Energy’s downturn and the loss of thousands of oil and gas jobs since 2014 remain a drag on the Acadiana economy, economic officials said Thursday, before they delivered the day’s upbeat news that another high-tech firm would set up shop in Lafayette.
Restaurant app maker Waitr will open a technology center in Lafayette, creating 100 software engineering jobs that will pay an average of $55,000 a year, Lafayette Economic Development Authority chief Gregg Gothreaux and Louisiana Economic Development head Don Pierson said. Waitr founder Chris Meaux said the company now offers its restaurant menu and delivery services in three Louisiana cities, including Lafayette, and in Houston and Brazosport, Texas. Meaux said the Lafayette center will help the company expand to the East Coast.
Waitr will join three other high-tech firms that have moved to Lafayette in the past two years and helped bolster an economy that is sagging under the weight of a depressed oil and gas industry.
“It’s safe to assume Lafayette’s economy would still be booming had it not been for the collapse of the global energy market,” Gothreaux said to more than 500 people who attended the LEDA 2016 State of the Economy event, put on by Lafayette business magazine ABiz. Thursday’s luncheon marked the fifth annual LEDA event.
Energy economic indicators are all down: 13,700 jobs in the Lafayette area are gone, including 7,100 direct oil and gas jobs; drilling rig counts are down to less than a fourth of June 2014 numbers; oil trades at less than half of what a barrel sold for two years ago; and natural gas prices have fallen 58 percent in two years.
Gothreaux said the job losses were in the five parishes that make up the Lafayette metro area — Lafayette, Iberia, Vermilion, St. Martin and Acadia. He said some of those who lost energy jobs have been able to find work locally, at lower pay, or in the industrial sectors in Lake Charles and Baton Rouge.
As bad as the economy has gotten, he said, it still pales in comparison to the mid-1980s, when Louisiana had much more of its economic resources tied up in oil and gas.
LEDA numbers show that in the 1980s, one in five jobs in Lafayette was directly in oil and gas. Now it’s one in 10. Back then, 70 percent of Lafayette’s economic output was indirectly or directly in energy. Now it’s 45 percent.
“Think back to 1986, when the bottom fell out,” Gothreaux said. “The Lafayette economy didn’t even see the light of day until 1990, and didn’t really get going until 1994, four to eight years after the collapse.”
He also highlighted the companies that have located in Lafayette, and those that have announced they’d soon be here, including: a FedEx distribution center in Carencro; new Super 1 Foods stores in Scott and Youngsville; company headquarters for environmental cleanup company ATC; and the many retail outlets that comprise Ambassador Square Center.
Lafayette’s growing high-tech sector also is shoring up the area’s economy. Waitr will join technology firms CGI, Enquero and Perficient — which located here in 2014 — along with Lafayette’s longtime firms that have employed technology in energy, jewelry and health care. Gothreaux said the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s nationally renowned computer science programs and its graduates have been instrumental in attracting the firms.
Pierson, who heads up the state’s economic recruitment arm, said Louisiana must train workers for a 21st century that will reward intellect over brawn.
“Robots and people in foreign lands are going to be doing the menial work,” he said.