Louisiana, Ascension Parish continue to defy dour economic tides

Gina Zanutto

Despite a lack of economic recovery in many states, Louisiana, specifically the Ascension Parish region, continue to grow in population as well as jobs, business and industry.

“As bad as the economy is, we are extremely busy, and Louisiana is very fortunate,” said Michael Eades, President and CEO of Ascension Economic Development Corporation. “It is very encouraging because there is a lot of activity.”

The United States Census Bureau recently declared Gonzales a mid-sized city, meaning the region contains less than 250,000 residents. The next classification, large city, requires more than 250,000 residents.

“Ascension Parish is divided into census tracts, which include the portions belonging to the city of Gonzales,” Eades said. “Tracts contain a smaller unit, called blocks, and this is the lowest level of data used to measure and arrive at these numbers.”

Census data are collected to accurately reapportion congressional seats in the House of Representatives via population in a particular state. In the past year, Louisiana lost a single representative, moving from seven to six members.

“As areas grow and shrink, those boundaries have to change to reflect that,” Eades said. “Here in Louisiana, because of Katrina and the loss of population in the New Orleans area, we’ve lost a representative that we’d had for the past 10 years.”

Additionally, census data allocate federal and state money on the basis of population. This money is typically distributed to local governmental entities in individual parishes or counties, depending on the state.

“Theoretically, the more people you have, the more money you should have for the projects you need to complete, like roads, water and other public services,” Eades said.

According to Eades, Gonzales and the entirety of Ascension Parish contain two types of businesses which contribute to the continuing economic prosperity of the area and act as a further population draw. The first type is “one that lives off the population base, income and expenditure patterns.” The second type “creates and sells things to make other end-products,” and “they come because of other factors, like river access.”

“In most cases, there is a direct relationship between the increase in population and the demand for goods and services,” Eades said. “That first type of business is driven by the population factor, which contributes to the buying power of individual companies. One factor increases the other.”

Ideally, AEDC and the parish attempt to recruit a unique third classification of business that draws a wide customer base from other parishes as well as other states.

“There can also be another whole component to the two types,” Eades said. “This would be a store like Cabela’s. The market area is extensive, attracting people from 200 to 250 miles away, but we get the benefits, the jobs and the money here in Ascension.”

Eades explained that the state of Louisiana is extremely dependent on sales tax from those three classifications of businesses to run basic state enterprises like schools, government and public works. However, most other states are dependent on property taxes and other methods of revenue.

“We spend a lot of time trying to keep business here and help them expand, and we recruit new businesses to Ascension,” Eades said.

The AEDC has also observed that between 75 and 80 percent of job-creating companies are those already in the Gonzales area.

“Most of the jobs are already here,” Eades said.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the industries projected to expand as a result of the population increase include: retail salespersons, registered nurses, food preparation workers and service industry occupations. Additionally, Eades hypothesizes that the demand of technical labor will increase exponentially in Gonzales due to the surrounding businesses.

Eades stated that there was not a “typical size” for businesses investing in Ascension Parish. In a single year, the creation of a business that would employ 500 workers usually occurs once a year, whereas businesses employing 50 to 100 people are far more common. Eades and the AEDC suggest that new companies with a staff of 10 people or less will bring the most jobs to the parish.

“The competition for businesses employing 500 guys is extremely intense both in the parish and in the state,” Eades said. “Organizations bringing in 50 to 150 employees are the bread and butter of this parish. Four, five or 10 people, as small businesses, are where the gross numbers are.”

Compared the to other states, Louisiana has a wide variety of economic development incentives.

“The great thing about Louisiana is that if you create one taxable job, there are incentives for you,” Eades said. “This state understands that every single job counts.”