Since The Independent's launch in August 2003, business coverage has always been an essential component of our editorial mission. Acadiana's unique business community deserves that commitment; from powerhouses like the medical and oil and gas industries to small-business entrepreneurs, there is no shortage of compelling stories to tell about the people and companies that drive the local economy. And those stories aren't limited to success stories such as the recent expansion of Creole Lunch House and the re-opening of Jefferson Island. Credible business coverage also means investigative reporting, and whether it's questioning government contracts or digging into the reasons for Southern Structures' financial woes, we're dedicated to providing informed reporting and compelling writing that tells the real stories behind the dollar signs.

This week's issue marks the debut of The Acadiana Consumer Confidence Index, a special long-term project that provides valuable insight into the Acadiana economy. The Independent has partnered with Dean Lewis Gale and Associate Dean Paula Carson of UL Lafayette's B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration and noted Pensacola, Fla., research firm MRI Inc. for this monthly survey to gauge Acadiana residents' expectations of the condition of the local economy. Using a random telephone poll of 350 Acadiana residents that asks questions on subjects such as local unemployment rates and purchasing trends, Gale and Carson will be analyzing the results to provide an economic forecast for Lafayette and all of Acadiana. Beginning next month, the ACCI also allows us to look at how Lafayette stacks up in comparison to national economic indicators. Gale and Carson provide an in-depth explanation of the project and its initial findings, beginning on Page 14.

Complementing the ACCI is data from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, the Acadian Home Builders Association, the state Motor Vehicle Registration Service and other sources on economic indicators, with accompanying analysis from The Ind's Leslie Turk. The ACCI and this expanded business section will appear in the fourth issue of each month. As patterns and trends emerge from the ACCI's monthly findings, we'll also be compiling comprehensive quarterly and annual reports to put the index's results in perspective.

Most importantly, the ACCI isn't just for the business community. If you're a reader whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of economic data, keep in mind that the local and national economy is often driven by any number of factors, such as the political climate. So the random phone survey provides a snapshot of how our community is feeling about local and national issues ' another reminder that good business coverage is ultimately about people, not just numbers.