Nationally, the economic statistics continue their post-recession waggle, usually up but often wobbling back a bit on monthly and quarterly reports. Regionally, the states of the South continue to put up stronger numbers, but the overall wobbles still have an effect.
And close to home, in the oil patch of south Louisiana, a plunge in oil prices is hurting the oilfield services industry.
Despite all these cross-currents, there is a steady and positive story out of New Orleans.
True, the national trends still matter, for good and for ill. The day-to-day commuters in the metro area get much cheaper gasoline, even if low oil prices can have an impact on petrochemical manufacturers along the river.
In the city, though, the positives in 2014 were significant.
A wave of new and expanded retail operations and other businesses have added more than 9,000 jobs in the city and boosted sales tax receipts — again. The city estimates a 7 percent increase in 2014 when all the numbers from last year are in.
That’s a healthy rate of increase, and among other things, it’s provided new revenues for City Hall to add to police salaries and otherwise fund public safety. That’s vital to keeping the important tourism business growing and thriving in the city, but it’s also a quality-of-life concern for permanent residents.
In addition to retail, the growth in new knowledge businesses continues, with earlier announced companies like GE Capital adding technology jobs in the city. Construction is also a positive for the city, whether in the expansion of the Louis Armstrong International Airport (13,000 construction jobs over several years) or in continuing health care investments in the center of the city.
All these build on previous years, “on a roll,” as Mayor Mitch Landrieu says, with New Orleans gaining positive rankings in national assessments of business climate and potential for technology industries.
Even growth has its challenges, and workforce development remains an issue. A $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor awarded late last year will help city efforts to expand job opportunities, among other public and private initiatives.
On the ground, literally, a progressive rewriting of the city’s old zoning codes will provide for growth and protection of the city’s historic character. Expansion of the streetcar system also generates development opportunities along transit routes.
That said, just as the national economy will affect visitors as well as local business conditions, the issues of state support for colleges and universities remains a big question mark. If New Orleans and the larger metropolitan area have a future in high-paying technology industries, the workers require investment in higher quality educational opportunities.
That’s why in 2015 we hope that city leaders keep an eye on Baton Rouge, where the Legislature and governor can think about the positive future of the city, or hobble its development by more cuts.