Cautiously Optimistic

Top Economist Says Industry News is Good – and Not
May 16, 2018
Cenac Leads in Vision, Tradition & Building a Future
May 16, 2018
Top Economist Says Industry News is Good – and Not
May 16, 2018
Cenac Leads in Vision, Tradition & Building a Future
May 16, 2018



Houma native Ross Verret’s phone rang a few weeks ago while he was sitting in his backyard waiting for a friend to come by.

He didn’t answer.

“I never answer a number I don’t recognize,” Verret said with a laugh. “Too many telemarketers.”

But 10 minutes later, it rang again and it was his buddy, Jason, who had a little bit of news about the call and who was on the other end of the line.

“Jason told me that it was my old employer and they wanted me to go back to work,” Verret said. “I got laid off about 6 months ago and now, they’re hiring again and they called us back.”

Now, Verret is doing what he’s been waiting to do for a long time – make some money.

The price of oil is slowly rising on the global market, which means that the local oil and gas industry is beginning to find a little life.

Local companies that had previously laid off workers are starting to increase the sizes of their staffs. Other workers who were employed, but relatively inactive are touting that they’ve been getting back to normal slowly – something which has locals cautiously optimistic that a return to normal is now closer than it’s been in quite some time.

“I work for a company where I do welding,” Thibodaux native Jared Dillon said. “I always kept my job, but we’d really slowed down a lot. It had gotten scary. But lately, it’s picked up. It’s been good to see. It’s not like it was before things got slow. But it’s also not as slow as it was a few months ago. It’s making its way back up again. I think it’s giving a lot of people hope.”

The numbers back up what Dillon had to say.

Since 2018, unemployment numbers show that jobs are available around Louisiana.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent in March – the third-straight month the number decreased.

That figure is down from the 5.6 percent clip the state had in March 2017.

In a news release issued by the Workforce Commission to celebrate the rate, the commission boasted that the current state unemployment rate has not been this low since April 2008 – a time when oil prices were well over $100/barrel.

Local levels show a similar decrease.

At the peak of the local economic downturn in June 2016, the Houma-Thibodaux unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, according to statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But in June 2017, that figure had dropped to 6.6 percent. And in Feb. 2018, the number had been slashed even further, sitting at just 4.1 percent – below the state level.

The reason for the change is, in part, the price of oil, yes.

When oil is trading at a high price, companies can justify the costs that come with extracting it from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico because they know that the return will cover the cost.

Port Fourchon Executive Director Chett Chiasson has said many times that while everyone locally longs for the days of $100/barrel oil, companies can easily maintain a sizable profit share if the price is stable at $80-$85/barrel.

At the time of this magazine’s publication, the price sagged just below $70/barrel. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re far closer than we were 24-36 months ago when the prices were sometimes less than $50/barrel.

“I check it every day,” Verret said. “It’s this crazy thing. You follow this number because you know that it’s good for us locally if it’s high. But you have no control over what happens to the number. It’s this weird feeling, you know?”

But one thing that Americans can control is politics and people within the industry are saying that another reason for the turnaround is because of what’s happening in Washington.

President Donald Trump has helped big business, experts say, by limiting regulations on the oil and gas industry, which make it cheaper to drill, while still maintaining the integrity of safety measures.

As oil work increases, that brings to life everything else that feeds off it – supply work, logistics, marine work, towing and every other cog in the economic engine.

“This administration works with us,” said Don Briggs, the outgoing President of LOGA. “We haven’t seen that as much in the past.”

President Trump also helped to change the United States tax code, which also has allowed big companies to save money, which has helped to stimulate growth.

But locals aren’t all the way bought in just yet.

Verret said he’s grateful to go back to work but said he knows a few of his friends who got laid off and are still struggling.

Houma native Pat Evans said he’s one of those people – out of work for three months.

Evans, who said he works on boats, said that he’s been applying for jobs since he got laid off, adding that he’s confident he will find something soon though he hopes it will be as good as what he had before.

“It’s getting better, but we’re still not all the way back,” Evans said. “It’s going to take some time.” •