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News + Notes

Economic Outlook: Economist projects modest job growth for Acadiana in 2020

The gist: UL Economist Gary Wagner predicts around 1% job growth for Acadiana this year, a rate that would beat statewide projections but still lag behind the nation. Speaking at The Acadiana Advocate’s Economic Summit Wednesday, Wagner was joined by a panel of business leaders optimistic about the region’s economy going forward. 

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Over the last year, Lafayette’s MSA has seen some of the best job growth since 2013, according to Wagner. “This recent growth is consistent with the long-run average growth in the region,” he said. 

Oil and gas jobs are still down 40% since 2014. And Wagner said growth in oil and gas jobs is flat.

But healthcare has been picking up some of the slack. Wagner believes the industry will soon be the largest sector of the local economy. Oil and gas, once the largest industry in the area, is now fourth.

The biggest risk to his projections is a national recession. The U.S. economy is experiencing a record 126 consecutive months of growth, which is why there’s been a lot of talk about an inevitable recession, potentially soon. If a national recession does happen in 2020, Wagner said it would lower his projections for local job growth.

“We need to create more jobs with higher pay at a faster pace,” Wagner continued, chiming in on a discussion of his research into the causes of severe outmigration patterns in Louisiana. More than 90,000 residents have left the state over the last few years. 

Business leaders are generally optimistic. “With the fall of oil and gas, we should be going down,” said John Bordelon, CEO of Home Bank. “But we’re not because of the resiliency of our people.” 

Hotel/motel occupancy has been rebounding. While not fully recovered from 2014 highs, occupancy has been up in eight out of the last 11 months, according to Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. He credited some of that growth to public investment in sports complexes in Broussard and Youngsville, which have attracted sporting events, and LCVC’s recruitment of events to this area.

There’s still hope for growth driven by Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones are low-income areas where special tax breaks have been designed to encourage investment in development and companies. One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman cited Lafayette General Health’s fund for Oil Center investment as one example. And commercial Realtor Flo Meadows shared her belief that 2020 will be the year to watch for Opportunity Zone investments, citing $500 billion in available capital in the program nationwide. 

Oil execs blamed lawsuits and warned that a slow down in Texas could hurt local companies. Art Price, CFO of Badger Oil, linked an “all-time high” in the number of suits, which seek restitution for environmental damage from decades of drilling, to depressed drilling activity in the state. While the number of oil rigs has doubled nationally since 2015, Louisiana’s share has tanked and failed to recover. Most Louisiana activity is concentrated in the Haynesville Shale and deep waters. Price also warned that a recent bonanza in Texas’ Permian Basin could cool off, potentially hurting the many Lafayette companies that have deployed personnel and equipment there. The bottom line: Price projects 2020 to be more of the same stagnation as was seen in 2019 in Lafayette’s oil and gas sector.

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News + Notes

Lafayette General Health warns that it will stop running UHC unless the Legislature fully restores funding to the hospital

The gist

LGH President David Callecod issued a stern warning to Gov. John Bel Edwards(https://lapolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/UHC-040318-.pdf) that if the Legislature can’t find money to fund Lafayette’s University Hospital & Clinics, which LGH runs on the state’s behalf, then LGH would be forced to stop operating the training hospital and its urgent care clinic. Callecod put a June 30, 2018, deadline, the end of an “anticipated” special session, before LGH would vacate UHC and fire its 800 employees. LGH would also demand a refund of the “unused portion” of its near $16 million in prepaid rent for this year.

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Some background

LGH took over operations of UHC in 2013. Previously, LSU’s medical school had run the hospital as a teaching facility. Under LGH’s management, the hospital still serves as a training ground for the state’s medical residents and as an essential source of care for Lafayette’s disadvantaged. The urgent care clinic at UHC, which LGH opened after assuming control, takes Medicaid payments. It’s one of the only clinics in town that does that. Callecod’s letter notes that the facility served 54,000 patients last year, many of them poor and uninsured.

The takeaway

Callecod signaled this move last month(http://www.katc.com/story/37718147/lafayette-general-health-warns-uhc-will-close-if-lawmakers-cant-find-solution-to-budget-crisis). Gov. Edwards’ proposed budget, announced at the beginning of this year, cut $650 million in state health funding, precipitating this confrontation. While it may not be surprising, it nevertheless shows just how bad things have gotten around the state’s budget deadlock. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics reports that Callecod’s threat is not empty rhetoric. Should LGH follow through, the economic and social impact would be tremendous.

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