Happy New Year to the Lafayette, New Orleans and Hammond areas.
Acadiana and the Big Easy just added parishes to their metropolitan statistical areas, making them bigger, while Hammond becomes the centerpiece of a new, ninth metro area for the state that encompasses Tangipahoa Parish.
The big news, though, is Lafayette’s new metro just pushed past the Shreveport-Bossier City area as Louisiana’s third-largest metro population behind the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas.
Lafayette did so through the addition of Acadia, Iberia and Vermilion parishes — raising its population by 68.8 percent and civilian labor force by 56.7 percent.
All those people and jobs didn’t parachute into the Lafayette area overnight, either. They’ve been there for years. Many of them just weren’t counted as part of the Lafayette metro by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics — until now, with new boundaries approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Those approvals were granted on the basis of information compiled from 2013 by the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
New Orleans plus one
As large as the Lafayette metro has grown, it’ll need a few more bowls of Wheaties to catch No. 2 Baton Rouge. It’ll need a train-car load to rival No. 1 New Orleans.
New Orleans, just received an additional parish — St. James — for its metropolitan area. The state’s largest metro included seven parishes before the 2013 population estimates.
That addition of an eighth parish pushes the New Orleans metro population to 1.24 million for 2013 and its civilian labor force for November to 543,775.
By comparison, the nine-parish Baton Rouge metro had an estimated population of 820,159 for 2013, and its civilian labor force for November was reported at 386,560.
The new and larger New Orleans metro “is testament to both the economic vibrancy and job growth in St. James, as well as the growing workforce links between St. James and the rest of the New Orleans region,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc.
“Size of labor shed is a major consideration for site selectors and corporate consultants, so the augmentation to the New Orleans MSA by St. James should help the region attract more corporate investment,” Hecht said.
For a couple of years now, Hecht noted, there has been a “historic industrial expansion occurring in St. James.”
That includes South Louisiana Methanol, which announced plans in March 2013 to build a $1.3 billion methanol plant in St. James on the west bank of the Mississippi. State officials said the plant would employ 63 workers and spin off 374 indirect jobs.
In May 2014, the St. James Parish Council gave the go-ahead for Petroplex International LLC to build an $800 million crude-oil tank farm near Vacherie.
Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Shandong Yuhuang Chemical Co. Ltd., based in China’s Shandong Province, announced plans in July 2014 to build a $1.85 billion methanol complex on the west bank of the Mississippi near St. James High School. Permanent jobs are projected at about 400, and indirect jobs are estimated at 2,365.
Nucor Corp. spent $750 million on a 150-employee plant near Convent that began producing direct reduced iron pellets in December 2013. Early last year, company officials said they will decide by the end of 2015 whether to build four additional plant facilities that would increase investment in the St. James site to $3.4 billion and create more than 1,000 additional company jobs.
Longtime LSU economics professor Loren Scott, who now operates a Baton Rouge consulting firm that bears his name, said he believes Nucor will build at least two of the planned additional facilities.
“The addition of St. James Parish to the New Orleans metropolitan area is going to be very significant,” Scott said. “This is going to make the MSA look really good.”
The small parish will continue to be considered for significant industrial development, the economist added.
“St. James is one of a very few parishes that have open land on the Mississippi River that can handle deep-draft vessels,” Scott said.
Lafayette more attractive
With its addition of three parishes, the Lafayette area now boasts a population of 479,116. That’s 32,645 more residents than those included in the new Shreveport-Bossier City metro, even after that northwestern area added Webster as its fourth parish.
“These numbers reflect the growing significant momentum of the Acadiana region and present an opportunity for us to build on that momentum,” said Jason El Koubi, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re excited that Acadia, Iberia and Vermilion parishes have been added to the MSA and that we are now the third-largest in the state,” El Koubi said. Prior to federal expansion of the Cajun metro, it included only Lafayette and St. Martin parishes.
El Koubi said the new five-parish metro already has benefited from regional efforts to attract new business and industry. He also said $10 million in mostly private donations have been poured into the ongoing Campaign for One Acadiana, an areawide effort to increase development in those parishes and four others — St. Landry, Jefferson Davis, St. Mary and Evangeline.
The aim of that effort, El Koubi said, is to “make Acadiana one of the most competitive regions in the United States.”
Last year, Bell Helicopter agreed to locate a $26.3 million plant in Lafayette and become the first aircraft manufacturer in Louisiana. El Koubi said the operation will create 115 direct jobs in Lafayette and 136 indirect jobs in the area.
Three software development companies — CGI, Enquero and Perficient — are locating facilities expected to create 1,000 direct jobs combined in Lafayette and an equal number of indirect jobs, El Koubi added.
