Forecast: 35,800 new Louisiana jobs over 2 years

Published 3:49 am Thursday, October 8, 2009

After years of a moribund economy, Monroe will add jobs at the fastest pace in Louisiana in 2010 and 2011, while New Orleans will stagger through its post-Hurricane Katrina recovery with the slowest employment growth.

That’s the analysis of university economists who issued a two-year jobs forecast Wednesday.

Louisiana will add 17,800 non-farm jobs in 2010, a growth rate of 0.9 percent, followed by the addition of 18,000 in 2011, another 0.9 percent growth rate, according to the Louisiana Economic Forecast.

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Among metro areas, Monroe will grow fastest on a percentage basis, while Baton Rouge will add the largest number of jobs. New Orleans won’t add enough jobs to reach its 1980 employment levels, the forecast said.

The study suggested the New Orleans area is being shunned by major new business investment because of concerns about levee safety, the large amount of housing out of service since Katrina struck in August 2005 and crime. For now, the local economy is being propped up by $9.3 billion in rebuilding projects.

City officials, meanwhile, are grappling with a projected 2010 budget shortfall of more than $60 million.

“It’s going to be real worrisome after 2011 when those levee projects and those bridge projects start being finished,” said Loren Scott, professor emeritus of economics at Louisiana State University and an author of the study.

Statewide, there are two major wild cards: a proposed federal tax on petroleum production and carbon legislation that could have huge impact on petrochemical manufacturing. If neither passes, Louisiana job growth could be higher than forecast, the report said.

The threat of the petroleum tax, which has yet to be considered by Congress, is already chilling Lafayette and Houma-Thibodaux, the report said. A cap-and-trade proposal for carbon emissions, which faces an uncertain future after passing the House, is of concern for Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, both heavily dependent on chemical manufacturing and refining.

Scott said four areas will be something of a drag in 2010-2011 — New Orleans, Lafayette, Houma-Thibodaux and Alexandria — and four will have impressive job growth — Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier City, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge.

“You have some areas that have a lot to look forward to,” Scott said.

The highlights:

— After losing jobs for seven years, Monroe will lead in percentage of new jobs: 1,900, or 2.5 percent, and 1,500, or 1.9 percent, in 2011. The outlook assumes fruition of the V-Vehicle Co. assembly plant with 1,400 employees, hiring at the Foster Farms chicken plant in Farmerville and a Congra sweet potato plant.

The area is still recovering from the closure of a State Farm Insurance operations center (900 jobs lost) and the Guide Corp. auto headlight plant (800 jobs).

Patrick Petrus, manager at West Monroe-based T.P. Outdoors, a sporting goods store where discretionary consumer spending is key, said he’s pinning his hopes on a turnaround.

“We’ve just hired a few people lately and we’ve expanded,” he said of his family’s business.

— New Orleans will add 3,000 jobs in 2010 and another 2,500 in 2011, a relatively weak figure bolstered by rebuilding. A sagging tourism-convention sector and probable job losses at the Michoud Assembly Facility as the space shuttle program ends will result in the slowest job growth rate over the next two years.

Lingering impacts from Katrina are not the city’s only woes.

Laura Calcagno, a New Orleans-area insurance account manager, blamed a poor education system, the predominance of an unskilled workforce and crime as additional forces keeping companies from locating in New Orleans and pushing some to move out.

“It’s like New Orleans is not going to be rebuilt,” she said.

In a separate report Tuesday, Scott predicted New Orleans would have the slowest growth along the Louisiana-Mississppi-Alabama Gulf Coast over the next two years.

— Baton Rouge will add 4,000 jobs in 2010 and 5,500 in 2011. The region will benefit from $5.1 billion in construction projects and industrial expansion, including a new chemical plant in Plaquemine and a reopened paper mill in St. Francisville. However, the area could face state government layoffs as Gov. Bobby Jindal fights budget problems.

— Shreveport-Bossier City will add 3,000 jobs in 2010, but gain a net 1,200 in 2011, the year its General Motors assembly plant is expected to close, eliminating 950 workers and hitting companies that supply the plant. Boosts will come from natural gas production from the Haynesville Shale formation, the new Global Strike Command to Barksdale Air Force Base and highway construction.

— Lake Charles will add 1,100 jobs in 2010 and 1,700 in 2011 with the expected opening of a riverboat casino, a Shaw Group nuclear components plant and rehiring at Aeroframe, which services aircraft.

— Houma will add 900 jobs in 2010 and 800 in 2011. Shipyards and offshore fabrication companies will provide the bulk of the new jobs. A factor to watch is the proposed petroleum tax.

— Lafayette will add 700 jobs in 2010 and 1,000 jobs in 2011, mostly because of $30 million in construction projects.

— Alexandria will add 600 jobs in 2010 and 600 in 2011. Employment is expected to rebound at the Union Tank Car Co. plant, which cut its payroll during the recession. Recovery of the housing market would benefit the logging and wood products industries and highway construction. On the downside, the report said, no new major employers are in sight.