Slump? Yes. But hope remains: Officials optimistic that oil and gas can recover

OUR VIEW: Recreation accountability must be demanded
September 27, 2017
Fourchon pushing forward: Work slow, but hopes still high for the future
September 27, 2017
OUR VIEW: Recreation accountability must be demanded
September 27, 2017
Fourchon pushing forward: Work slow, but hopes still high for the future
September 27, 2017

The Bayou Region’s economic forecast doesn’t contain much in the way of good news – at least not as much as might be desired – but there are some bright spots emerging, business leaders and trackers say. For the time being, local experts say, there is an increasing stability for businesses have survived the economic downturn.

And that can’t be seen as a bad thing.

“Overall we are pretty stable right now, hitting a stability point in our job numbers over the course of the year,” said Katherine Gilbert-Theriot of the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority. “We want stability in that while the oil companies are looking for stability in the oil price.”

A steady per barrel price of over $60, in Gilbert-Theriot’s estimation, will be able to jump-start some exploration activities whose absence has had a dire effect on the region.

According to economists who specialize in oil and gas, it doesn’t pay to start up new exploration projects while the price of oil is low and plenty of product is available overseas and through inshore shale operations.

Local companies, Gilbert-Theriot said, are beginning to submit bids and proposals on potential jobs, and while her information is anecdotal, it is more than she has heard for the past few years, and gives her cause to be hopeful. More business are diversifying, Gilbert-Theriot said, providing services related to the booming petrochemical industry in communities closer to the Mississippi River.

“Businesses are signing on for fabrication services, whether it’s for pipelines or other types of projects,”she said. “I think we will see that takes a few months to get moving and they are looking at early 2018 for more recovery. We all know that oil drops going toward the holidays, so we are really looking at 2018 picking up a bit.”

A sign of recovery easily viewed from her vantage point, Gilbert-Theriot said, is an apparent shortage of commercial structural space.

Currently the commercial vacancy rate in Terrebonne Parish sands at about 6 percent. That’s more than Gilbert Theriot is used to seeing.

But she points out that in many communities a 6 percent vacancy rate is considered a sign of good times.

“We had been blessed with a shortage of commercial space previously and now we have an inventory. We are uncomfortable with that,” Gilbert-Theriiot said.

Ultimately it is jobs that mark progress economically.

Reconstruction due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma should have an effect locally, said Jane Arnette of the South Central Industrial Association.

“Since the hurricanes we should stabilize,” said Jane Arnette of the South Central Industrial Association, referring to the passage of the storms. “From my readings we should see it.”

South Louisiana has people, infrastructure and materials, all of which should be valuable for rebuilding projects that are not so far away.

Even if those jobs aren’t permanent, some economic forecasters said, they could provide enough economic health to the region to stabilize things even more until the oil and gas prospects are better.

While measures such as collected sales tax should take time to rebuild, one figure economic forecasters are watching closely relates to overall employment trends.

In July 2017, the number of tabulated jobless people in the Houma-Terrebonne statistical area stood at 5,103, a drop from the 6,732 reported the prior July.

“I am optimistic,” Giblert-Theriot

said. •