HAMMOND - Employment has rebounded in the five-parish area east of Baton Rouge after 16 consecutive quarters of decline, according to the Southeastern Louisiana University Business Research Center.
Livingston, St. Helena and St. Tammany parishes all showed increased employment for the first quarter of the year, said Herb Holloway, research economist with the center.
Tangipahoa and Washington Parish were down for the quarter, but showed increases in employment for March compared with March 2011, according to the center's data.
Overall, the five-parish area showed a 2 percent employment increase for the first quarter. That represents 4,411 additional people employed.
The data also show that employment in the area rose 1 percent from the previous quarter.
Employment growth was highest in St. Helena, which showed a 4.6 percent increase in parish residents who are employed compared with the same quarter last year.
Among the larger parishes, Livingston showed a 2.3 percent increase and St. Tammany increased 3.3 percent.
When compared with the first quarter of last year, the number of employed people declined 0.4 percent in Tangipahoa Parish and declined 1 percent in Washington Parish.
Peak employment for the five-parish area came in the fourth quarter of 2007 and then fell to a low point in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Unlike the area as a whole, Livingston Parish didn't hit its peak until the fourth quarter of 2008, but reached its low point at the same time as the overall area.
Livingston Parish employment in the first quarter of this year not only rose compared with the first quarter of last year, but also showed a 1.6 percent increase when compared with the fourth quarter of last year. That's an increase of 850 people employed.
Though the numbers represent parish residents who are employed rather than jobs in the parish, the number of jobs in Livingston Parish also appears to be increasing, said Randy Rogers, president and chief executive officer of the Livingston Economic Development Council.
He said he is seeing retail expansion and some manufacturing increases.
The manufacturing increases are a few jobs at a number of sites, he said, adding that the number of inquiries by potential businesses is also up.
Completion of the widening of Interstate 12 will provide another economic boost to the parish, Rogers predicted.
He said he believes Livingston Parish has turned the corner on its economic problems.
Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said construction and sales tax revenue are picking up, but his parish still needs to add about 2,500 to 2,700 jobs.
"The workforce is out there," Burgess said.
Though Tangipahoa's first-quarter numbers weren't as good as those of the whole five-parish area, he said he expects the second-quarter numbers to show an improvement.
"We're going to see a turnaround," he said.
Holloway said the business center's numbers show that the five-parish area entered the recession later than the nation and employment also has been slower to return.
One factor that helped in the beginning was that, "We didn't have the subprime mortgage-induced collapse of many other regions," the economist said.
The other, he said, was the construction boom that followed Hurricane Katrina. However, the overbuilding that occurred "in the frenzy following Katrina" eventually resulted in a major slowdown in construction.
By far, construction jobs suffered more than any other type, Holloway said.
Jobs in the area suffered from the BP oil leak, and the area didn't get the employment boost that coastal areas got from the cleanup, he said.
"Our regional economy is less dependent on manufacturing than most areas, and more dependent on education, which suffered later as state government revenues fell," Holloway said.
Education "doesn't rebound as quickly as traditional industries when the economy turns around," he said.