Our Views: Despite flood, Baton Rouge’s growth will continue
If the Baton Rouge area has taken a serious economic hit because of August flooding, the underlying strengths of local industries and businesses should help in our recovery.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has tracked the growth in the region over years, not just months, as job totals increased. The August 2016 job total of 411,800 is one of the highest ever for the metropolitan area, the chamber noted in a recent report.
At the same time, August was an eventful month, as families struggling with damaged homes and apartments can attest. The August floods caused Baton Rouge-area home sales to drop by 23 percent when compared to the year before.
According to figures released by the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service, there were 727 homes sold in August in the nine-parish area. That compares with 949 MLS sales in August 2015.
The drop in sales happened at a time when pending sales increased by nearly 5 percent, going from 877 in August 2015 to 919. That shows many closings were delayed, probably because potential homebuyers, potential sellers, title companies, lenders, real estate agents and other people involved in the transaction had to deal with flooding.
Livingston Parish, which was hardest hit by the mid-August flood, understandably was the housing market most affected, with a 34 percent drop from the 178 sales in August 2015.
Homeowners, of course, are only one category affected by the worst natural disaster in the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The displacement of people in rental housing is significant; the floods’ costs to businesses in terms of time and money dealing with employees’ troubles is significant, as well.
But the growth since the end of the Great Recession of the last decade is hardly over, as Baton Rouge’s prospects have been hampered by flooding but not eliminated. As a center of the petrochemical industry, low natural gas prices continue to fuel industrial expansion; professional and medical services remain in demand and expand employment, a recent BRAC workforce report noted.
The opening of the Water Campus near downtown shows that the intellectual capital of the region continues to be an underlying economic factor: LSU is seeking about 75 new professors, a significant gain since so many were lost during years of budget cuts by state government.
The issues facing the region remain big issues, as the chamber pointed out in a recent “platform” for candidates for Metro Council and mayor-president in next month’s primary election. To keep growing, new investments in transportation, among other things will be needed.
Still, the region’s record in job growth is enviable and despite high water, our economy can weather the storm.