Acadiana Business

Lafayette gains 2,700 jobs in 2010

by Leslie Turk

Yet another economic indicator, job growth, is supporting the resilience of the Lafayette metro. The Lafayette metro gained 2,700 jobs in the past year, many of those coming from the oil patch, according to Thursday's report by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Once again the numbers prove that the BP disaster and ongoing drilling moratorium did not have near the impact many feared, as Louisiana's oil jobs rose by 6,500 over the year ending in January, the LWC's figures show.

Another key economic indicator, retail sales also increased slightly in Lafayette Parish last year. And despite an uptick in the January unemployment rate to 6.8 percent from 5.6 percent in December, some of which is cyclical, the jobless rate in the metro remains well below the state's and national averages.

The LWC noted that the state gained 9,500 non-farm jobs in January compared with January a year ago. Private-sector jobs increased 18,900 and public jobs dipped 9,400 - most of that loss, surprisingly, in the New Orleans area. Economist Loren Scott told the Associated Press that the statewide drop of 9,400 state and local government jobs may be the biggest he's ever seen:
"If you had to guess what metropolitan area that would be concentrated in, most people would say baton Rouge, because that's where state government is headquartered, and two state universities are located. But government employment in the Baton Rouge area rose 300," he said.
New Orleans, "the next place you'd look," lost 1,700 government jobs. "That leaves an awful lot left over - and it's not clear where those losses were," Scott said.
More government losses are likely on the way, as Gov. Bobby Jindal announced today a proposal to eliminate 4,000 state jobs - half of which are currently filled - and Baton Rouge could be hard hit this time.

Five of the state's eight metro areas posted increases. Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and Monroe sustained losses. Houma, another oil dependent metro, led the state's growth, picking up 3,800 jobs. Scott had predicted major significant losses for both Lafayette and Houma when he presented his economic outlook in October.
"Both Lafayette and Houma not only had job growth, they had good job growth. Houma had off-the-charts good job growth - they increased 4.2 percent. This is very different from what we anticipated," Scott said Thursday.

He wasn't sure where the jobs were coming from. One possibility is that oil and gas companies already are hiring people to plug nearly 3,500 nonproducing wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are no longer used.
"My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that's going to cost about $3.8 billion. That's a lot of money," he said. But he didn't know whether that was happening.

Read the AP story here.

Back in October, Scott did not think the Obama administration's new requirement that all Gulf of Mexico oil wells and platforms not in use in the past five years be inspected, re-capped and dismantled would have much of a net impact here. There are some 3,500 abandoned wells and 650 oil platforms affected by the measure.

"It will create jobs in some sectors, but remember it is a direct hit to the bottom line of exploration companies - dollars they could be using more efficiently for exploration purposes," Scott said at the time. "While good news for some service companies, it is totally bad news for the exploration side. It is a demand also based on bad science. They want to reduce risk of environmental damage especially during storm season.'  Katrina and Rita came right through the heart of the offshore industry - not a single major spill." Scott called the mandage "just another attack by the Obama administration on the fossil fuels industry."

Scott, who in October predicted the Lafayette metro would lose 3,800 jobs in the next two years, in large part due to the drilling moratorium, had reversed his job loss prediction by late February. Scott now expects a gain of 2,500 jobs over the same period, or an uptick of just under 1 percent each year. He delivered that message last month at an awards breakfast for top performers at Van Eaton & Romero Real Estate.