Advocate staff file photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- The New Orleans area economy gained 8,500 jobs over a 12-month period through March. Industrial expansion, technolgioy sector growth and stalwart trade and tourism sectors are driving activity.

The Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas led the state in nonfarm job gains over the 12-month period through March.

The New Orleans area added 8,500 nonfarm jobs and Baton Rouge metro area, 8,000. Baton Rouge had the stronger growth rate, though, 2.1 percent to reach 391,200 jobs. New Orleans employment grew 1.6 percent to 551,000 nonfarm jobs, the Louisiana Workforce Commission reported Friday.

Only two metro areas had over-the-year declines in not seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment: Alexandria, down 400, and Shreveport, down 300.

The Lafayette area added 3,200 jobs, a 2 percent gain. Monroe added 1,000 jobs, a 1.3 percent increase.

The strongest growth rates in the state for the 12-month period were posted by Lake Charles, 3.1 percent, and Houma-Thibodaux, 2.7 percent. Lake Charles added 2,800 jobs, and Houma-Thibodaux, 2,600.

The unemployment rate improved over the year in every metro area and in all 64 parishes, the workforce agency said.

“The numbers show the employment picture improved throughout our state in March,” said Curt Eysink, LWC executive director. “Industrial growth will continue to drive expansion of construction-related training and hiring, but many other sectors are prospering and adding jobs all over Louisiana.”

Gregg Gothreaux, president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, said the area’s growth was driven, not surprisingly, by the energy, health care and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The numbers reflect a strong regional economy and strength in the business base, he said.

A similar story is unfolding statewide.

“What’s driving this at a macro level is that companies from around the country and the world are realizing that they can get more for less in the new Louisiana than almost anywhere else right now,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc.

The state’s growth is going to be strong and sustained because of a number of factors, starting with massive industrial growth fueled by cheap and stable natural gas prices, Hecht said.

Investment in petrochemical and chemical projects in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor has been estimated at more than $40 billion. Economists and oil and gas experts have labeled the growth a manufacturing renaissance and industrial expansion on an unprecedented scale. Construction on many of those projects hasn’t begun, but those projects will generate jobs for years to come.

Statewide nonfarm employment grew by 14,400 jobs, or 0.7 percent, to 1,958,900 in March from a year ago on a not-seasonally adjusted basis. The state unemployment rate for March was 4.5 percent, 1.6 percentage points better than a year earlier but 0.3 percentage points higher than in February. The national rate in March was 6.8 percent.

The breakdown by area job markets included:

BATON ROUGE: An 8,500-job gain in the private sector was offset by a 500-job drop in government jobs, the result of a decline in state and federal jobs, while local government was up.

Construction added 3,400 jobs; followed by education and health services, 1,600; leisure and hospitality, 1,400; manufacturing, 800; professional and business services, 600; financial activities, 500; wholesale trade, 300; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 300; and retail trade, 100. The information sector fell 500 jobs, and other services was unchanged.

Baton Rouge’s March unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, down from 5.8 percent a year ago.

LAFAYETTE: A 3,900-job gain in the private sector was offset by a 700-job drop in state, and local government jobs.

Mining and logging, the category that includes oil and gas extraction, was up 1,000 jobs; education and health services, 1,100; leisure and hospitality, 1,100; manufacturing, 500; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 300; other services, 200; construction, 100; retail trade, 100; and financial activities, 100. The professional and business services sector was down 400 and the information sector, 200 jobs. Wholesale trade was unchanged.

Lafayette’s unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, down from 4.4 percent.

NEW ORLEANS: A 10,100-job gain in the private sector was offset by a 1,600-job drop in government jobs, the result of a decline in state, federal and local jobs.

Leisure and hospitality added 4,100 jobs; education and health services, 2,700; professional and business services, 2,000; construction, 900 jobs; manufacturing 800; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 800; retail trade, 700; financial activities, 700; other services, 700; and mining, 200 jobs. The information sector fell 1,600 jobs and wholesale trade, 800. Manufacturing was down 300 jobs, primarily in ship and boat building.

New Orleans’ unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in March, down from 6.0 percent a year ago.

HOUMA-THIBODAUX: The private sector added 2,400 jobs and local government 200 jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities sector was up 1,300 jobs; mining, 600 jobs; leisure and hospitality, 300; and construction, 200. The unemployment rate was 3.1 percent in March, down from 4.1 percent a year ago.