Gary Wagner

Gary Wagner is an economics professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Gary Wagner is a professor of economics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is also the Acadiana Business Economist/Board of Regents Support Fund Endowed Chair in Economics. He previously worked for the Federal Reserve.

I grew up in northeast Ohio about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It was a pretty normal Midwestern childhood in the sense that I played a lot of sports year-round with other kids in the neighborhood and cousins. I would say my parents were probably the biggest influence in my life. They were always very supportive of whatever my brother and I were doing at the time.

I was a first-generation college student so I don't think I had my eye on bigger things when I started my career as a professor because I really did not know what to expect. I taught at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Duquesne and University of North Carolina. Moving around to some other universities has taught me a few things: First, other opportunities are available for anyone who is willing to work hard and does a good job; second, every place does things a little bit differently so I've tried to borrow the good lessons from all of the great people I've been lucky enough to work with over the years.

The UL position was attractive for several reasons. First, I see it as a blend between a traditional academic position (teaching, research, service) and the public role that I am working to develop to help strengthen UL's presence in the community and state. Believe it or not, it is pretty rare for a university to have a position that mixes these roles together. Second, I am the inaugural holder of the Acadiana Business Economist Endowed Chair position so that gives me a great deal of flexibility to mold the position rather than being forced into a direction that was established by someone else.

The obvious weakness in Acadiana's economy is that we are still very dependent on the oil and gas industry. So while the industry offers very competitive jobs in terms of wages and benefits, the industry as a whole is very cyclical which means that Acadiana experiences more ups and downs than some other regions whose economies are based on less volatile industries. On the advantage side, I have been extremely impressed by the extent to which business and community leaders in Acadiana are willing to come together to find solutions to our region's challenges. 

The tax structure in Louisiana is fairly unique relative to other states and, unfortunately, it can be an obstacle to growth. As an example, we have two layers of administration for collecting sales taxes — one at the state level and one at the local level — so it is much more costly for us to collect the same amount of revenue as our neighboring states. In addition, sales tax rates often vary quite a bit within the same parish so this likely influences where existing firms and potential firms decide to locate and try to grow.

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