The Baton Rouge metro economy is projected to add between 5,000 and 9,000 jobs in 2016, continuing the steady pace of growth that has been going on for several years.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s annual economic outlook, released Wednesday, projects job growth between 1.4 and 2.2 percent for the upcoming year. The report is based on data analysis and a survey of BRAC members.
The growth forecast is slightly lower than the 3.5 percent job growth that happened in 2014 and the 3.3 percent growth that has occurred through the first nine months of 2015. But Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of BRAC, noted that the 2015 forecast projected 2.5 percent job growth for the year, a number that has already been surpassed through the first three quarters.
“We are vastly outperforming what we thought,” Knapp said. “Seeing consecutive years of above 3 percent growth is incredibly good.”
All of the nine parishes in the metro region are projected to see job growth in the upcoming year, ranging from as little as 0.9 percent in East Feliciana to the 3.6 percent forecast for West Baton Rouge.
The metro region hit a record for total nonfarm employment in September, when there were 407,400 people working in the region. Since 2013, employment growth in Baton Rouge has outstripped the state and national average, along with the average for similar-sized Southern cities, such as Austin, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; Columbia, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City; Mobile, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
At the same time, people working in metro Baton Rouge have been bringing home more money. Since 2005, the median household income has risen 27 percent to about $53,000 a year. That’s better than the 22 percent increase that has happened statewide since 2005 and the 15 percent national increase.
“This is a really good sign that there are more earnings. It gives a sense of consumer confidence in the area economy,” Knapp said. “It also shows that there are going to be more opportunities for retail and consumer expenditures with businesses across the Baton Rouge area.”
Fifty-eight percent of the businesses that participated in the survey said they plan to increase hiring in 2016. Seventy percent of local companies said they expect revenue to rise over the next year, and 43 percent plan to increase capital expenditures.
The percentage of businesses that plan on increasing capital expenditures in the upcoming year is down from the 53 percent response that happened in the 2015 survey. Knapp said the decrease in companies looking to buy equipment and make other improvements may be due to concerns about what low oil prices are doing to the Louisiana economy.
For the first time since the 2013 report, businesses said transportation/traffic issues were the biggest obstacle facing the Baton Rouge area. Sixty-two percent of the companies surveyed called the frequent traffic jams the main problem in the area, while 49 percent said the biggest problem was a lack of good public school options/cost of private school tuition. Workforce issues, which businesses had said were the main problem for the past two reports, ranked fourth with 37 percent.
“If we do not see the Baton Rouge area addressing transportation concerns, it is going to hamper the opportunity for future economic growth and the ability to see us continue to enjoy the economic expansion that we are having,” Knapp said.
Another factor that makes transportation more of an issue is the number of jobs in the metro area are growing at a faster rate than the population. More people need to move into the area to solve some of the workforce issues, like a shortage of workers with “soft skills,” such as punctuality, dependability and being polite to customers.
“We are going to continue to be aggressive at economic development activities, but if we do not have corresponding investments in workforce, education and transportation infrastructure, we are not going to be able to enjoy this growth on a sustained level,” Knapp said.
BRAC wants to avoid a situation occurring that pits economic development projects against fears they would make traffic worse. “We should hope for our citizens to be able to have access to the jobs wherever they are so they can live and work anywhere they choose across the region,” Knapp said.