The past year and a half have been tumultuous for communities across the U.S. Here in Acadiana we have seen an economic slowdown, but 2009 was a year of some exciting developments in Lafayette’s business community. From our burgeoning film industry to continued medical and banking growth to expansion into alternative energy, Lafayette is poised to hit the ground running when the national economy begins its upswing.
Film and Digital Media
Since 2008, film production in Lafayette has had an economic impact of more than $50 million in Acadiana. This includes production of Disney’s Secretariat; Fight or Flight, which filmed locally in early December; and several projects by Bullet Films such as Dunwich Horror and Judgment Day. In addition to being a filming location, Lafayette was home to Disney’s editors, normally stationed in Los Angeles, during the shoot. Disney set up an editing suite in Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise to take advantage of Lafayette’s technology infrastructure. Another result of the Secretariat project is the announcement by Pixel Magic, a California-based special effects firm, of the opening of its Louisiana studio at LITE. The company plans to create 12 jobs within a year, ramping up to a total of 40 jobs in three years. Pixel Magic should have an economic impact of $4.4 million over the next three years.
Another positive note is Lafayette’s resilient housing market. Lafayette Parish housing sales have outperformed 2008 numbers in four of the last five months, and total sales through November are less than 1 percent behind 2008 sales. The number of new construction sales reported through November is nearly 3 percent greater than in 2008, illustrating the ongoing demand for newly constructed homes. Another good sign for the local housing market is the supply/demand ratio. There is a 6.1 month supply of housing, which is right on target in a balanced housing market.
Earlier this summer I wrote about the thriving medical and health care industry in Acadiana. In this time of slowed job opportunities, health care remains Lafayette Parish’s top employing industry with 19,700 individuals employed in health care in October. Construction at Our Lady of Lourdes’ new campus continues, and Lafayette General Medical Center began its $70 million total hospital renovation project in October. Just this month, Lourdes opened the Grossman Burn Center, offering expanded critical health care to residents and neighbors of Acadiana. LHC Group provides nursing, rehabilitation, hospice and long-term care in 18 states and was included in the Forbes Top 10 Small Public Companies list for the third consecutive year. Just last month, Dr. Kip Schumacher, president of the Schumacher Group, was recognized by this publication as the Entrepreneur of the Year. His company, specializing in emergency department staffing and management, is operating in 19 states serving 2.7 million patients annually.
For the past year, the Acadiana Alternative Energy Committee has been exploring options to position Lafayette and Acadiana as leaders in the alternative energy industry. In addition to hosting a monthly lecture series, the committee has analyzed regional strengths for alternative energy production and the recruitment of alternative energy businesses, as well as identified strengths to build upon including existing energy infrastructure, a well-trained workforce, natural resources, and ample expertise in renewable energy technologies at UL Lafayette. Another sign that alternative energy is viable in Acadiana is the success of UL Lafayette’s Team BeauSoleil at the Solar Decathlon. The team won the Market Viability and People Choice Awards in the worldwide competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home.
Finally, the local banking environment is another economic strength in Acadiana. Healthy banks are critical for our economy to function properly. The Nov. 25 issue of The Independent featured a story on IberiaBank’s recent acquisition of two banks in Florida and the positive impact it had for stockholders and Acadiana’s overall banking community. Acadiana’s community banks remain strong, offering a measure of financial stability to the region’s economy.
With all of these positives, there is one large uncertainty hanging over Lafayette’s economy — the potential of federal legislation eliminating billions of dollars of incentives from U.S. natural gas and oil producers and the passage of Cap and Trade legislation that will deal a blow not only to Louisiana’s energy industry, but potentially to every business with ties, direct or indirect, to the industry. A few months ago, I wrote about this topic and the impact it could have on our economy. As of now, Congress has not taken any action on the bill, but it is forthcoming. Until then, many energy companies are tightening their belts and continuing to be cautious when it comes to new exploration and production projects. I think most people will agree that Lafayette and Acadiana have been spared the worse that 2008 and 2009 brought to many communities around our nation. In the true entrepreneurial and wildcatter spirit of our community, many businesses wisely took this slowdown as an opportunity to refocus their efforts for the future. That will be the key as we look to 2010 and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Gregg Gothreaux is president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.