Growth. It’s a word you hear and read about with increasing frequency. Many people are promoting it. Many oppose it. But why has it become such a big issue?
Not many years ago, the robust oil and gas and fishing industries in Morgan City and St. Mary Parish were envied by the people and political leadership of the City of Houma in Terrebonne Parish and the City of Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish. Today, Morgan City is laughingly referred to as a mere suburb of Houma.
As a lifetime resident of Morgan City, a former real estate investment property manager of large Class A apartment communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Indiana, and a professionally trained and educated economic/community development specialist, I find that characterization of my city to be very disheartening. This is especially so given the number of economic enhancements and advancements that, over the years, were rejected by the past elected leadership of Morgan City and the St. Mary Parish Police Jury.
Morgan City had the opportunity of having the Francis T. Nicholls State College campus located in this community. The city, parish and state officials during that time period declined the offer.
Morgan City had the opportunity to have the Houma mall located in this community. Again, leadership declined.
The city also had the chance to have Lafayette’s Heymann Oil Center built in this area. And, once again, leadership declined.
Years later, after having rejected the aforementioned environmentally friendly and financially successful projects, St. Mary Parish didn’t hesitate to vigorously support construction of Marine Shale Processors’ hazardous waste facility in Amelia. It was eventually forced to close by the U.S. Department of Environmental Quality and the federal court in New Orleans because of serious pollution, health and quality-of-life issues it posed. No one should have to get sick to have a job.
The economic well-being of a community depends on its rate of growth. If there is no growth in the number of new environmentally friendly businesses and jobs, an area is likely to stagnate and decline. Once stagnation sets in, the process can feed on itself and be very difficult to reverse.
A local economy is like a huge ship; once it begins to slow down, it is very difficult to speed up. Outsiders may decide not to locate in the area if they see a stagnant economic climate. Existing businesses may choose to move to a more prosperous area.
Data in the 200 Census indicated that Morgan City is a no-growth city in a no-growth parish. St. Mary was the only such parish in the Acadian region. The city’s population was listed as 12,250 – 1,128 people less than the 1990 Census. St. Mary Parish lost 5,000 residents during the 1990 Census and 4,586 during the 2000 Census.
Perception is a significant factor to success. The well-being of a community depends on whether growth can occur in a sensible manner that does not detract from its quality of life. The people of Morgan City and St. Mary should be aware of how the area’s economies work and what factors are required to maintain economic health. Lack of a fundamental understanding of these key factors by our leaders has harmed this community far more than most people imagine.
Max J. Thibodeaux Jr.,