St. Tammany Parish saw a boom in commercial building permits in the third quarter of 2014, and economic development officials believe that growth and other positive trends continued through the end of the year.

Compared with last year’s third quarter, commercial building permits jumped this year by 69.3 percent, fueled by an especially active July, when 44 permits were issued compared with 18 for the same month in 2013.

For the year, commercial permits were up 4.5 percent through the end of September, and the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, which issued the report this week, predicted a strong fourth quarter.

Don Shea, economic development director for the parish, agreed with that assessment. He said he is hearing increased talk from property owners about seeking building permits or pursuing zoning changes, signs that he said point to continued growth.

St. Tammany also is on the radar of developers who may not have been aware of the area previously, he said, including a Lafayette-based company that he said is actively scouting 50-acre sites for a mixed residential and commercial development.

The parish is becoming a premier location for companies, fueled by St. Tammany’s affluence, good schools and low crime.

Shea pointed to Rain CII Carbon LLC, a company that chose Covington for its headquarters after deciding to leave Texas to return to the New Orleans area, and Pelican Energy Consultants of Madisonville, which chose the area over other locations.

Shea predicted that by the next census in 2020, St. Tammany will have gone from the state’s fifth most-populous parish to third, surpassing Caddo and Orleans.

Residential building permits decreased slightly compared with the third quarter in 2013, but year-to-date permits were up 11.4 percent and, like commercial permits, were especially strong in July, which saw a 27.5 percent increase over July 2013.

Sales of existing homes were also up from last year by 10 percent for the quarter and by 6.1 percent overall for the first three quarters of 2014.

The third-quarter report also showed employment growth was 2.5 percent higher than for the same period in 2013, and while third-quarter unemployment was the same for both years at 5.3 percent, it was still lower than the statewide and national rates, the report said.

“Our parish has done well,” the report said, singling out the growth in commercial permits and employment. “Residents and visitors bought more, stayed in more hotels and contributed more to the growth of our economy and the stability of our businesses.”

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