Jan. 15, 2016 11:59 AM

Can we diversify our energy portfolio beyond petroleum? It’s time to have that conversation.

Thirty years ago Mayor Dud Lastrapes dropped in to complain about a report in our biz pub of the time, New Business Magazine. We had published a story about disturbing trends in the energy industry, indicating an imminent and serious downturn.

Concerned that such predictions would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, he wanted us to rethink the story. After reviewing the facts with him, we politely declined. You know the rest.

Like many in that boom time, we had expanded our operations, choosing Shreveport and San Antonio, energy-based economies vulnerable to the same trends that slammed Lafayette. After the bust we too worked relentlessly to salvage what we could as the world around us kept shrinking. In the end we divested, retreated, downsized and ultimately flourished with our home base here diminished but intact.

Those of us who made it through remember the “We Believe in Lafayette” campaign, launched by the Lafayette chamber and paid for by the handful of members who could still afford it. “Oui, Believe in Lafayette” may have been better messaging for French South Louisiana.

No matter. It soon morphed into “We be leavin’ Lafayette.” And soon after:

“Would the Last One to Leave Lafayette Please Turn Off the Lights?” During that dark time Cajun and Creole food and music became cool. Tourists flocked to Acadiana, and our culture became a very real and emerging economic asset for us to rally around. Local business owners learned about efficiency, resiliency and adaptation. Bankers and real estate professionals emerged with long memories that later shielded us from the disastrous excesses in the sub-prime mortgage industry that nearly wrecked the nation’s financial foundation. They resisted the temptation to overbuild, over-lend or over-leverage investments even as oil prices soared into triple digits.

Compared to the ’80s, our economic base is indeed more sound and diversified into health care, higher ed, retail, finance, technology and tourism. Experts say it should soften the blow. But with 45 percent of our base still dependent on a nonrenewable resource that is now predicted to slowly return to $50 a barrel by 2020, the question is: Have we done enough?

But something else is different. Mega investors like Bill Gates are expediting the development of alternative energy. The cost of that technology is coming down faster than expected as the world produces more oil than it needs. We can ignore the signs or we can embrace this trend with the wildcatter mentality that has served us so well for 100 years.

We call ourselves The Energy Coast. Our engineers and entrepreneurs created much of the technology that built the oil and gas industry across the world, and we have the capacity to do the same in the renewable resource space.

I believe in Lafayette. It is possible to emerge as a global leader as we transition the planet from the old to the new. Isn’t it time to have that conversation?

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