Gregg Gothreaux had to say it three times before the audience realized its significance.
Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Gregg Gothreaux told the audience at the inaugural May 17 State of the Economy event that his presentation would give them definitive answers about the local economy and used the opportunity to take a playful jab at economists. “Because,” he said, “we all know if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.”
The parish’s chief economic development official led his talk, sponsored by Billeaud Capital Management and Acadiana Economic Development Council, with a few accolades recently bestowed on the area. “Those of you who have seen my presentations know I like to start with some good news,” he said. “And there is plenty of good news out there about our region.”
Gothreaux said just the week before Forbes had released its annual list of the Best Cities for Jobs. “Lafayette ranked as the top mid-sized city for job growth in the nation,” he told the audience. “Not only that but Lafayette was the fourth best city overall in the U.S. with a growth rate of 5.2 percent over the past year.”
That kind of ranking from the respected business publication drew a large round of applause but Gothreaux wasn’t done. He then noted a study published in the Wall Street Journal that showed Lafayette tops in the country in median household income growth, 12.2 percent, rising to $47,000. “And this is my favorite,” he said, “according to a recent Gallup wellbeing poll, Lafayette is the second most optimistic city in the nation.”
What Gothreaux didn’t say then, but what the Cajundome Convention Center audience soon learned, is that all indicators give this city even more reason to be optimistic about the local economy. In explaining how he got to his Economic Performance Index, a dashboard summary that compiles 1,500 data points into 15 key statistics that offer instant insight into the state of the Lafayette economy, Gothreaux incorporated video testimonies from successful entrepreneurs like Marianne Bourgeois, Dr. Kip Schumacher, Tom Cox and Michele Ezell.
“The index is the most accurate reflection of the economy we can produce because it’s seasonally and inflation adjusted, meaning movement in the index is base on actual changes in the economy, or is unbiased over time,” Gothreaux said. “Think of the index as statistics without the smoke and mirrors.”
Gothreaux then broke down the index into leading, current and lagging indicators, all of which is fully explained in his EPI report, published in its entirety beginning on Page 11. For example, in discussing current indicators like retail sales — the others are hotel/motel receipts, average home price and non-farm employment — he noted that 2011 was the second-best year on record. He said retail sales indicate consumer spending and confidence and make up two-thirds of the Gross Domestic Product. “Although retail sales dipped during the national recession in 2009, retail sales have increased 12 percent since then,” Gothreaux said. “Retail sales were the standout economic indicator of 2011,” he added. “In fact, we forecast that retail sales in 2012 should meet or exceed the all-time high of $5.43 billion in 2008.”
On the subject of major job announcements in 2011, Gothreaux said emphatically: “Best. Year. Ever.” He repeated it twice before the audience realized the impact of the statement. “Come on people,” Gothreaux said wryly, “this is what economic development officials live for.”
In 2011, companies announced 2,733 new jobs in the Lafayette area, along with $330 million in capital investment. Most important, much of that job creation and investment will be felt in the next few years — and could be part of what fuels a “Best. Year. Ever.” in 2012. “And those are only the projects recorded with Louisiana Economic Development,” Gothreaux noted.
Brother Abdalla, Brother’s on the Boulevard
“I believe that Gregg’s presentation was one of the best presentations put on by your speaker series. He covered a lot in the short time that he was given. It was an informative, inspiring and uplifting presentation. I liked that Gregg talked about Lafayette being the Hub City at the intersection of I-10 and I-49. I also enjoyed his discussion of the other areas of Acadiana and the support that the area gives to Lafayette. Additionally, his discussion about the drilling and oil business were very informative and gave me insight into our near future. Our local ‘State of the Economy’ looks bright. As he was speaking I was thinking about how fortunate we are to be in Lafayette and in the state of Louisiana. Gregg covered a lot of information in the short period of time, and I could have continued to listen to him speak for another hour. I wish that all of my employees could have been in the audience during his presentation.”
Rob Guidry, president and CEO, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce
“I was thinking that this robust and record-setting economic activity is being accomplished without casino gambling. I was feeling proud that the Chamber of Commerce studied the issue and led a campaign that resulted in the defeat of a ballot proposition to allow casino gambling in the community. It was the chamber’s view that with hard work, attention to bedrock industries and entrepreneurism that Lafayette would steadily grow into this vibrant economic center. There was no need to inject land-based or river boat casinos into the mix. It was not a moral decision but an economic development strategy. Gregg’s report was validating that course of action.”
Rob Robison, entrepreneur, nonprofit board member
“My reaction was one of cautious optimism; statistics and indices are useful but can be a two-edged sword. I was thinking of Robert McNamara’s prosecution of the Vietnam conflict which was in large part waged with the type of technical analysis he learned in the automotive industry. It always seemed to indicate we were prevailing, right up until we weren’t. That being said, I thought it was a very interesting presentation.”
Steve Santillo, Blue Dog Café, Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
“Gregg’s presentation provided a solid foundation in fact for the optimism I have been feeling for the past few months. As the accolades for Lafayette and Acadiana have piled up, I have ‘felt’ our momentum growing. The presentation showed me solid proof that my feeling is real. People are seeing Lafayette popping up repeatedly in the top of national and regional polls, and I believe that we will experience a significant growth spurt as a result. People living in places that have sluggish economies are looking for the opportunity to improve their situation. Acadiana offers the complete package. We enjoy a reasonable cost of living, are seeing increasing job opportunities and have a vibrant culture. When you add our great people, food and music, who wouldn’t want to live here?”