Best of times …

The Tri-parish area continues to see low unemployment and it is safe to say that the impressive figures stem mostly from the area’s ties to the oil and gas industry.

Dr. Loren Scott, an economist and professor emeritus at LSU, is expected to emphasize just that connection when he presents a talk tomorrow in Gray on the economic outlook in Louisiana for 2009 and 2010.

In April, Scott released a much-ballyhooed report on Port Fourchon’s economic importance to the area. The port services more than 90 percent of the entire deepwater exploration in the Gulf and is connected by pipeline to the privately-run Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in the Gulf, the country’s only deepwater port.

That distinction could fall because a consortium of oil-related companies in Texas is planning to construct a deepwater port off the Texas coast that will be similar to, but larger than, LOOP. A LOOP spokesman said the new port off the Texas coast (to be called the Texas Offshore Port System) would pose little competition because the crude from the new facility would flow to Texas.

But, surely, any project that large undertaken by companies part of the Texas economic behemoth has to cause LOOP executives to break a bit of a sweat.

The discovery of the 370-mile long Lower Tertiary oil find in 28,000 feet of water 200 miles off the Louisiana and Texas coasts promises to keep LOOP and the proposed TOPS popping, even though most of the oil processed by LOOP comes from foreign sources.

The oil and gas industry directly employs around 10,000 workers in the Tri-parishes, according to Nicholls State University economics professor R. Morris Coats. Lafourche Parish collected $29.7 million in revenue from the oil and gas industry in 2007. Terrebonne Parish took in $17 million the same year.

Coats said an additional $1 billion in oil and gas sales in the area would attract 12,000 more workers.

“It (the oil and gas industry) is almost everything in this area,” he said.

State money also means a lot to the area. Oilrig maker Gulf Island Fabrication in Houma, a major employer in Terrebonne, recently received $2.3 million from the state to help the company expand in Houma.

CEO Kerry Chauvin commended the state for coming through with the funding, citing the Houma Navigation Canal and the south Louisiana work ethic as the reasons the company is attracted to the area, he said in a release.

But the number of jobs provided by companies like Gulf Island Fabrication should not be taken for granted.

“Gulf Island could have pursued this project in Texas or some other state,” said state Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret, “but they are doing it here because of the quality of our workforce and the high level of local and state support they continue to receive.”