South Louisiana facing troubles shared by U.S.

Ask an offshore worker how business is, and the worry is palpable.

Ask a service company about business, and the story is much the same.

Ask an economist or a parish official and, around the edges of their response, there is reason for hope.

It is easy in south Louisiana to forget that the rest of the nation has been struggling for months with rising jobless rates, higher prices for goods and shrinking tax bases. Governments to our north are talking about cutting services and staff. We’ve heard nightmare stories of police and teachers left looking for work – both unfathomable given the need for police protection and a sound education.

A number of Terrebonne and Lafourche residents have mentioned the Eighties in recent weeks. South Louisiana’s jobless rate surpassed the 25 percent mark when gas prices completely tanked in the 1980s. The state discovered the high price banana republics pay when their one product loses its market footing.

“Diversify” became the battle cry.

It took years to bring the region back, but the Eighties are more than 30 years behind us. For years, we have enjoyed an enviable employment rate. Oil and gas has thrived and the Terrebonne/Lafourche area has reaped the rewards. Until recently …

Economist Loren Scott tells The Times the current market conditions the oil and gas industry is enduring will pass before year’s end. Although gas prices may not reach the $100 per barrel price we have come accustomed to, much like the South, prices will rise again.

In the meantime, progress progresses.

Road projects in Houma and Thibodaux are ongoing. Efforts to prevent flooding in both parishes continue as officials race to complete work before the next storm season. And our area is continuing to see growth despite the recent belt tightening.

Our public schools are also showing signs of improvement. Recent report cards awarded to the Terrebonne and Lafourche school districts rated both B systems. Superintendents Philip Martin and Jo Ann Matthews and the staffs continue to make strides to ensure that each child reaches his or her potential. South Louisiana is also excelling in creating job opportunities for graduates by teaming with local industry to teach future workers the skills they’ll need after high school and college.

And local medicine is among the nation’s best. Our region is on the cutting edge of health care, making this a premier place to live, work and play.

There’s much to be optimistic about in south Louisiana. It makes sense that just a few months ago, the nation learned we were downright giddy to call this area home. Certainly challenges lay ahead – locally and at the state level. Lawmakers will be asked to make some tough decisions this year, and voters will be asked to support those moves. Bottom line, no one knows what this year actually holds in store, but we are optimistic people. How else do you explain living in a storm-prone region with a disappearing coastline? Better days are ahead. •