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Local leaders in various sectors of the economy participate in a panel discussion during The Acadiana Advocate's 2020 Economic Outlook Summit Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, La.

Guarded optimism prevailed at last week’s Economic Outlook Summit, an annual gathering of business leaders and community stakeholders presented by The Acadiana Advocate.

Optimism is justified.

Start with this, to the good:

Health care is driving local growth, with more high-pay jobs available.

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Higher education is poised not only to educate today’s students, but to recover college careers of those who dropped out short of completion.

The local 55 by 25 effort, initiated by One Acadiana, holds this goal: Develop a workforce with 55% of its people educated with college degrees, certificates or high-value training credentials. That would make a powerful workforce.

Small businesses and “micro” businesses have ample infrastructure to guide their successes and advise their strategies. Fancy yourself an entrepreneur? There’s local help.

To the downside is this: The oil and gas industry languishes — not nationally, but here. The rig count in Louisiana remains at 60, down from 190 a decade ago. For those who’ve spent their lives either drilling or in related oil and gas service industries, that’s a sting that stays.

It’s more than the lingering job losses — a rig may represent some 300 jobs — but it’s a blow to our culture. Acadiana people have worked the oil patch for 12 decades; they’ve worked offshore since the ‘40s. Generations of local families are invested in a broad range of energy activities in south Louisiana: drilling, pipelines, refining, service industries. Now energy slips in local impact.

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This, too, is a downside: Area business leaders and stakeholders are holding open the door to educational attainment, but not everyone is passing through. The goal is 55% with degrees or certifications; the reality is 38 percent. Much work remains.

Others saw 2020 with an economy in flux:

Ed Jimenez, vice president of Business and Economic Development for Entergy, said the company plans to improve systems first so that new companies can more easily come here. Good thought.

John Bordelon, president and CEO of Homebank, said we ought to expect more bank mergers. More churn.

Richard Zuschlag, chairman and CEO of Acadian Cos., said his company continues to seek new opportunities, including providing security for those growing legal marijuana and home health care. New possibilities.

Ours is not a backwater economy. South Louisiana's hubs — New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette — are the state’s bright economic lights. We stumbled with oil’s downturn but stayed upright. Again.

Our history says we should be optimistic, not cocky, not yet. Someday, maybe that, too.

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