Faucheux: Area stable by diversity, metro area expansion
While the declining petroleum industry continues taking a toll on the Louisiana economy, St. Charles Parish is situated to weather it through a diverse industrial base and shared growth as part of the New Orleans metropolitan area.
“We’re gelling in a way that we haven’t seen for the entire metro area in quite some time when considering all the positive regional momentum that we’ve witnessed, not only the positive stuff on the North Shore, but the airport and billions spent to improve the infrastructure of the city of New Orleans,” said Corey Faucheux, director of the St. Charles Parish Department of Economic Development and Tourism. “It is carrying over to the River Parishes and the industrial boom that has happened with all the projects announced between Baton Route and New Orleans.”
Faucheux calls the parish “the best kept secret in the region with a strong and healthy tax base, having withstood what some of the other areas have experienced.”
It shows in the numbers, particularly recently released unemployment numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Overall, unemployment ha declined in the New Orleans metro area having fallen to 4.7 percent in December of last year compared to 6.4 percent in December of 2014. Metro areas directly dependent on the petroleum industry – Houma, Lafayette and Shreveport – all showed highest job losses in the state and more are being announced as the price of oil per barrel remains low.
When comparing parishes in the New Orleans metro area, St. Charles Parish ranked among those with lowest unemployment in this same time period. The parish rate fell to 4.5 percent from 6.2 percent, putting it among the region’s stronger performing parishes of St. Tammany, 4.2 percent; Plaquemines, 4.4 percent; Jefferson, 4.5 percent, and Orleans and Bernard, both at 5.1 percent. Parishes in the metro area with higher rates are St. John, 6.1 percent, and St. James, 6.6 percent.
Faucheux said the parish’s unemployment was affected by jobs lost in industrial construction and service-related fields, although he remained optimistic about Monsanto’s proposed $1 billion expansion at its Luling plant site, Entergy’s Little Gypsy plant expansion in Montz and Motiva’s pipeline project to connect its Norco and Convent sites.
Not all the news is good in the metro area, however.Noranda alumina plant in Gramercy announced in January a possible temporary shutdown from declining orders and a tax dispute, which could result in 444 layoffs.
But for St. Charles Parish, Faucheux remains optimistic.“The forecast for this sector is very positive, at least for the local level, and that doesn’t take into account the projects announced that got a lot of press along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where a lot of those folks also work outside of the parish,” he said.
Faucheux said an estimated third of parish residents work for major employers like Dow, Monsanto and Shell while most of the rest of them work outside the parish.
But he also pointed to jobs gained in growth sectors, including 300 new workers in nursing care needed at facilities like assisted living facilities and 400 new jobs in engineering services, as well as expansion in the pipeline and transportation industries.
Faucheux also pointed to growth in Esperanza Business Park in Luling with the recently completed Blue Bell ice cream distribution center, the neighboring Sunbelt new office and the future Beaed location, an industrial identification product company servicing the heavy industrial sector.
He also foresees continued growth in engineering and testing services, noting the parish has four to five testing labs.Much of the growth in St. Rose is the result of the more than $800 million airport expansion in New Orleans.
“I can’t help but think it will bring growth to St. Charles Parish,” Faucheux said. “We will work with the city of New Orleans and Aviation Board. I think the airport is key for the entire New Orleans area, and we’re very happy to see that new terminal finally start construction because I think it’s vital to the future of, not just the greater New Orleans area, but all of South Louisiana.”
This is another indicator, he said, that makes the parish not only a good place to visit, but to also do business.“For the first time tin my tenure with St. Charles Parish, the region is working together in a way to capitalize together on all those economic opportunities,” Faucheux said. “That even extends to the small business sector, such as the Edible Enterprises in Norco, the only food based incubator in the New Orleans area. Who would have thought New Orleans would be a digital hub for gaming with some calling it ‘Silicon Bayou.?”
Faucheux said, despite the legislature capping tax credits for the filming industry, he’s still getting calls from scouts looking for shooting sites even some people have lost jobs in this industry in Louisiana.