Economic development agency One Acadiana on Thursday unveiled six industries that could prosper in south-central Louisiana and steady an economy hit hard by the downturn in the region’s dominant and mercurial energy sector.
Those industries were identified after seven months of research by an Atlanta consulting firm, which laid out the strategy in a 160-page report commissioned by One Acadiana.
The best fits for Acadiana are aviation and avionics; informatics and engineering services; food and beverage processing; business services; marine and other heavy industry; and heritage tourism, a home-grown endeavor that draws on Acadiana’s unique culture.
“(The report) is going to provide a road map over the next few years,” Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, said to a luncheon crowd of about 90 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
El Koubi and his team are leading the nine-parish One Acadiana’s efforts to attract industry to south-central Louisiana, where over 10,000 oil and gas jobs have been lost since the price of oil started to tank in summer 2014.
On Thursday, a barrel of oil scheduled for April delivery sold for above $40, well more than the sub-$30 level earlier this year but far from the $100-plus it fetched in June 2014.
El Koubi in January noted the urgency in luring industry to One Acadiana’s region and said the study Jay Garner, president of Garner Economics, was conducting will help identify what to target.
Garner said his team looked deep into each parish within One Acadiana’s nine-parish region — Lafayette, Iberia, Vermilion, Acadia, Jefferson Davis, Evangeline, St. Mary, St. Martin and St. Landry — to determine the strengths and weaknesses in each. Those results, he said, paint a realistic portrait of the region as a whole and what type of industries could prosper.
Acadiana’s strengths are many, Garner said: fast access to railway, interstate highways, shipping ports and air travel for national trade and international exports and imports.
Other pluses include a skilled and disciplined labor force, including welders and engineers who could transition from oil field jobs; low membership in organized labor, which industry considers a huge plus; a growing number of manufacturing plants, a trend that bucks what’s happening nationally; good vocational schools and populations living close to four-year universities; good air and water; and decent access to bank loans.
And there are some parishes within One Acadiana, such as in Lafayette with LUS Fiber, where residents and businesses enjoy really fast Internet.
“Broadband access is definitely a plus here,” said David Percel, also with Garner Economics.
The Garner team found weaknesses in Acadiana, too: very few industrial sites with enough acreage to attract a manufacturer or the water, sewer and electricity infrastructure to keep such a business going. They also found that high school seniors scored low on college entrance exams compared with the rest of the country. And there’s also a high risk of natural disasters — hurricanes, floods and tornadoes — which drive up insurance rates.
Within each industry that Garner determined could flourish here, there are many individual business classifications. For instance, within aviation and avionics, there are businesses that manufacture navigation systems and jet engines.
Within informatics and engineering, there are companies that design gaming videos, manufacture 3-D printers and other printing equipment, construct and run data centers and Web hosting, and offer scientific and technical consulting services.
Also, there are other industries that could take off from Acadiana’s oil and gas base: machine shops and boat building, transporting freight over waterways, and port and cargo operations.
The last industry highlighted by the Garner report would take advantage of Acadiana’s homegrown Cajun culture and the region’s scenic charms, which could spawn more art galleries and sightseeing tours; pull in more artists, writers and performers; and open more restaurants and entertainment venues.
Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad.