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Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

Column: Boomtown isn’t booming

Line chart increasing until arrow breaks
Illustration by Peter DeHart

During this past election season I heard claims made that Lafayette’s economy was “booming” and that people were “flocking” here. But when I look at the data, what I see is an economy that’s limping along. 

At best we’re treading water. And I fear that local boosterism risks creating a false sense of security that breeds complacency at a time when Lafayette can’t afford to be resting on its laurels.

Last week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released GDP data for counties and MSAs — metropolitan statistical areas — for 2022. Here’s how we stacked up from 2017 to 2022:

GDPUS (trillions)Louisiana (billions)LFT Parish (billions)LFT MSA (billions)
2017$19.6$239.8$13.7$21.1
2018$20.6$256.4$14.6$22.4
2019$21.5$257.0$14.8$22.5
2020$21.3$236.1$14.4$21.7
2021$23.5$263.1$15.4$23.2
2022$25.7$291.9$16.7$24.9
Total % Change31.2%21.7%21.6%18.3%
Gross Domestic Product, 2017 to 2022

On the surface, these numbers don’t look too bad. But this data represents GDP using current dollars. Another measure of economic output is real GDP, which takes inflation into account. When we look at those numbers, a more troubling picture emerges:

Real GDPUS (trillions)Louisiana (billions)LFT Parish (billions)LFT MSA (billions)
2017$19.6$239.8$13.7$21.1
2018$20.1$245.2$14.4$22.0
2019$20.6$246.3$14.4$21.8
2020$20.2$228.8$13.8$20.9
2021$21.4$234.0$14.25$21.2
2022$21.8$231.2$14.29$21.0
Total % Change11.2%-3.5%4.1%-0.4%
Gross Domestic Product with inflation, 2017 to 2022

While the U.S. economy grew, the economies of both Louisiana and the Lafayette metro area weren’t just stagnant, they actively shrank. 

Lafayette Parish’s economy grew, but at less than half the rate of the U.S. economy as a whole. If our parish economy had grown at the same rate as the U.S. average, our real GDP would be $1 billion higher. Our MSA’s GDP would be $2.7 billion higher.

To give those big numbers some context, on a per capita basis that’s the equivalent of roughly $4,000 less money that went into every person’s pockets in our parish in 2022 than would have if our economy had just been average. 

The same reality check comes when we examine U.S. census data to look at whether people are actually “flocking” to Lafayette. 

Area20102020% Change
United States308.7M331.4M7.3%
Louisiana4.5M4.6M2.2%
Lafayette MSA466,750478,3842.4%
Non-LFT MSA245,172236,631-3.4%
Lafayette Parish221,578241,7539.1%
Lafayette120,623121,3740.6%
Youngsville8,10515,92996.5%
Broussard8,19713,41763.6%
Carencro7,5269,27223.1%
Scott8,6148,119-5.0%
Unincorporated77,12781,7616.0%
Population growth, 2010 to 2020

“Flocking” is a good way to describe what’s been happening in Youngsville and Broussard. And Carencro arguably deserves that descriptor as well.

But “fleeing” may be a better way to describe what’s happening to cities like Scott, as well as the other parishes in the Lafayette MSA, which have been losing an average of almost 1,000 residents per year.

And the rest of Lafayette Parish is stagnant at best. With unincorporated areas slightly under the national average, and the city of Lafayette’s growth flatlined.

So the only parts of Lafayette people are “flocking” to are three suburbs that hold less than 16% of the parish’s population. 

What this all means is that, at least according to the data, Lafayette’s economy isn’t “booming” and people aren’t “flocking” here. 

I think it’s essential that everyone reading this who cares about Lafayette let this reality sink in for a moment. Not to become dismayed. But instead to become inspired. 

One of Lafayette’s greatest threats is complacency. If people believe our economy is booming, why should anyone be pushing to do anything different or better than the status quo? 

But that’s clearly not what’s going on here. If we want an economy that’s booming and a community that people are flocking to, the status quo isn’t working. It’s not good enough to get us where we want to go.

Moving into the new year, that’s where I’m planning on spending more of my energy in this column. Focusing on concrete ways in which we can improve our economy and make our community more attractive.

Because in order to move our community forward, we can’t accept the status quo. We can’t be satisfied with a stagnant economy that’s struggling to retain and attract young people as being good enough.

My wife and I have chosen to live in Lafayette and raise our child here because we love this community. Because we believe in this place. Both in what it is today and what it can become tomorrow. 

But to realize our community’s full potential we must demand more. We have to hold our leaders accountable. We have to be honest about the challenges our community is facing. And we have to set higher standards for our collective success.