(Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories in a series detailing growth into the suburbs from New Orleans.)

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005



LAPLACE – For those who have moved out of the big city in search of suburbia, you can expect to continue having more company.

With the continued exodus of the population from the New Orleans area, heading both north to St. Tammany Parish and west to the River Region, population totals continue to grow in the suburbs and decline in the inner city.

And the trends that have occurred for years running appear to be showing no signs of changing.

Even though St. Tammany Parish continues to be the fastest growing parish in the state, there does not appear to be any change in that pace, even with the River Region of St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes just to the west offering much of the same environment.

“I just don’t see any big changes in the current trends,” said UNO Associate Dean for Research in the College of Business Janet Speyrer. “The big rush continues to be north to St. Tammany, and even though the River Region offers a lot of the same qualities, there just isn’t as much of a change to head west.”

Still, the growth in the River Region continues at a steady pace, with the growth in St. Tammany continuing to explode.

In the past three years of reported population numbers, Orleans and Jefferson parishes reported a total loss of 18,649 people.

Meanwhile, both St. Tammany and the River Region continued to grow.

The only difference is that the explosion of population numbers in St. Tammany shows no signs of slowing down, even though the area continues to draw plenty of headlines for the struggle to manage that growth.

Infrastructure needs, as well as drainage woes, face public officials in St. Tammany. But even with those challenges facing them, and the housing industry absolutely out of control with growth, the people continue to come.

“The difference in St. Tammany and the River Region is that St. Tammany has now done a very good job of providing the services to allow people to come there, and really live there with most everything they need,” Speyrer said.

“I remember years ago when people in St. Tammany used to come to the south shore to have their babies.

(See Growth, Page 5A)

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But you don’t see that nearly as much anymore since they have excellent medical facilities with everything they need on the north shore,” she added.

As the New Orleans area has lost nearly 20,000 people in the last three years, there has been a net growth of 16,475 people in St. Tammany. That growth has been steady over the past three years and growing.

In 2003, St. Tammany grew by 5,964 people, in 2002 it grew by 5,701 people, and in 2001 it grew by 4,810 people.

To the west in the River Region, the total growth over three years for St. John, St. Charles and St. James was 3,221, compared to the 16,475 for St. Tammany alone.

“The River Region is still close enough to Jefferson Parish that many people feel like they have gotten out of the city by going to Jefferson,” Speyrer remarked. “That is why the growth is still not taking off like St. Tammany, even with St. Tammany getting so populated.”

In the River Region individually, St. John has experienced the greatest growth over the three year time span.

They gained 1,772 people in three years, with St. Charles gaining 1,281. St. James continues to barely show any growth with only 168 more people after 2003 than they had after 2000.

Heidi Charters, the Tourism Research Analyst for the UNO Business and Economic Research department, said the growth might finally slow down if the exodus from the Big Easy opens new opportunities back in the city.

“People still view St. Tammany and the River Region as a lifestyle change for the schools and the perception of suburban safety,” she explained. “But at some point, due to gas prices to commute, or the lack of land to build on, you might see it reverse when central city land gets cheaper.

“But for now the growth should continue for both areas, probably at the same rate it currently is moving,” she added. “I think St. John and St. Charles have a marketing opportunity partially since it is easier to get to their area, and that is something they might try to take fuller advantage of.”