UNO economist says lack of job creation will keep Region population moving slowly

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 21, 2005

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



LAPLACE – Whether it is the state of Louisiana, or regional areas like St. Tammany Parish, the River Region or the city of New Orleans, real economic growth will only come through substantial job creation, experts with the University of New Orleans Business School say.

The departure of population from Louisiana is showing a turnaround in recent years, considered a sign of economic stability setting in, but serious growth in any of these areas will take a major change in the job market.

So far that is not happening, said UNO Associate Dean for Research in the College of Business Janet F. Speyrer.

“It is scary to see no high level of growth in employment, whether it is the New Orleans area, or the suburbs like St. Tammany or the River Region,” she said. “We’re doing a little better now, but without the growth in the job market, you will always see our best people leave the area for better jobs elsewhere.”

Population in Louisiana was actually dropping until three years ago.

From 2000 to 2001, the state lost nearly 3,000 people.

But that departure finally changed beginning in 2002 when the state gained 10,191 people, and added 20,142 more by 2003, the most recent year that statistics are available from the U.S. Census Department.

Even with the state struggling to change the previous trend, the outlying areas such as the River Region (St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes), along with the north shore area of St. Tammany, have been growing with the move to suburbia by so many people.

“I don’t see any big change in the current trends, with people still looking for the different lifestyle out west and to the north,” Speyrer remarked. “But the main concern is the migration of our best people out of the state. That won’t change unless we develop a better job market here.”

To that end, the New Orleans Metropolitan region is moving away from solely trying to attract that one or two big industries. Instead, says UNO Dean of Business John Gardner, the move is gaining steam to grow the businesses that are here.

He believes the UNO School of Business is one of the best kept secrets around to further that goal, something he is highlighting when it comes to the image at the New Orleans campus.

“The role of the public university is changing, and now it is more than producing good students. We want to help bring business to this area, and one of the best ways we can do that is to grow the businesses we have here,” he said. “To do that, we have to have the work force to support it, and that is what we are producing at UNO.”

The UNO School of Business is actually the largest business college from Atlanta to Houston, twice the size of LSU.

“We are trying to develop a global entrepreneur program, as well as help grow the businesses we have here already. That will provide the jobs to keep our best people in the area,” he added.

The River Region has suffered by losing industry jobs in recent years, the mainstay of their job market. Meanwhile, St. Tammany continues to be the bedroom community to New Orleans, but is now doing a better job of creating its own job market, Speyrer said.

“St. Tammany has set itself up to capitalize on what they have there. They have the services now to keep people in the area, and you can see they are even beginning to try and attract industry to offer even better jobs on the north shore,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the River Region relies so strongly on the multitude of big industry in the area. However there has been little job expansion from that industry in recent years, and even cutbacks in jobs with some of the businesses.

In St. Tammany, the unemployment rate fell from 4.5 percent to 4 percent in the most recent statistics through early 2004, with major increases in employment for areas such as financial services, information, utilities, enterprises and administration.

St. Charles and St. John also saw their unemployment rate fall in that time, with St. Charles going from 5.9 to 5.4 percent, and St. John going from 8.1 to 7.6 percent.

Meanwhile, St. James continues to struggle most among the River Region parishes, seeing their unemployment rate come down from 11.1 percent, but still remain very high at 10.5 percent.

“Manufacturing, both in durables and non-durables, along with some of the River Region chemical manufacturing is losing employment,” Speyrer said. “We’ve seen gains in government, health care and education, but we need to see those other areas grow as well.”

Construction in the outlying parishes continues to do well, with the steady move to St. Tammany and to the west.

Building permits in St. Tammany continued to break records, with their biggest year ever in 2004 when they issued 3,053 permits for new construction.

Even in the River Region, where total permits are not as high, the construction is continuing with nearly 600 permits issued for 2004.

“The construction will keep jobs in both areas,” Speyrer agreed. “And tourism continues to be a big draw for the entire area. But even that isn’t going to suddenly grow in a huge way. There really is nothing on the horizon that is ready to bring huge economic development. Instead it looks like we should continue to see steady growth, but at a slow pace, and that is something that is a concern.”