042119 Lafayette population

The population of Lafayette Parish has grown every year since 1989, which could be a sign that the local economy hasn't been hit as hard by the recent oil downturn as it was by the oil bust of the mid-1980s.

Local leaders have talked about the diversification of Acadiana's economy for decades now. In the 1980s, the region's economy was about 72 percent dependent on the oil and gas industry, according to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. Today, it's only about 30 percent dependent.

"Diversification absolutely has something to do with it," said Brittany Deal, LEDA's director of strategic analysis. "We're able to keep more of our population in Lafayette even when there's an oil downturn."

From 2017 to 2018, Lafayette Parish's population increased from 241,534 to 242,782, or by about 0.5 percent, according to recently released U.S. Census population estimates.

All of the surrounding parishes — Acadia, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion — saw small decreases in population during the same time frame.

Lafayette Parish's population has been outpacing surrounding parishes for decades.

From 1980 to 2018, Lafayette Parish's population grew by about 62 percent — or from 150,017 to 242,782. The closest competitor for growth in the surrounding parishes is St. Martin, which saw about a 33 percent increase in population from 1980 to 2018.

That could be due, in part, to the explosive growth in the southern portion of Lafayette Parish.

"Over the last 10 years or so, Youngsville and Broussard's growth has really impacted the overall parish's growth," said Stacey Zawacki, LEDA's manager of communications and public relations. "It's really been their growth that's helped to boost the population overall of Lafayette Parish."

David Dismukes, executive director of LSU's Center for Energy Studies, said the population growth in Lafayette Parish isn't surprising because the way oil companies operate has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

Oil companies are less likely to lay off people in large quantities just because the price of oil drops, he said.

"There's still volatility in the industry, but it's a lot more stable than it has been historically," Dismukes said. "Companies have made big investments in training their staff because the technologies are more complicated now. And they're less liking to lay people off because of that and because it creates a negative connotation of their company and the industry overall."

Lafayette Parish's economy is now primarily reliant on four industries — oil, tourism, healthcare and technology. 

And although 30 percent of the region's economy is still reliant on the oil sector, the downturn of the industry in recent years hasn't had the same impact it had in the 1980s.

"Retail sales and home sales are up," said Zawacki. "And that tells us that people are living here but not working here necessarily. They may be going to Lake Charles or Houston or somewhere else to get that oil job, but they're still living here and spending money here."

Follow Megan Wyatt on Twitter, @MeganWyattACA.