Economic diversification. As energy prices remain soft, it’s a term you hear a lot. We take some solace in the fact that Acadiana’s economy is less directly dependent today on fossil fuels for jobs than it was during the 1980s downturn (the numbers indicate by about half), but the current slump makes it clear we still have work to do.
There are bright spots. The hunt is on for employees to fill open seats in the new offices of three high-tech companies that recently expanded here: Perficient, CGI and Enquero. Our health care superstars, including LHC Group, Schumacher Group and Acadian Companies, are posting robust performances. Local economic development pros are bullish about aviation brands like Bell Helicopter and Flight Safety that recently opened shop. All good but where to from here?
One Acadiana recently unveiled to its members a thorough and sophisticated look at a targeted industry strategy — or TIS — prepared specifically for our region by a top consultant in the game. Based on an intense “warts and all” inventory of regional assets, the study recommends six optimal targets for our region: aviation/avionics, informatics and engineering services, food/beverage processing (value-added agribusiness), highvalue business services (including health IT), marine and heavy industries (some transportation related) and heritage tourism (including cultural economic development).
A recent New York Times article identifies communities in the U.S. that are outpacing the national economic recovery. In it, MIT’s Andrew McAfee notes the common denominator among them: “some combination of great research universities and knowledge-intensive industries,” citing high tech on the West Coast, bio-tech in the East and clusters of technology and robotics in between. Denver, which now boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the country, has perhaps the greatest similarity to Acadiana in the piece. “It’s the outcome of really about 30 years of diversifying our economy away from fossil fuels and military contracts,” says Tom Clark, who heads the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. “In the ’80s, we were Coors, carbon and The Cold War.”
The two studies — 1A’s TIS and the Denver success story — both point to the need for public investment in infrastructure, the value of a research university and the willingness of local leaders to support cultural institutions as key ingredients for success. What could that look like for us in Acadiana? We look forward to exploring that theme in upcoming issues and events. Stay tuned.