When people, jobs go elsewhere

When asked to comment on a projected decline in Louisiana high school enrollment, a recognized authority on the state’s demographics gave a “very alarming but not surprising” response: Louisiana is experiencing a dangerous drop in population with no turnaround in sight.

Elliot Stonecipher of Shreveport told The Advocate of Baton Rouge that he and others have been warning about the flight of population from the state for years – 20 to 30 years, largely because of the failure of government officials to recognize the underlying problems.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Katrina and Rita,” he said, referring to the 2005 hurricanes. “That is one of the smoke screens that elected officials like to throw up.”

The most dramatic effect of declining population will be felt following the 2010 U.S. Census, when Louisiana is projected to lose one of its seven seats in Congress.

The eighth U.S. House of Representatives district was erased as a result of the reduced population recorded in the 1990 Census.

However, flight from the state will be felt across all aspects of society: education, standard of living, infrastructure and other services to residents.

Another startling statistic Stonecipher presented: State government spending in Louisiana rose by 51.4 percent from 2000 to 2007 while the population dropped by nearly 4 percent.

Stonecipher said one key to turning the trend around is to attract new residents to the state through tax and land incentives.

Louisiana is aggressive in its economic development efforts, packaging incentive and marketing programs in attempts to woo high-value, high-employment industries to the state, but obviously these efforts are not working as we see their targets going to other states.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said that improving the state’s image through sweeping ethics reforms will help overcome some resistance from industrialists to locating or expanding operations in the state. His ethics package has been passed and is receiving accolades around the nation; Louisiana will now wait for the results.

With national and even world business prospects in decline, it is hard to think about our little corner of the global economy making gains.

But we’re behind and we’re slipping further back, so it is crunch time for economic development, education, marketing – all the factors that make up economic climate.

– American Press, Lake Charles, La.