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 New Orleans area led the state in nonfarm job gains over the 12-month period through March.

The New Orleans area added 8,500 nonfarm jobs, followed closely by the Baton Rouge metro area’s 8,000 jobs, the Louisiana Workforce Commission reported Friday.

“There are a number of factors driving this, and what they all add up to is that we are entering what’s most likely the greatest growth phase that New Orleans, and really Louisiana, has seen in about 40 years,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc.

Job growth will be strong and sustained thanks to 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 New Orleans-Baton Rouge 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.

New Orleans is also benefiting from growth in a less traditional economic segment: technology. The metro area is the fastest-growing technology market in the United States, Hecht said. Meanwhile, the traditional stalwarts, trade and tourism, remain strong.

New Orleans employment grew 1.6 percent to 551,000 nonfarm jobs.

Although New Orleans added the most jobs, other areas experienced stronger growth rates. Baton Rouge grew by 2.1 percent to reach 391,200 jobs. Lake Charles posted the strongest growth rate in the state at 3.1 percent, adding 2,800 jobs. Houma-Thibodaux grew at 2.7 percent, or 2,600 jobs.

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

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

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.”

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:

NEW ORLEANS: A 10,100-job gain in the private sector was offset by a 1,600-job drop in state, federal and local government 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 percent a year ago.

HOUMA-THIBODAUX: The private sector added 2,400 jobs, and local government added 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.

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. Professional and business services 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.