2010 income grew in La.

Skip Descant

Advocate business writer

Personal income grew in all eight of Louisiana’s metro regions in 2010, with half of them beating a national growth rate of 2.9 percent, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Baton Rouge was among the four metro areas that fell below the national average, with personal income climbing 1.5 percent to $30.4 billion in 2010, compared with $30.0 billion in 2009. Other metro areas lagging the national average were Monroe, with 2.3 percent growth; Alexandria, 1.5 percent; and Lake Charles, 1.1 percent.

Shreveport led the state in beating the national rate, with 4.1 percent growth, followed by Lafayette, 3.4 percent; New Orleans, 3.3 percent, and Houma, 3.1 percent.

New Orleans remains the biggest earner, bringing in just under $52.5 billion in 2010.

Personal income is defined as all income — including wages, income from property, along with unemployment and Social Security benefits, among other income sources.

Shreveport managed to produce the state’s largest growth rate — rising to $15.6 billion in 2010 from $15.0 billion in 2009 — largely from increased economic activity related to the Haynesville Shale natural gas deposit in that part of the state, said Louisiana economist Loren Scott.

He said the natural gas find also helped lift Lafayette’s personal income to $11.3 billion in 2010 from $11.0 billion in 2009.

“There are a number of service companies that operate out of Lafayette that are handling Haynesville Shale work,” Scott said. “They’ve gotten some bump from that.”

Also, Acadian Companies, a large ambulance, air medical and safety management company in Lafayette, has been involved with safety-related work on oil rigs and pipelines, Scott noted.

“Even though the people are actually working out of state, there’s so much extra business they’ve had to add a lot of back-office jobs,” he explained.

Compared to most other metro regions in the state, Baton Rouge’s personal income growth was fairly tepid in 2010. This is due in part to shrinkage in the Capital Region’s “net earning” — which amounts to the take-home pay workers see on their paychecks. Net earning in Baton Rouge fell $89 million in 2010, compared to 2009, according to BEA report.

Baton Rouge’s job market was stagnant during 2010.

Currently, the region has lost some 1,900 jobs compared to mid-2010, according Louisiana Workforce Commission statistics.

Alexandria and Lake Charles also saw contractions in net earning in 2010. Net earning was down $32 million in Alexandria, which amounts to 0.6 percent. Net earning in Lake Charles was down $31 million or 0.4 percent.

The sluggish Baton Rouge income and employment findings do not jibe with other economic indicators like sales tax collections, said Scott, who has a decidedly rosier view of the Baton Rouge economy.

“I look at our sales tax numbers, and they are growing,” Scott said. “They’re not growing a little bit. They’re growing pretty smartly.

“In addition to that … No. 2, I’m not aware of any major lay-offs, with the possible exception of some in government,” he added. “And No. 3, the real backbone of the economy in this area, which is the petro-chem area, is doing very well.”

In fact, the BEA report shows Baton Rouge personal income, alongside Monroe and Alexandria, growing from 2008 through 2010, while the state’s other five metro areas saw a decline in 2009 from which they recovered in 2010.

In March, Louisiana — like other states — stopped collecting employment data, ceding this job to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency responsible for following employment trends. The changeover was done, in part, to prevent any statistical bias by state agencies and to save money, the BLS reported. State and federal officials have said some inconsistencies could surface during transition months.

“I put all those things together and it makes me think that this transition from us collecting our own data to Dallas collecting our own data, there’s something screwy in the numbers,” Scott said. “You just don’t walk around this community and sense there is something badly amiss.”

The BEA measured income change across 366 of the nation’s largest metro areas. Personal income in the metropolitan portion of the United States rose 2.9 percent in 2010 after falling 1.9 percent in 2009. Personal income growth in 2010 ranged from 10.1 percent in Elizabethtown, Ky., to a 0.9 percent decline in Grand Junction, Colo.

Nationally, earnings grew in the government sector and in 18 out of 21 private industries in 2010. Earnings continued to decline in the construction and real estate industries. A 4.5 percent decline brought construction earnings to their lowest level since 2001, and a 2.1 percent decline brought real estate earnings to their lowest level in the 10-year history for the data.