The Advocate

The Baton Rouge area is projected to add 5,100 jobs in 2019, with low unemployment, rising incomes and population gains in play.

The assessment was released Thursday as part of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s annual economic outlook. BRAC based the report on its own analysis, a survey of local businesses and by consulting other forecasts, including the one done by economist Loren Scott.

Job growth is projected at a 1.3 percent rate that is slightly higher than the 1.1 percent increase in jobs forecast for this year.

“We’ve had a very good year,” said Adam Knapp, BRAC president and chief executive officer. The organization expects 2018 will wrap up with 15 economic development projects being announced for the nine-parish area.

Knapp said those positive trends are expected to continue into 2019. Baton Rouge employers say they expect to add jobs; business confidence is on the rise; and unemployment remains low.

“We’ve seen wealth spread throughout the nine-parish area, in rural and urban areas alike,” he said.

After dipping due to the 2016 flood, household incomes in metro Baton Rouge continue to rise. The median household income in 2017 was $57,401, according to U.S. Census data. That’s an all-time high and up from the median of $52,487 that the region hit in 2016.

Since 2007, median household incomes have gone up by 29 percent in Baton Rouge, compared to a 19 percent increase nationally and a 13 percent increase in Louisiana.

“The Baton Rouge area continues to have a healthy regional economy,” Knapp said.

Though incomes have continued to rise, BRAC notes more people are falling behind. The region had a poverty rate of 17.5 percent in 2016, compared to the national average of 15.1 percent. And among such peer cities as Birmingham, Alabama; Austin, Texas; Nashville; and Columbia, South Carolina, only Mobile, Alabama, had a higher poverty rate at 19.5 percent.

The rising incomes and increasing number of jobs is leading to a population bump in Baton Rouge. While the population of the metro area dipped slightly from 836,000 in 2016 to 834,000 in 2017, largely as a result of the flood, the forecast calls for a gain of 7,000 residents by 2020.

All the parishes in the metro region are projected to see job growth next year, ranging from as little as 23 more employees in East Feliciana to 1,785 forecast in East Baton Rouge. Iberville is projected to have 4.3 percent growth, or 789 jobs, thanks the the continued expansion at Shintec’s operations. Ascension is pegged at having a 3.3 percent job growth, adding 1,639 workers, while Livingston is projected at 2.9 percent growth, or 942 jobs.

Once again, businesses said transportation/traff­ic issues are the biggest obstacle facing the Baton Rouge area. Nearly 19 percent of the companies surveyed called the frequent traffic jams the main problem in the area, while crime, a lack of good public school options/cost of private school tuition and workforce issues were each said to be a major obstacle by 10.7 percent of the respondents. The report is at brac.org/reports.