Retail Record

by Leslie Turk

Lafayette Parish retail sales soar 15 percent in 2006.

The unprecedented impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Lafayette Parish's retail sector continues, with retail sales in 2006 hitting the $5 billion mark for the first time in history, toppling last year's $4.35 billion record by a whopping 15 percent. The immediate effect of the storms in late 2005 sent retail sales soaring almost 14 percent over 2004's figure, and beating 2005 by 15 percent is yet another remarkable accomplishment, maintains City-Parish President Joey Durel. "These kinds of increases are abnormal and due in large part to the rebuilding efforts," he says.

Durel believes that factor may have permanently expanded the retail base, which should pay dividends for years to come, but he predicts smaller increases and a possible leveling off over the next few years as rebuilding abates. Expectations for sustaining this level of growth are unrealistic.

Even before the storms, however, sales in the parish had been climbing steadily ' albeit by much smaller margins ' since 2002. "The five-year trend has been entirely positive, with retail sales increasing from $3.6 billion in 2002 to $5.0 billion last year," says the Lafayette Economic Development Authority's Gregg Gothreaux. "Looking back even farther, in the last decade sales have steadily grown since totals reached $2.8 billion in 1996, with only two years seeing a decrease," he notes.

According to The Louisiana Economic Outlook: 2007 and 2008, the Lafayette area took in about 34,336 evacuees after the 2005 storms, and about 4 percent, or 8,960, have remained in the community. The publication's co-authors, economists Loren Scott and James Richardson, derived those figures from postal records.

Sales at mid-year 2006 were actually outpacing 2005 by 25 percent but began to taper off in the last few months ' the possible result of displaced people returning home or relocating elsewhere. December's sales, in fact, were down slightly, falling from $499 million in 2005 to $492 million last year.

Durel says retail sales increases since 2002 indicate Lafayette's economy was expanding before the hurricanes accelerated the pace. "People were moving into Lafayette before the storms, and the storms just exposed what Lafayette had to offer to a lot of people and brought a lot of positive attention to our area."