Adam Daigle, Business Editor of the Acadiana Advocate joined Jan Swift to discuss the biggest business news of 2020 and the Advocate’s upcoming Economic Summit to be held virtually on January 13, 2021.
While our interview last year with Adam focused on the out-migration of Louisiana residents, this year’s interview provides an interesting take on how Acadiana has survived amidst the incredible economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic.
The newspaper industry took a hit in income along with all other industries and for a while, the Advocate staff experienced furlow days and a reduction in staff as the tourism drop led to the cancellation of events and the ensuing drop in advertising dollars. Yet, the Advocate held true to its 178-year-old history and has remained a reliable source of up-to-date news. Adam and his fellow journalists work both virtually from home and in the office as they continue to provide top-notch journalism from offices in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.
The top business story of 2020, of course, is COVID and its impact on the economy. While unemployment never hit the 25% level predicted by LEDA’s Gregg Gothreaux, the region still lost double the amount of jobs experienced after Hurricane Katrina. Tourism jobs in the hotel and restaurant industries were devastated. Yet, the community rallied to support restaurants, even if just for pickup meals, to help keep the industry afloat.
The hotel industry was greatly assisted by the natural disaster wreaked by Hurricane Laura. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, hotel receipts were a mere $1 million; in September and October 2020, hotel receipts registered as one of the best ever at $9 million.
The oil and gas industry took its lumps this year, with the price of oil reaching negative numbers at one point. While our regional economy has diversified and has not experienced as hard a hit as in the past, the loss of the oil and gas folks has greatly impacted our quality of life. Their absence impacts not only the economy but trickles down to support generated for the non-profit sector.
There were big job gains to celebrate. SchoolMint, an educational technology firm, moved here from San Francisco. With the high price of doing business in the Silicon Valley area, Louisiana is an attractive alternative. Another big win for the region was the news of Westfield Hydraulics and the company’s affiliate, Westfield Fluid Controls, making a $5.1 million capital investment to establish a manufacturing facility in Lafayette. This is anticipated to create 67 new jobs with salaries of approximately $50,000 per year, as well as 106 new indirect jobs.
In late December it was confirmed that Amazon is building a 1 million square foot distribution facility in Carencro behind the former Evangeline Downs Racetrack. According to a press release by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, “more than 14,500 small and medium-sized businesses in the state participate in Amazon’s fulfillment network. From June 2019 through May 2020, those Louisiana entrepreneurs recorded a 49 percent growth in year-over-year sales.” Carencro has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years with new subdivisions and retail establishments flourishing. Adam shared that the town will record #300 million in sales in 2020, a first for Carencro.
Downtown Lafayette has made a lot of progress considering the impact of COVID and the resulting economic downturn. Adam thought it would be “the year of downtown,” as there has been great anticipation of the redevelopment work to be done on the old Federal Courthouse site which has been long vacant; the project has been delayed, first due to the need for environmental cleanup and then the ensuing COVID shutdown and demise of the energy sector which altered market demands for more business space in the downtown region. Yet downtown is still diversifying its offerings, particularly with Jefferson Street attracting SugarWolf Outdoor Exchange, Handy Stop Market & Cafe, Designs by Robin, Lilou, a Concept Thrift Shop, and Beausoleil Books. The Advocate’s office is downtown and Adam enjoys getting to know the proprietors of downtown’s stores and markets as they are “populated with regular folks” and not large corporations who don’t have a tie to our region.
The Ochsner and Lafayette General merger is a game-changer, with two giants combining forces to provide more healthcare capability and an expanded residency program coming to our region. Look for lots of construction near the main Ochsner Lafayette General campus in the Oil Center.
Home construction has picked up since 2019. Adam noted that the activity is not attributable to new people moving in, but locals downsizing or upsizing. With interest rates below 3%, its a good time to be looking for a new or different home. The market has seen most sales activity in homes selling at $250,000 or below.
You can register at www.advocate.com for the 2021 Economic Summit to be moderated by Kristin Askelson, managing editor of The Acadiana Advocate and Adam Daigle. Outlook 2021 will be live-streamed Wednesday, Jan. 13, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on TheAdvocate.com, YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope. It will be rebroadcast at 8 p.m. on January 13. The panel includes David Callecod, CEO of Oschner Lafayette General; Gary Wagner, professor of economics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Anita Begnaud, CEO of Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited; Chad Ortte, partner and associate broker with Scout Real Estate, Troy Wayman, CEO of One Acadiana; and Corey Jack, owner of Jack and Associates.