LEDA/Opportunity Machine

Stacking Up

by Patrick Flanagan

Sure, there's a list for everything, but more often than not, Lafayette is on top.
In the past year, Lafayette has received national recognition in the areas of employment growth, business environment and the overall economy. Lafayette's job and wage growth numbers have been on the rise. Our cost of doing business - driven by affordable labor, health care, and utility costs - has been on the low end of the spectrum for several years. Our entrepreneurial spirit, a fundamental component of our community and heritage, has gained the attention of individuals and businesses from across the nation.

So, how does Lafayette compare to the rest of the nation? More often than not, we're at the top.

The area's employment growth has put Lafayette in the spotlight numerous times this year. Lafayette was second out of 350 metro areas in Business Facilities' Job Growth Leaders list- identifying our community as one that's "ripe for economic growth and a hotbed for job and business growth." Not only that, in August, CNN Money included Lafayette in its list of 25 communities where jobs are available and are also great places to live. In its July report, IHS Global projected that Lafayette will have the highest employment growth in the nation in 2012 at 8.8 percent. That projection is supported by actual job growth numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In September, Lafayette experienced the largest month-to-month percent growth in employment in the entire country - a whopping 8.7 percent.

Lafayette continues to rank well on Forbes' annual list of the Best Places for Business and Careers. In this year's list, the Lafayette metro area had the 10th best job growth among the largest 200 U.S. metro areas. Lafayette also topped Forbes' annual list of best mid-sized cities for job growth with a growth rate of 5.2 percent between December 2010 and December 2011. Overall, Lafayette ranked fourth among the 398 metro areas surveyed for the list. An interesting side note is that Lafayette was the only metro to change size categories, moving from the "Small" to "Mid-size" category.

Led by employment growth in the energy and health care industries, Lafayette's overall economy is in excellent shape according to several sources. Lafayette topped Area Development's list as the best mid-sized city and the best Southern city for economic and job growth. Overall on the list, Lafayette ranked third among all 365 metro areas. Lafayette also topped the short list of the best 25 mid-sized cities for Economic Strength. In addition to being included on the top of the job growth lists for IHS Global and BusinessFacilities, Lafayette was also tops for overall economic growth. IHS ranked Lafayette's projected gross metro product growth second in the country at 7.5 percent. Lafayette reached the number three spot on Business Facilities list of communities with "Economic Growth Potential" with mentions of the region's workforce, diverse business base and community collaboration.

Lafayette's forward-thinking and entrepreneurial spirit are key factors to the community's success that I mention everywhere I go. Again this year, Southern Business and Development recognized Lafayette in its annual Top 10 issue - this time, as a community that fosters technology. The surge we've seen in technology-intensive jobs and companies was attributed in part to growing annual household income and community-wide, tech-focused initiatives such as the Opportunity Machine, LITE and LUS Fiber.

Not only is Acadiana a great place to do business, it is a great place to live - but that's no surprise to those of us who are residents. You can't talk about Acadiana for too long before our culture comes into play; and this year, we've earned some bragging rights. Following last year's success in being named the Best Small Town for Food by Rand McNally and USA Today, Lafayette was crowned the Tastiest Town in the South by Southern Living. And, the community rallied behind Festival International de Louisiane in a Reader's Choice contest hosted by About.com. FIL beat out festivals in Mali, New York, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., to gain the title of 2012's Best World Music Festival.

These successes in employment and business growth and cultural endeavors make Lafayette a great community that's headed in the right direction. According to a Gallup poll released in March, Lafayette is the second most optimistic city in the nation. Nearly 76 percent of poll respondents replied positively about the direction in which our community is headed. And don't forget that in 2010, Louisiana was recognized as the happiest state. As I like to point out: Lafayette and Acadiana are the greener pasture.

Over the past few years, nearly all of these lists saw big shifts related to ongoing economic conditions in the country. Cities that were once on top have slipped for one reason or another; but Lafayette is one of several communities that has managed to not only remain on these lists but actually improve its position. Coming off of the best year for job creation and business development announcements, Lafayette seems well poised to continue moving up the charts.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.