CGI is building a $13.1 million facility to house its employees. Enquero and Perficient are leasing space from, respectively, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Research Park.
Those and other projects in the region are helping to identify Acadiana as “one of the most attractive regions in the country for having both a great business environment and an idyllic family environment,” El Koubi said.
Lafayette’s federally expanded metro area should mean increased money and development for the region, El Koubi added.
“The adjustment effectively moves Lafayette from the (nation’s) 167th-largest MSA to the 108th-largest MSA, a leap of nearly 60 places,” El Koubi said.
“More than anything, this change positively impacts how the Lafayette area is compared to other cities (and metros) nationally,” he said. “Businesses and site selectors often use MSA data as a key screening metric to evaluate market size.
“This improvement is helpful in attracting businesses, particularly those with specific interests related to market size — such as quality of life amenities, workforce availability and consumer demand.”
Richard H. Bremer, president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, was both gracious and philosophical about the Lafayette area’s emergence as the state’s third-largest metro.
“Lafayette is a wonderful area,” Bremer said. “We’ve worked together in the past.”
That cooperation, the Shreveport development leader added, included efforts to have I-49 completed through northwest Louisiana and to points beyond the state line. The interstate highway now runs through much of Arkansas and has been completed as far north as Kansas City, Missouri.
“Believe me,” Bremer said, “we will be big supporters of the Lafayette chamber.” He said that support will include efforts to have I-49 completed from south of Lafayette to New Orleans.
As for efforts to increase development of the Shreveport-Bossier City area, Bremer said, “We’re going to keep doing the things we’ve been doing” to attract business and industry.
The big switch in rankings of the Lafayette and Shreveport metro areas became official this month, according to the fine print buried in a recent report by the BLS on statewide job numbers. Those January employment numbers, however, will not become public until March.
The 2013 numbers showed the Shreveport-Bossier City area — including Caddo, Bossier and DeSoto parishes — to have a seasonally unadjusted civilian labor force of 171,803 compared to the Lafayette area’s 144,332. An area’s civilian labor force includes both those people who are employed and those who are seeking employment.
However, the Lafayette metro’s 2013 figures did not include labor statistics for Acadia, Iberia and Vermilion parishes. Nor did they include statistics for Webster Parish, which joins the Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area this month.
With those additions, the Lafayette metro’s labor force immediately expands to 226,230. Shreveport-Bossier City’s labor force grows only to 189,380.
“Lafayette’s numbers are going to bump up,” Scott, the economist, said. “From now on, when we talk about Lafayette, there’s a lot more territory to cover.”
New kid on the block
The state’s newest metro includes one parish — Tangipahoa — but one with broader regional aspirations.
The Census Bureau estimated Tangipahoa’s 2013 population at 125,412.
BLS officials estimated Tangipahoa’s November labor force at 50,014.
“We’re now competing against other MSAs,” said Lacy Landrum, Hammond’s director of administration. “This helps us regionalize. It helps us reach out to potential (development) partners.”
Landrum said planners in Tangipahoa Parish had known for at least two years the MSA designation was on its way.
“We weren’t really surprised,” Landrum added. “Our census numbers had hit the right threshold.”
Herb Holloway, research economist for the Business Research Center at Southeastern Louisiana University at Hammond, said the new metro will have access to employment and occupational data that is only available at the MSA, state government and federal government levels.
That’s important to business owners, civic and community leaders, as well as government officials, Holloway noted. He said some of that information is released in advance for MSAs.
“Both of these changes will help local governmental and business leaders have a better, quicker gauge of how the local economy is doing and monitor trends in the workforce,” Holloway said.
Those changes are significant, he emphasized, because they “can only help the decision-making processes of small-business owners and startup businesses.”
Hammond’s MSA may be small, but Holloway said it fits OMB’s requirements. He quoted from OMB rules: “Metropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”
Local officials were “very involved with the process a few years back of getting the Hammond-Ponchatoula area classified as an urbanized area,” Holloway recalled. “As seen in the OMB definition …, having an urbanized area is the first step to MSA designation.”
From her city office, Landrum noted the MSA designation does not help an area obtain federal transportation money. She added, though, the urbanized area designation helped open that particular source of funding for the Hammond area.
Though small, the Hammond area received a boost in November 2013, when state and municipal officials announced Crest Industries would build a $15 million galvanizing plant near Robert. The facility was expected to hire 70 full-time employees, spin off another 95 indirect jobs and begin operating this year.
In December 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration agreed to contribute $800,000 toward construction of a control tower at Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.
At the same time, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development kicked in another $750,000, and Hammond handed over another $350,000 for the project.