Despite back-to-back hurricanes, 2008 has been productive for parish’s coffers, workforce

Nov. 18
November 18, 2008
Catherine "Cat" Jacobs
November 20, 2008
Nov. 18
November 18, 2008
Catherine "Cat" Jacobs
November 20, 2008

The Dow Jones average plummeting.

Huge industries asking for bailouts.

Mortgage companies in trouble.

What do these have to do with Terrebonne Parish?

Not very much, if you talk to parish leaders.

“The Terrebonne economy often runs countercyclical to national trends,” said Mike Ferdinand, executive director of the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority, the independent parish agency responsible for attracting new business and industry to the parish.

Terrebonne President Michel Claudet also noted how the parish’s economy sometimes runs opposite to the country’s economy.

“I’m not completely aware how national economic conditions will affect us,” Claudet said. “Historically we run contrary to national trends. When we’re up, they’re down.”

As has been the case for several years, a relatively high number of businesses and industries are seeking workers, especially skilled workers. The Houma metro area has added more than 7,100 jobs since March 2006.

And the demand will not let up.

According to LSU economist Loren Scott, the Houma-Thibodaux metropolitan area is adding jobs at a faster rate than any metro area in the state. The area’s shipbuilding industry is set to go on a “hiring binge,” Scott said.

Much of the demand is coming from Edison Chouest’s LA Ship shipyard under construction at the Port of Terrebonne, set to open in 2009. The yard will specialize in building larger vessels to service oilrigs in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

Chouest wants 1,000 new employees, many earning $54,000 annual salaries.

And that’s not all for the shipbuilding sector.

Big Houma oilrig platform maker Gulf Island Fabrication has added a fifth subsidiary, Gulf Island Marine Fabrication, and has completed $30 million worth of improvements to its facilities. Earlier this year, Gulf Island’s new marine division received an order to build its first towboat, a 4,000 hp vessel, from Hunter Marine Transport in Nashville.

Scott said, “Shipyards are doing exceedingly well.”

“The emergence of marine-based businesses not tied to the oil and gas sector has promise,” Ferdinand said.

Other major recent moves by corporations with operations in Terrebonne Parish are Weatherford Gemoco’s new 280,000-square-foot facility being constructed on Louisiana Hwy. 311 north of U.S. Hwy. 90, and BP’s recent completion of its large state-of-the-art storage facility, also north of the Hwy. 311-U.S. 90 intersection, built for the oil company by Edison Chouest.

While keeping the recent industrial expansions in sight, Ferdinand counted down the mainstays of the Terrebonne Parish economy.

“The marine and oil and gas sectors are still a major source for expansion,” he said. “Healthcare is also major. As the population ages, its role will continue to expand.”

“And we still have commercial-retail,” Ferdinand said. “Even if our economy slows, this will still be important, though it may not grow as fast as it’s been growing.”

“The seafood industry will be major as well,” he added, saying that diversification will be a key to its future.

Ferdinand said the real power behind the parish’s economy is manufacturing jobs.

“They have the greatest collateral benefits and multiplier effects,” he said. “Two or three other jobs can be created from them. As new manufacturing jobs come, we have collateral growth. The state incentivizes manufacturing jobs. They get a good return on the investment.”

As examples of government incentives, Chouest, which will spend more than $100,000,000 to construct LA Ship, received $27 million from the state and $65 million in interest-free federal Gulf Opportunity Zone loans.

Weatherford Gemoco, which manufactures oil-drilling equipment and operates six plant sites in Houma, is investing $46 million into the area.

To build its new facility, Gemoco received a $900,000 grant from the state and $300,000 from the parish. Gemoco had considered relocating to Texas, but efforts made by the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority to keep its operations in the parish were successful.

Ferdinand said, “We (TEDA) have been able to capitalize on some of our strengths. We’ve been able to access programs to help businesses be more successful.”

Gemoco’s new facility will be nearly three times as large as the current building on Industrial Boulevard, which suffered flood damage from recent hurricanes. In fact, the new building in Terrebonne will be one of the largest of all the facilities operated by the Houston-based company.

Gemoco employs 340 workers in Houma and plans to add dozens more new jobs.

Gulf Island received $2.3 million in state financial assistance to construct its new marine services division. The company is investing around $27 million into the project.

Gulf Island employs 1,250 workers in Terrebonne Parish and its new marine division is expected to provide an additional 200 jobs.

The Port of Terrebonne also recently received $700,000 in federal grants to install a main sewage line to its tenants. The port will provide the rest of the funds for the $1.4 million project.

Other than lacking some skilled workers and enduring a shortage of affordable housing, economic conditions in Terrebonne Parish should not slow anytime soon, but parish leaders have to be cautious.

“The change in the financial markets is hard to predict,” Ferdinand said. “In 2009, how to access capital is still being determined because of the reorganization of the capital markets.”

“I think a lot is going to be determined by policies adopted by the federal administration,” he said. “This will drive some of the economic factors.”

“As a state,” Ferdinand added, “the current administration will assist us with developing our economy. Under Jindal, we’re business-oriented. He’s been tremendous growing the state’s economy.”

Claudet named retail outlets, the medical community and fisheries as being among “many things that allow us to prosper.”

“I would like to think we provide many things for quality of life so that people would want to live here,” he said.

Claudet asserted that the state has a large responsibility for developing the workforce to fit available jobs.

He also gave a mild warning about the dominance of the oilfield services industry in Terrebonne Parish.

“We’re more dependent on oil and gas than I’d like, but we welcome everything they give,” he said.

However, if you listen to economist Scott, Terrebonne Parish has little to be concerned about on that front.

Citing the huge Lower Tertiary Trend oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico among other finds, Scott said, “The idea that we’ll run out of oil is crazy.”

Even if oil were to go as low as $65 a barrel, “Houma can still make money,” he said.

A report issued by Scott this year states that Houma is less tied to the rise and fall of oil prices than in the past.

Despite the announcement, Claudet was still wary.

“This economic recession appears to be more significant than people considered,” he said. “I’m not sure what our future, our prognosis is, but because of our diversification, our prognosis has to be better than national conditions.”