Lafayette ranks near bottom on nationwide city performance index

Large piggy bank broken with a piece laying on a person
Illustration by Peter DeHart

The gist: Lafayette lags far behind other American cities in job creation and retention and economic growth. The city ranked 196 out of 200 cities measured in the Best-Performing Cities index created by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank.

Louisiana falling behind. No large city in Louisiana faired well on the list. Baton Rouge ranked 145 and New Orleans 189 overall. The study parses data for job and wage growth through 2018, and takes a pulse of gains in the technology sector. Here are Lafayette’s individual performance rankings:

200: 5-year job growth from 2012 to 2017.

189: 1-year job growth from 2016 to 2017.

200: 5-year wages and salaries growth from 2011-2016.

200: 1-year wages and salaries growth from 2015-2016.

186: Short-term job growth from August 2017 to August 2018.

Lafayette ranked among the top 25 on this same list in 2015, before the bottom dropped out.

The tech sector may not be able to save us. Milken ranks Lafayette 136th on 5-year high-tech growth from 2012 to 2017, and the city’s relative concentration of high-tech businesses ranked 166th. These figures predate the latest big announcements from CGI and Waitr, but those will likely only foster modest gains in next year’s rankings.

Who’s the Milken Institute?  It’s an independent economic think tank that’s been publishing the Best-Performing Cities Index annually since 1999. The group is legit, and the data used in this analysis comes from the federal government. These aren’t results that can be ignored.

Not all bad news. This week saw the release of data showing that Lafayette Parish’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent, the same as the national U.S. rate. Lafayette Parish taxable retail sales for 2018 were also released bringing more good news as they topped $6 billion, which is the second highest year on record.

What’s really going on? The news that retail sales are up and unemployment is down give hope that the economy is on the rebound. But data from rankings like Milken’s show just how deep the hole we’re in is. Yet within these rankings is also proof that Lafayette has the potential to get back to the top, where it was once. The question now is, can we build the kind of momentum needed to fully recover the ground lost despite the potentially permanent decline of the oil and gas industry?