Loren Scott, professor of economics at LSU's Ourso College of Business, gave Acadiana business leaders a reason to be optimistic Wednesday morning when he presented his annual economic outlook for the region.
Scott spoke at a breakfast event presented by One Acadiana and IberiaBank.
It's hard to overestimate the damage the oil price collapse in 2014 did to the Lafayette economy. The region lost 21,600 jobs since 2014, a whopping 10 percent decline.
The pain was possibly felt more acutely because it followed a period of incredible growth. From 2011 to 2014, Lafayette had experienced a remarkable recovery from the Great Recession of 2009 and set national employment records, adding 14,200 jobs from 2011 to 2014.
Even as prices have risen since that precipitous drop in 2014, and the rest of Louisiana has added jobs over the past couple of years, job growth while Lafayette has continued to decline.
“The Louisiana economy emerged from a 28-month recession in late 2017 that cost our state over 23,000 jobs,” Scott said. “It was odd in that most of the losses were in the oil patch — Lafayette and Houma — while the Lake Charles MSA was the fastest growing MSA in the entire country.”
Scott said Wednesday the Lafayette MSA seems to have hit the bottom of the cycle and he pointed to indicators that the area will soon begin to add jobs. His report predicts 1,400 new jobs in 2019 and a more robust 4,900 new jobs in 2020.
August brought the first positive job number in Lafayette since 2014.
In addition, Scott said, the key to revival of Lafayette's economy is resurgence of activity in the Gulf. He predicted that oil prices should rise from $65 a barrel this year to $80 in 2020. Three years of price growth and predicted growth for the coming two years is enough to inspire confidence and renewed investment in the Gulf exploration and extraction, he said.
While the past few years were bad for Lafayette, Scott said it could have been much worse if the area hadn't diversified significantly after the oil slump of the 1980s.
Lafayette is fortunate to have six large firms that have diversified the economy away from just the energy sector, and all are doing quite well, Scott said.
Stuller Inc., the nation’s top manufacturer of jewelry settings, is now at 1,250 employees and adding jobs at about 2 percent per year.
LHC Group, now the nation’s second largest provider of home health services after an $850 million acquisition of Almost Family, will add 500 jobs to the company’s 700-person workforce in Lafayette. Over the next five years another 400 jobs are projected.
CGI, an information technology company, is running ahead of its hiring schedule with 400 jobs by the end of this year and another 400 by the end of 2020. Salaries are at about $55,000.
Schumacher Clinical Partners, a provider of ER and hospitalist services to hospitals, just finished a significant merger that brought its Lafayette employment to 505.
Waitr opened in May 2017. Waitr provides online and mobile software solutions and partners with local restaurants to provide home delivery. At last report, the company had 100 software/tech jobs in Lafayette and 100 drivers. The company was recently purchased for $305 million by the owner of the Houston Rockets, but early indications are that the purchase will not affect its Lafayette headquarters.