Lafayette business leader says economy back to peak

The local economy has regained a historical peak reached in 2007, erasing the losses of a two-year national recession followed by an offshore drilling moratorium after the 2010 BP oil tragedy that put the brakes on in the oil patch, a Lafayette business leader said Thursday.

“We had literally the strongest year in the history of our community,” Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux said, referring to the banner year of 2007. “We are there again.”

Gothreaux offered the upbeat assessment during his annual “State of the Economy” speech. It was based on an index developed by LEDA that takes into account a wide variety of economic indicators, including retail sales, home prices, employment figures, building permits and bankruptcies.

The index marks August 2007 as the historical peak, a high point capping the flush years after Hurricane Katrina that was held only briefly before the national recession set in at the end of year.

The recession was just easing when the federal government implemented an offshore drilling moratorium in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Lafayette’s economy never tanked, but the impact was felt. Home sales and retail activity dipped, while unemployment ticked up.

Unemployment is now at 3.3 percent for the Lafayette metro area, lower than Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lake Charles and Shreveport, according to the most recent figures from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Retail sales have rebounded, and the Lafayette Parish real estate market had a record year in 2013, outpacing sales from the last record year of 2007, according to listings reported to the Realtor Association of Acadiana.

Gothreaux ticked off a long list of recent economic gains for the area, such as information technology company CGI’s announcement in April that it will build a center here employing 400 high-tech workers and plans by Bell Helicopter to boost its presence in Lafayette Parish with an additional facility.

There was much good news, but Gothreaux also called on Lafayette’s business leaders to get more involved in efforts to improve the community beyond the bounds of the business world.

“Even in the best communities, there is room for growth and improvement,” he said.

Gothreaux decried the temporary signs that clutter the city, most of which are illegal under local law, as well as Lafayette’s littering problem and what he characterized as unattractive gateways off Interstate 10 into Lafayette marred by old tires, trash, high weeds and abandoned buildings.

He cited a recent survey that put Lafayette’s rate of volunteerism at only 18.4 percent, below that for Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport.

“We can and must do better than this,” he said.