Local MSA 18th nationally among small cities; jumps 23 spots

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Thanks in large part to a thriving oil and gas industry that hopes prices rise soon so it can continue thriving, the Milken Institute ranked the Houma area the 18th best performing small city in America and the best performing small city in Louisiana.

According to Milken data for the year 2014, the Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) – consisting of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes – made huge strides since coming in No. 41 in 2013. The Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux MSA was also first in Louisiana among small cities in 2013.

The second highest-ranking Louisiana MSA was the Monroe MSA coming in at No. 55 nationally in 2014 and the Lake Charles MSA at No. 54 nationally in 2013.

Louisiana’s New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner (No. 67 in 2014), Lafayette (No. 19 in 2014) and Baton Rouge (No. 21 in 2014) MSAs were considered large cities with 250,000 people being the separator between the categories

The Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux MSA population was measured at 209,890, according to Milken.

Ranking components include job, wage and salary and technology growth. In most years, the rankings give a good indication of the underlying structural performance of regional economics, according to Milken.

“We’ve got a nice vitality in the labor market and the economic base,” explained Kathleen Gilbert-Theriot, Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government Economic Development marketing manager. “We’ve got a lot of wonderful companies that have been growing, sustaining their activity levels and really providing a firm base for our residents and the growth of the community in general. That’s including health care, manufacturing, retail, transportation and warehousing, all those sectors have been growing and we saw a little bit of growth on the professional, technical services side. That’s a nice emerging niche for us.”

The area’s biggest jump came in one-year wages and salaries growth, which rose from 155th in 2013 to 11th in 2014. According to Gilbert-Theriot, the average starting worker in Terrebonne Parish made between $40,000 and $90,000 depending on the type of job in 2013.

“It’s a nice, healthy economy we’ve had for a long period of time with low unemployment as well,” Gilbert-Theriot said.

For months Terrebonne Parish has had among the lowest unemployment rates in the state, and in February 2014, it had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

In one-year job growth, Milken ranked the local area No. 12 – up from No. 20 in 2013.

Apart from salaries simply going up, Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet attributed this to the many opportunities in the oil and gas sector.

“What had been happening that makes a big difference in salary growth is people leaving industries to go work for the oil companies that usually are higher paying. For instance, I’ve seen many people leaving long-standing professions to go work in the oil field and that’s generally an increase,” Claudet said.

Additionally, Gilbert-Theriot attributes the support for businesses endowed by the parish’s Economic Development Department as another factor for the area’s ranking.

“In economic development, we focus on trying to support the businesses we currently have in the community and then also trying to diversify the economy by recruiting other types of industry, other types of business to the region. You have to build upon and improve the base that you have. We do a lot of different things in that realm. I spend a lot of time with local businesses in the community who are looking at growing or maybe they’re having some growing pains or something like that trying to bring resources to them and provide assistance where we can, support where we can,” Gilbert-Theriot said.

Gilbert-Theriot hopes the area’s ranking will cause companies looking for a new location to put the Houma area on their radars.

“Give us a second look for all the Houma-Terrebonne is in the MSA and all that it offers not only for a company but for the company’s employees and the quality of life that we offer here,” she added.

The Fargo MSA in North Dakota won the small cities metric in 2014, and the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City Metropolitan Division in California came in first in the large cities group.