Acadiana business leaders met Friday morning to look ahead at the 2019 legislative session and discuss Louisiana's business climate.
Several big issues will be decided in the upcoming session, issues that could have a big impact on local business people, according to Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
Waguespack spoke to about 50 people gathered at the Cecil Picard Center in Lafayette for the annual legislative breakfast conducted by One Acadiana.
Economic issues will top the agenda during the next legislative session, Waguespack said, and Acadiana will be the focal point.
The 2019 legislative session begins April 8.
"People are worried about jobs and security," he said.
Because Acadiana has been the spearhead of the state's economic downturn, he said, there will be a bounty of people trying to convince voters here that they have the best plan to bring jobs here.
"With 5 percent unemployment, Louisiana is the third worst in the country," Waguespack said.
Even more concerning, is the 58.7 percent workforce participation rate. "It's the seventh-worst in the country," he said. "And recent years mark the lowest participation rate since the 1970s. We've lost people who are leaving the state for jobs."
Left behind is a higher percentage of people who are not working for some reason, which includes retirees and children.
Some of the economic problems the state has brought upon itself, Waguespack said, and that has hampered its economic recovery the past couple years.
The industrial tax exemption program, which Gov. John Bel Edwards modified by executive orders, tops the list. The tax exemptions, once decided at the state level, are now being decided at the local level.
"Now what we have is chaos," Waguespack said.
Local entities are denying more tax exemptions, he said, because they don't have a full understanding of the cost and benefit of such exemptions.
"The program helps Louisiana overcome perennial challenges," Waguespack said. "ITEP kept us in the game when we were competing with other states."
The biggest issue with ITEP is not that it was put into local hands, said Troy Wayman, CEO of One Acadiana. "The biggest issue is that there were no instructions."
Waguespack also made a case for lawsuit reform.
"We have created a very profitable car-wreck industry, a jackpot justice culture," he said. "Why do you think we have the highest car insurance rates, almost double the national average? When you factor in businesses that don't invest in the state because of the liability, lawsuits cost every Louisiana household about $4,000 per year."
To accomplish reforms that LABI says will benefit Louisiana's businesses, the organization is encouraging business people to run for elected positions. So many business people think they are not qualified to run for office, Waguespack said.
He said LABI is conducting boot camps across the state to encourage people to run for office. With a goal of training 200 people this year, he said the organization has already trained more than 130.