Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By Gregg Gothreaux

Economic indicators place Lafayette near the top of every list.

The Lafayette Economic Development Authority collects hundreds of data points including retail sales, employment numbers, per capita income and more. It’s these numbers plus anecdotal information from community and business leaders that help LEDA present Lafayette in the best light to individuals or businesses looking to become a part of our community.

Analyzing statistical data for the purposes of economic development can be tricky. Since no two communities are alike, no standard set of statistics will necessarily tell the entire story. So, what data best defines our community? What numbers tell us where we stand? This month, I’ll update you on three indicators in LEDA’s statistical library — retail sales, per capita income and construction valuation. These statistics are three of the main components in illustrating the vitality of Lafayette’s economy. 

Total Retail Sales says a lot about the current condition of the market, and is an indicator of consumer spending and confidence. We saw double digit gains in retail sales between 2005 and 2008; however, sales dropped by 11 percent in 2009 in response to the national recession. In 2010, sales rebound to nearly $5 billion, thanks to strong sales in the second half of the year. That trend has continued into 2011, with year-to-date sales through May up 11 percent, or $211 million. In a month-to-month comparison to 2010, retail sales have finished higher each month. If retail sales continue at this rate, we can expect to see over $5 billion dollars in sales by the end of this year. Strong retail sales indicate the community has disposable income and is attractive to retailers looking to enter or grow in the market.

Like retail sales, per capita income (PCI) is a significant measurement of the quality of our economy. In assessing our economic growth and progress, we look to per capita income as a measure of our success as a community. Because of its availability on a county level nationally, it is sometimes the only indicator available to adequately compare ours to other regions. The most recent figures show Lafayette Parish’s per capita income is $44,598, which is 3.6 percent more per every man, woman and child than the year before. Lafayette Parish has the second highest PCI in the state and is now ranked in the top 7 percent of all counties in the U.S.— 213 out of 3,113 counties— putting us near the top of a list that many study. Lafayette’s per capita income remains above state and national figures, $37,632 and $40,166 respectively. Even though the statistic is lagging in nature— the most current figures are based on 2009 data— it gives us an overall picture of Lafayette’s economy.

Construction valuation has returned to levels more in line with growth trends seen in the early part of the 2000s, following a recording-setting year in 2006-07. Even though totals were lower in 2009-10, they exceeded our forecast of $235 million by $100 million. Year-to-date construction valuation is holding neck and neck with the last fiscal year. We expect to see construction around $300 million when the fiscal year ends in October. It’s important to note these valuations only reflect construction permitted within the city limits of Lafayette and in unincorporated areas of the parish. These numbers would be much higher if construction from Lafayette Parish’s five municipalities— Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Younsgville— were included. Because construction valuation is made available upon the purchase of commercial and residential permits, we can identify businesses moving into the market and anticipate an increase in population as it happens and prior to its affect.

At LEDA, we are constantly evaluating the economy and reviewing statistics as they are received at various points in the year. In total, LEDA collects hundreds of data points each year—some based on client requests and others for our own understanding of the market. As I said before, the numbers do not tell the whole story. We rely heavily on input from community and business leaders to understand the complete picture so please take the opportunity to educate us on how to gauge success in your industry. And please let us know if there are statistics or information out there that fill in the missing pieces and help complete the puzzle that is Lafayette’s economy. For access to statistics that the LEDA staff maintains, please visit our website at www.lafayette.org.  

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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