N.O. ranks 2nd for recession recovery

After a year of being ranked as the U.S. metro area that was doing the best job of recovering from the recession, New Orleans slipped down a spot in a Brookings Institute report released Monday. That same report put Baton Rouge near the middle, coming in 47th out of the 100 largest cities.

New Orleans was ranked second in the Brookings MetroMonitor report for the first quarter of 2013, which measures factors such as unemployment, home prices and output, gauged against a city’s lowest economic point.

San Jose, Calif., topped the list for the first three months of the year.

Unlike most other U.S. metros, which bottomed out during the recession in 2009, the low point for the Crescent City economy came after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The massive hurricane recovery and rebuilding efforts provided a boost to the city during the national recession.

“This is an indication that competition is going to be more challenging as the rest of the country comes out of the recessionary cycle,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of GNO Inc. “New Orleans is still very strong, but relative to the national picture improving, remaining No. 1 will take continuing work.”

The fact that New Orleans is among the best cities for weathering the recession shows how far the city has come, Hecht said.

Baton Rouge continued to rank near the middle for recession recovery. Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the number of new construction jobs, thanks to a booming chemical and petrochemical industry, is offsetting the job losses in the public sector.

“I still think we’re at the very beginning of this spike of construction jobs.”

The number of construction jobs in the Capital Region increased by 15 percent in the first quarter. Knapp said that gain was impressive because Baton Rouge already had a bigger share of construction jobs than the average American city.

“We’re predicting even more construction hiring in the second half of the year,” he said.

The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings said in a statement that metro areas are continuing to see a slow, steady recovery. The housing recovery is broad-based and strong and the gross domestic product grew at 1.8 percent during the first quarter, an improvement over the end of 2012.

Metro areas that were among those hardest-hit by the recession saw the biggest improvement in the first quarter, with Phoenix, Detroit and Boise, Idaho, all appearing in the top 10. Cities with a lot of high-tech businesses also fared well, such as Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore.

The weakest-performing cities tended to be in the Northeast, where the recession was less pronounced: Harrisburg, Pa.; Scranton, Pa.; Philadelphia; and Syracuse, N.Y.

The Brookings report also took a look at how much of a role the health care industry played in helping cities recover from the recession. Baton Rouge and New Orleans both ranked in the middle of the pack.

Brookings said health care accounted for 15.5 percent of the job gains in Baton Rouge since the peak of the recession, or just over 2,700 jobs. That put Baton Rouge in the 37th spot.

New Orleans ranked 40th for health care jobs driving the recession recovery. Fourteen percent of the new jobs the city brought in, or just over 13,000, were in the industry.