’s participation in One Acadiana and fully embraces the benefits of joining with other parishes to make the entire region vibrant and economically healthy. “St. Martin Parish is going to continue to be an active voice and have an active role in that effort,” she proclaims. “We’re very excited about growing St. Martin Parish and the rest of Acadiana. I’m hoping that with our local and state leadership and even our federal leadership we can work together and make all of our areas the best and brightest they can be for our future.”
Job Growth In Acadiana
According to Gothreaux, Acadiana is making strides that will attract many people to the area. “Locally, we’ve created jobs at a faster pace than much of the rest of the nation. Having quality jobs available, along with a high standard of life and amenities, makes Lafayette and Acadiana attractive to job seekers and potential residents.”