Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It’s no surprise that Lafayette Parish has experienced tremendous population growth and community/business
development over the past decade.

It’s been said that a community grows or it dies. Without balanced growth of all kinds — population, infrastructure, housing, community initiatives, etc. — a community cannot reach its full potential.

No doubt you’ve seen media coverage of the decline of urban areas such as Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. Economic struggles, such as these communities are facing, are not unknown in Acadiana. However the issues that are negatively impacting many communities across the country today — changes in population, employment and business base — are changing for the better in Lafayette and Acadiana.

Last fall, The Daily Beast website (owner of Newsweek) named Lafayette one of 20 recession-proof cities in the nation citing employment, per capita income and area GDP. Unemployment rates in Lafayette have remained well below state and national numbers, improving over the post-recession spike. Per capita income is on a steady incline (almost $7,000 more than the Louisiana average).

Data from the 2010 U.S. Census shows Acadiana is a high-growth area, where the overall growth in Louisiana was slow compared to other states. Lafayette Parish grew by 16 percent during the past decade, with all of the municipalities in the parish experiencing growth. Population growth is an economic indicator that has an effect on many levels of the region’s economy. Population numbers affect the region’s ability to attract businesses and retailers. It affects the level of state and federal funding the parish may be eligible to receive for infrastructure and other projects. As more industry, services and resources emerge in Lafayette as a result of population growth, that prosperity spreads to other areas in Acadiana creating a domino effect of success.

To think that a city, whose population has grown by 16 percent, can maintain the status quo without new development (infrastructure, commercial, housing) is illogical. Expansion and development present enormous opportunities for progress in a community and for its residents. Everything from health care and education to traffic, quality of life and economic opportunity are all affected by decisions made by government, business leaders, community advocates, entrepreneurs and others. When communities approach future development with a plan, they foster community buy-in and civic participation while creating an environment conducive to economic success.

One of the attributes of a successful community is having an economic engine in place that builds on the idea of agglomeration — clustering of complementary businesses to increase productivity and lower the cost of doing business. As these commercial corridors flourish, they strengthen the broader regional economies to which they are closely connected.

Traditionally, this type of clustering happens in central business districts. Lafayette’s downtown has emerged as an arts and entertainment district, attracting entrepreneurs and visitors from across the parish, state and country. We’ve seen success from the implementation of the Downtown Master Growth Program. Phase 2 of the Streetscape project was just completed at Jefferson and Johnston streets, creating an aesthetically pleasing entrance into our downtown. This clustering can also be found throughout the parish for specific industries. Oil and gas service companies dominate Highway 90 in Broussard. River Ranch and the Stirling Shopping Center on Louisiana Avenue are home to numerous lifestyle and retail businesses. The Oil Center, anchored by Lafayette General, is a hub for health care services in the parish, as is the Ambassador Caffery corridor with Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Regional Medical Center of Acadiana, and the soon-to-be-opened Our Lady of Lourdes.

In March, Yahoo ranked three Lafayette Parish communities — Youngsville (1st), Lafayette (9th) and Broussard (12th) — among the 20 Best Places to Live in Louisiana. The list was derived from median household income, educational attainment and property crime rates. It’s no surprise to me that these communities have also experienced tremendous population growth and community/business development over the past decade.

Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel summed it up well when he said, “It takes a complete community to be a great community, and I believe Lafayette is that complete community ... A community does not stay stagnant; it either grows or dies, and growing is better no matter how you look at it.”

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