Before Adam Knapp began to riff through a long series of slides about the regional economy, the president of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said that he wanted to focus on data and not boosterism.
That turned out to be something of a challenge, because the numbers are so positive — even more so than last year, and it is marking a number of milestones, including new records of employment.
BRAC’s survey of business owners also reflected the data, with majorities of respondents saying that they expected to hire more people in 2015 or spend more on equipment and other capital assets. Most are bullish on the prospects for their businesses.
Even if Knapp went out of his way to avoid sheer glee at some of the slides, available on BRAC’s website, the presentation showed significant increases since the national recession began to subside. Few people around the country in Knapp’s job could present as rosy a prospect.
The Baton Rouge area trends above the state as a whole by various measures of economic health. The nine-parish region ought to hit 400,000 jobs this year, and the BRAC forecast is that jobs will increase more next year.
An energy boom is obviously helping, as industrial construction adds to employment and helps to boost sales taxes for local governments. BRAC is forecasting a 2.3 percent growth rate for 2015, followed up with a 2.1 percent growth in 2016. Major industrial expansions or locations continue.
That would mean around 9,000 new jobs in 2015 and approximately 8,400 new jobs in 2016, a total of 17,400 new jobs in the next two years, Knapp said.
Even if not all the slides were unalloyed good news — a drop in oil prices can cause problems in petrochemical manufacturing, Knapp noted — he said the general trends continue to hold. Even an uptick in the official unemployment rate may reflect more people re-entering the workforce post-recession, he said, and unemployment filings have fallen, a sign that longer-term joblessness is down.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population of the Baton Rouge metro area in 2012 at 815,000. BRAC projected the area’s population will range between 835,000 and 855,000 by the end of 2016.
There are also problems of success. Companies seeking large-scale office space — about 10,000 square feet and up — are finding fewer available buildings for open-plan forests of cubicles. That’s somewhat crimping BRAC’s style in recruiting new white-collar jobs in the region.
If 2015 looks a lot like this year, then every parish in the region should see an increase in employment, Knapp said. The productivity of workers and companies continues to rise, with the output of goods and services up 24 percent since 2009 — well above the national output growth of 17 percent.
This is a PowerPoint that a chamber of commerce doesn’t get every year, and we hope that its positives prove the shape of things to come for the capital region.