Commitments from new businesses or expansions of existing facilities drew 1,104 permanent jobs and an additional $58 million in annual payroll to the nine-parish Baton Rouge area last year, officials said Monday.
Need for substantial transportation improvements, however, cast a shadow over such growth in the future, according to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
BRAC hopes, though, for another 800 permanent jobs and $44 million in additional payroll in 2015, the group’s president and CEO, Adam Knapp, said at a meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club.
“We are optimistic about the future for this region,” Knapp said. “Our regional partnership of nine parishes is working well, and forecasts indicate all of the parishes will experience job growth in 2015.”
Parishes in the Baton Rouge metro area are East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, Ascension, Livingston and St. Helena.
Knapp noted that nonfarm jobs in the Baton Rouge metro totaled a record 399,900 at the end of November. He said 9,000 more of those jobs should arrive in 2015.
Major concerns of the area’s business community, though, include the need for more, expanded or better roads, he added.
Knapp said gubernatorial candidates should be asked now to provide their specific and detailed plans for building or expanding roads.
Because oil prices have dropped by more than 50 percent in recent months, hundreds of millions of dollars in state oil-tax money has dropped off the budget table. In the past, both federal and state tax dollars have been used for significant transportation projects in the area and across the state.
According to BRAC’s strategic plan for 2015, though, “The Baton Rouge area is facing a transportation crisis, the result of a combination of rapid growth in recent years and severe underinvestment in transportation planning and infrastructure.”
The plan adds: “These issues are expected to grow significantly worse in the near future, as regional growth is expected to accelerate further.”
For example, the BRAC document says, “The Baton Rouge area has grown by 25,000 people in the past five years and is projected to gain another 15,000 to 35,000 residents by the end of 2016. This coincides with a projected $16 billion boom of new capital investment coming to the Baton Rouge area in the next few years.”
“According to the 2013 Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development needs assessment, the nine-parish Baton Rouge area has over $5.4 billion in transportation infrastructure needs, which amounts to 44 percent of the state’s entire $12.3 billion infrastructure backlog,” the BRAC plan says.
The infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the growth, according to BRAC.
“According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s ‘2012 Urban Mobility Report,’ the Baton Rouge area now has the second-highest roadway congestion index of any midsized city in the nation,” BRAC officials noted.
BRAC officials said in their 2015 plan that they hope to put together a coalition of business and industry leaders “to build consensus on the best solutions to the region’s traffic challenges.”
On Monday, Knapp said gubernatorial candidates should be pressed for how the state’s diminished tax receipts can be used to fund both better roads and higher education needs.
In some recent years, diminished state tax receipts have resulted in large budget cuts for LSU and other state universities and colleges.
On a different front, diversification of new companies in the Baton Rouge area was a big bright spot in 2014, Knapp said, specifically the attraction of both biofuels manufacturers and software development companies.
Several of those software development companies are adding about 2,600 new jobs, combined, to the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette areas, Knapp said.