Almost overnight, quiet communities like Lafayette as well as others along I-10 serving as benchmarks on the westward journey toward Texas have nearly doubled in capacity, quickly becoming among the most populated areas in the Deep South. And with that title comes all the challenges of a booming metropolis.
What does it all mean for Acadiana? Unfortunately, predictions and forecasts for the local economy have been few and far between. Like everything else being surveyed in the state ' commercial seafood, water quality, oil pipelines ' it's too early to tell. Yet there is enough anecdotal information floating around to make some educated predictions.
Dr. Sarah Skinner, an associate professor of economics at UL Lafayette, says the influx of people, new businesses and money could cut several different directions. "It could go either way," she says. "The increases of people is good for the local economy in the short run. People have to eat, so restaurants will do better. Then they in turn have to buy more supplies, so some of our stores will do better. There could also be a long-term positive impact if many of these businesses and people decide to relocate here permanently."
It's difficult at this time to produce a precise economic model for Acadiana, Skinner says, because there's no real precedent for the mass relocation. It could be months or years until the true impact is known. The real estate markets alone, however, are enough to suggest an economic boom in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans.
In Baton Rouge, office space is being gobbled up at an alarming rate. And there are typically about 4,000 home rental vacancies in the Capital City annually, but now there are none. Even home sales are through the roof. "People are buying homes with suitcases of cash," says Drew Tessier, a spokesman for the city of Baton Rouge.
From Lafayette to Lake Charles, Acadiana is likewise boasting record numbers. "In the Thursday and Friday after the storm, the region did about $250 million in real estate business," says Amy Jones, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. of Lafayette.
There is a downside to that prosperity. State Rep. Mickey Frith of Abbeville has spent recent weeks hustling to find available housing for the thousands of evacuees stuck in Acadiana. His own son even handed the keys of his home over to a displaced family.
"Primarily, right now, these people need housing," says Frith, chairman of the Acadiana Legislative Delegation. "For rent or purchase or whatever. And we're having a lot of trouble getting [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to help pay for some of this."
There's also a problem with current infrastructure in Lafayette, specifically roads and highways. Drives that once took a few minutes now take a half hour. "We already had substantial needs in that area to begin with," Frith says. "Now the roads are congested at every hour."
This is where government aid comes into play. Officials expect Acadiana to be included in future supplemental appropriations bills coming out of Congress, as well as in discussions during the upcoming special session of the state Legislature.
A lack of response from these two deliberative bodies would be completely irresponsible, some say. "It's just that simple," Jones says. "We have to remember, regardless if they're in New Orleans or Baton Rouge or Lafayette, these are still people of Louisiana. We need to make sure that as they come into the community, they come in as full-functioning members of the community."
The pressure is being felt all along I-10. Banks are reporting long waits for withdrawals and new accounts. Loan officers are backlogged with requests for rental deposits. City clerks are being forced to bring in additional administrators to handle new home purchases.
In Acadiana, however, the transition to take on new businesses seems somewhat seamless in certain areas. That's because the lion's share of new economy moving in builds on existing bases, rather than creating new ones. Oil and gas companies are flocking to the area because there's a ready base of workers, access to the Gulf of Mexico and a host of parent companies that have operated in the region for generations. Many displaced artists and musicians have also found a home base in Lafayette, comfortable in its rich tradition of supporting art and culture.
"There's a lot of parity between New Orleans and Lafayette with the culture here and an arts community that is well supported by the city," Jones says. "So, as far as the feeling you have in New Orleans, you can find the same thing here in Lafayette, but only on smaller scale."
Officials are expecting many of Lafayette's new visitors to become permanent residents. If and when that prediction comes true, it would be a watershed moment for Louisiana's Cajun heartland. "I think we'll really start to see the impact of all this when people decide they don't want to go back to their original homes," says Skinner.
Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist based in Baton Rouge. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Gambit Weekly and other publications.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ten departing CEOs rake in $430 million; profile of FSU gunman emerges; Buffalo's weather woes and more national and international news for Friday, November 21, 2014.
The Ethics Board gives the lame duck Youngsville mayor permission to offer a sweet parting gift to the community he’s presided over for three terms.
The money came through a general obligation bond sale Thursday.
A legend in the Acadiana Oil Patch, Comeaux died Monday, Nov. 17.
With a growing number of alleged sexual assault victims coming out against Bill Cosby in recent weeks, upcoming projects have been canned by NBC and Netflix, but that won’t affect the once-loved comedian and actor’s scheduled performance in Lafayette.
The Baltimore Ravens' retooled secondary had no trouble against a rookie quarterback at home. This week, however, their task is far more challenging: stopping Drew Brees on the road in New Orleans.
Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry's name to the list of possible Republican presidential candidates flooding the campaign trail for GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Florida this week with his fellow Republican governors for another gripe session aimed at their favorite target, the president, this time taking aim at his immigration plans.
Early voting for the runoff is shortened by two days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Coach Don” Gagnard is running for school board. Today he offers his critique of the socioeconomic relationship between government subsidies and obesity.
Former Le Rosier chef who cooked at the James Beard House and was named one of the “Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 1995 was 48.
Pat Cooper is contesting his termination by the LPSB, filing a petition Tuesday that calls the recent decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
A look at the numbers highlights the challenge facing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tries to win a fourth term in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
A national animal rights group has been rebuffed by a Baton Rouge district court judge, although the group might still get its day in court.
The administration says public college campuses won't be on the chopping block.
The legendary musician is performing at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Dec. 1 in New Orleans.
Old savings and checking accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil and gas royalty payments and other unclaimed money is sent to the state when a business cannot locate someone.