Livingston economy back on track
By Bob Anderson
Florida parishes bureau
July 31, 2012
Like a train that’s been waiting on a siding, the Livingston Parish economy has begun rolling again.
The speed is hard for passengers to judge from inside the coach, but seasoned travelers can use markers to gauge the progress.
When recession first hit the nation in late 2007, things like employment, construction and sales tax receipts showed Livingston Parish residents they were still zipping down the track, while economic engines elsewhere had begun screeching their brakes.
The influx of people who had fled Hurricane Katrina had created a demand for homes, goods and services that kept Livingston’s economy moving while financial locomotives in many areas were derailing.
Sales tax receipts in Livingston Parish still set records. Job availability remained high both to meet the needs of new residents and to deal with cleanup and rebuilding in New Orleans.
Livingston Parish didn’t hit its employment peak until the fourth quarter of 2008.
Eventually the national freight train of failing and faltering financial institutions forced the Livingston Parish Limited onto a side track.
Sales tax receipts plummeted, the housing market suffered and jobs disappeared.
Now, the Livingston train appears back on the main track.
The latest U.S. Census numbers rank Livingston Parish 37th in percentage of housing growth among the nation’s counties and parishes with more than 5,000 homes.
The value of taxable property in Livingston Parish has risen almost 23 percent since 2008, according to preliminary figures from the parish Assessor’s Office.
In the first quarter of this year, jobs for parish residents rose compared to the same quarter last year, according to the Southeastern Louisiana University Business Research Center.
Sales tax receipts in the parish for the fiscal year that ended June 30 show an 8 percent increase compared to the previous fiscal year.
April sales tax collections were the second-highest ever recorded in the parish, according to Mike Curtis, who directs the Livingston Parish sales tax collection program.
Taxes from vehicle sales, which hadn’t topped $1 million for two consecutive months since 2007, have exceeded that figure for the last three months.
People who bought new cars even get a chance to drive them on the interstate at reasonable speeds now that contractors have widened I-12 to six lanes between Baton Rouge and Denham Springs.
New businesses continue to open at a rapid rate in the Walker area, where a new hospital is under construction. Elsewhere in the parish, commercial growth includes new Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.
South of Denham Springs a new sewer district has just made public sewage disposal available for thousands of people and opened up new development possibilities.
That’s not to say that infrastructure in the parish doesn’t still lag, that the housing market has returned to the level it reached in the months after Hurricane Katrina or that everyone who desires a job can get one.
When trains get halted they take a while to regain momentum. This one hasn’t yet reached the speed at which it whistled down the rails before becoming sidetracked.
Nevertheless, there are enough passing signposts to let people in the passenger cars know the wheels have started to turn.
Bob Anderson is The Advocate’s Florida Parishes bureau chief. He can be reached