Lafayette’s $10 billion economic problem

You may have read headlines about how Lafayette led the nation in job losses. Or how we had one of the fastest-shrinking economies. Or how this March marked our 38th consecutive month of year-to-year declines).

But the magnitude of the challenge we face is striking when you look at one number in particular: the GDP of Lafayette’s metro area over the last few years.

In 2012, it was $27.8 billion. By 2016, it had dropped to $20.6 billion. If instead we had grown at the same rate as the U.S. economy, our GDP should be above $30 billion.

That means our local economy is missing a staggering $10 billion in GDP.

No wonder we’ve lost almost 25,000 jobs, more than $5,000 in household median income), and thousands of dollars in average home sales price over the last few years all while restaurants and retailers shut their doors.

When I discovered this stat, I was stunned by the depth of the hole we’re in and dismayed by the magnitude of the challenge we face in getting out of it.

After finding this information out, I started sharing it with friends over the last few months and noticed a troubling pattern in their responses. College graduates were worried about being able to begin their careers here. Veteran professionals were anxious about finding opportunities to advance their careers here. Folks were approaching retirement unsure if Lafayette is the best place to finish their careers.

That’s multiple layers to the same fundamental problem: People are losing faith in Lafayette.

Which brings me to the primary reason for my dismay with the situation our economy is in: the birth of my first child, Josephine “JoJo” Daily, in February.

Having a child forces you to start thinking about the future in a new way. My wife and I chose to live and raise a child in Lafayette because we love it here. But this town is at risk of no longer being the place we fell in love with.

Our economy is already down billions. And yet it could get even worse if this degradation in confidence continues unchecked because it creates a cycle of disinvestment.

Put simply: we need to replace $10 billion in local GDP in the next five years so we can limit the damage to only a single decade of lost economic growth or risk losing an entire generation.

Because otherwise, at some point there just won’t be enough money to pay for great festivals and restaurants. There won’t be as many creative, forward-thinking people. There will be even less economic opportunity to attract and retain our best and brightest. There won’t be enough tax revenue to support infrastructure. The list goes on and on.

An economy and a community’s confidence in itself can only take so much of a beating before it starts changing the nature of the community. And that thought scares me as I want my daughter to know this town as I’ve known it. And I also want to leave it better for her when I’m gone.

It’s for this reason that I decided to start this column — to shine a light on the many issues related to this $10 billion economic challenge we face and work through a way out of it.

Because I, for one, refuse to believe that this is the new normal for our community. And I don’t think we can afford to sit back and do business as usual. The challenge we face is too great.