When you’ve taken a hit like Louisiana’s oil patch did in the middle of this decade, from over $100 a barrel for oil down to $50 or $55, it means rebuilding economically.
The good news is that Acadiana is doing just that, diversifying its traditional oilfield service base with high-tech businesses and commercial development.
That was one of the prime takeaways from The Acadiana Advocate’s first economic summit in Lafayette Tuesday.
The optimism about the future was palpable, but it was cautious, too. Even approaching five years since this oil bust began, many families are still hurting from its effects, or have had to relocate for work.
But what is working is tangible and promising, like the expansion of tech-based businesses like CGI and Waitr in Lafayette recently announced.
"We're seeing a lot of positive things. Are we where we were before the bottom fell out in the oilfield? No, but we're making significant progress," said Troy Wayman, president and chief operating officer of One Acadiana. "We are cautiously optimistic about the diversification of our economic base in the region."
The leaders of business and finance gathered by The Advocate for Tuesday’s session at the Picard Center inevitably focused on the issues that every region in the state and in fact the country face. These include business uncertainties caused by the long economic growth pattern of the last decade — no one knows when there might be a significant correction — or the immediate problems caused by a trade war with China and other nations.
In the latter case, Louisiana is more sensitive to tariff wars because of the impact on agriculture as the state is a big exporter, and also because pipelines and petrochemical plants are big consumers of steel.
We agree with Phillip May, president and CEO of Entergy Louisiana, that "the sooner we resolve these tariff issues, the better off Louisiana and the United States will be."
At the same time, there are good signs as funding for higher education has stabilized after a decade of cuts. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is the elder statesman of higher ed in the state and focused on talent development — including the need for support for students to finish their degree or other credentials after high school.
The jobs of the future require formal education beyond high school and we agree with Savoie that completion rates need to improve, so that Acadiana’s workforce can be poised to take advantage of the opportunities now opening up.
Louisiana is not out of the oil and gas business by a long shot, either, but as energy leader Bill Fenstermaker noted on the panel, technology is advancing in that field every day.
The insights of the leadership panel ought to guide decisions made in the coming year to push Acadiana and Louisiana forward.
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