The Business Report
The greater Baton Rouge region is expected to gain 4,500 new jobs in 2018, a smaller gain than in previous years but a sizable continued rebound from 2016, according to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber 2018 economic outlook.
BRAC’s numbers—a composite of several projections—are rosier than those of economist Loren Scott, who anticipates a major cooling off period as several industrial projects wind down in the Capital Region.
Adam Knapp, BRAC’s president and CEO who unveiled the report today, said many industrial companies are headquartered here and serve the entire Gulf Coast, which is one of the reasons the chamber’s numbers are slightly more positive. Scott’s report is part of BRAC’s final projection.
Overall, Knapp says, “the indicators are incredibly good.”
In 2016, the nine-parish Capital Region lost more than 4,000 jobs, a 1% drop in employment attributed largely to the flood. But the rebound in 2017 has been better than expected, with employers adding 9,100 jobs so far.
One of the long-term challenges for the region will be finding and keeping technology talent, which has proven difficult for companies like IBM. Of all employment sectors, information technology is expected to see the largest growth in East Baton Rouge Parish next year.
With the addition of DXC Technology in New Orleans, and its promised 2,000 jobs, the super region’s talent pool will be stressed severely, and it will likely be impossible for local colleges and universities to keep up. Knapp says the chamber will continue to “aggressively” recruit workers from other areas and work with K-12 and higher education institutions to churn out skilled workers.
“We need to be doing it faster and better than we ever have before and even that won’t be enough,” he said.
While BRAC’s projections—that employment across the Capital Region in 2018 will increase 1.1%—are lower than the growth rate of the past several years, Knapp says the real estate markets, gross regional product and unemployment rates for the Baton Rouge metro area are showing positive signs.
East Baton Rouge Parish will add 2,600 jobs (1% growth), the projections show, with Ascension Parish adding 1,673 jobs (4% growth) and Livingston Parish boosting employment by 804 jobs (3% growth).
Traffic and transportation issues, workforce concerns, lack of education and an unstable tax code are among the top worries of business owners surveyed by BRAC.
BRAC has lobbied for an increase to the state gas tax as well as a local property tax hike in Baton Rouge to fund transportation improvements, both of which failed this year. The region still desperately needs “megaprojects” like a new bridge, Knapp says.
Local business owners Knapp has spoken to don’t yet know what effect the GOP tax reform proposals being worked out in Congress will have on them, but he says he expects any corporate rate cut would have a “spillover effect” into the Baton Rouge area.