But area still boasts highest weekly wage in state
St. Charles Parish boasted the highest weekly wage in the state for the fourth quarter of 2010, but that number does not necessarily mean that the parish’s economy is prospering.
In contrast, the parish’s unemployment rate has jumped from 4 percent in 2008 to 7.5 percent so far this year.
At $1,144, parish employers pay more per week than anywhere else in Louisiana, but unemployment rates are still up and average per capita income is down. The parish’s unemployment stands at 7.5 percent now compared to only 4 percent in 2008.
Corey Faucheux, Director of Economic Development and Tourism for the parish, said that the high weekly wage is a positive sign for the parish, but it can be misleading.
“The wage offered by St. Charles Parish employers is still No. 1 in the state…but that in no way correlates to the unemployment rate or per capita income,” Faucheux said. “The wage data only reflects the wages paid by employers in the parish – it doesn’t indicate whether or not that wage is earned by a St. Charles resident or not.”
Another factor is per capita income – the parish’s average in 2009 was $38,154 which is slightly higher than the state average but lower than the national average. And that number is down about .6 percent from the previous year to put St. Charles at No. 12 in the state.
“There has been a slight decrease in per capita income but that is reflective and could be attributed to a number of things,” Faucheux said. “One of the trends that is taking place here in St. Charles is the uncertain national economy has finally trickled down and we’re seeing the impacts over the last couple of years.”
Faucheux said that the economy is not the only factor impacting the parish’s average income.
“We’re seeing over the past couple of years a decrease in the construction sector…but we also have an aging workforce,” he said. “We’re starting to see the impacts of that bubble, if you will, of local workers that came here and started working at a lot of these plants up and down the riverbank in the 1970s and 1980s and now they’re of the age to retire…so you see a lot of those 55- to 65-year old workers getting out of the workforce.
“Those are historically the highest-earning (workers) so once they leave the workforce and take those high earnings with them, they are not always replaced by a worker. Technology and efficiency might mean that only half of workers are replaced and with lower-earning workers.”
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel – Faucheux said that parish businesses have announced about $2 billion worth of projects in the past year which could help lower the unemployment rate and raise the parish’s average per capita income. Included in that total are a $1.5 billion renewable diesel plant that Valero plans to build at their Norco refinery, a $510 million Waterford 3 project to replace both steam generators and the pressure head, and a $200 million hydrogen plant under construction in Luling.
“We do see some positive signs. (Local employers) have announced projects that will not only increase the amount of money they’re spending but also supply some employment opportunities for local workforce,” Faucheux said. “Many of these will be large industrial projects at our local facilities that will not only result in permanent jobs but also in temporary construction jobs over the next two to three years.”
Faucheux said that another positive sign is that more homes are being built in the parish.
“If you look at the permit activity from Planning and Zoning, we’re starting to see more homes being built which indicates that people are now more comfortable in finding a mortgage and committing to it because of maybe a more positive jobs outlook for themselves personally,” he said. “Housing start-ups also indicate that the credit market might be loosening up somewhat.”
Faucheux said that companies have also started building more speculative homes in the parish – homes that have no buyer yet, but that companies feel certain they can sell after building.
“Back in the heyday of the parish’s housing boom, you had a lot of builders starting homes knowing that at some point in time they could easily find a buyer,” he said. “Over the past few years that hasn’t been the case because of the recession, the financial crisis in credit markets and a bunch of other things.”
Overall, Faucheux said that the feeling of economic leaders is optimistic.
“It looks like the worst is behind us and we’re starting to see a lot of positive signs for future growth,” he said.