By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
SLIDELL – Dr. Loren Scott makes his living by analyzing and consulting on the economy—particularly here in Louisiana.
As the guest speaker on Monday for the annual Louisiana Economic Outlook luncheon, hosted by the East St. Tammany Chamber and St. Tammany West in a joint meeting, the news was good for the state, but even better for St. Tammany Parish.
St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister introduced Scott, but gave a glowing report about the parish economic picture to start the luncheon. While some areas of Louisiana are struggling to get back on their feet—particularly the oil and gas industry in south Louisiana—St. Tammany has many encouraging numbers that confirm the reason the population continues to grow here.
St. Tammany officials are now guiding the fortunes of the parish with over a quarter-million residents here—more than 250,000 are in St. Tammany following an influx of nearly 40,000 in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck the region. While many of the New Orleans refugees fleeing the storm went to other outlying parishes or even out-of-state, most of those flood victims returned to the South Shore.
However, a vast majority of the 40,000 who came to St. Tammany from St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parishes found the area to their liking and stayed, suddenly putting a bigger infrastructure burden on the parish.
Over 10 years later the parish has done more than just handle the newcomers. St. Tammany has an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, less than the 5.3 percent rate in the state and far below the national numbers. Job growth has increased by 13 percent and there are now over 7,900 businesses operating in the parish—a record number.
Scott provided some optimism about the state’s future as it fights a budget problem that has them aiming at what is called a “fiscal cliff” in 2018 where the state could be as much as $1.5 billion in the red. He sees the prospects of a rebounding oil and gas industry as a possible revenue solution since natural gas is now a commodity being utilized more-and-more by chemical companies worldwide. He warned against Gov. John Bel Edwards raising taxes since he said “that is the hardest way to get out of a $1.5 billion hole.”
Looking at St. Tammany he provided some enlightening statistics that show the parish has steadily drawn the kinds of jobs for the North Shore that allow residents to make a living without driving across the lake.
Scott showed that in 1980 there were 62 percent of the parish residents who drove out of St. Tammany to work. By 2015, the latest statistics available, only 29.8 percent were leaving the parish to work.
“It is clear St. Tammany is coming more-and-more into its own. You have drawn more jobs here and they are good jobs that people want to stay for,” he said.
Overall he sees the forecast for the largest job growth in Louisiana in two years, approximately 12,200, with St. Tammany having the number three growth rate of any parish in the state.
On the gas price front he noted that economic experts do not see the price of gas at the pump skyrocketing anytime soon. He predicted prices will show a modest rise over the next two years.
Scott opened his speech by comparing the policies of President Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump, something he called “Obamanomics” compared to “Trumpnomics.”
He said that history proves that lowering business regulations will lead to more jobs, and a decrease in taxes will do the same—two policies Trump is aiming for in his presidency. However, he did note that Trump’s proposal to put more tariffs on other countries to help sell American products at home historically leads to a lower standard of living for most people.
“We do better to trade with others since higher tariffs for trade on other countries will only make them retaliate and put higher tariffs on products we export to them,” he explained.
The biggest target for the U.S. on the trade horizon, Scott said, should be the U.S. to work on a deal with China, since the United States imports four times as many products from China as we export, a far higher multiple than any other country.
Along with the two Chamber groups heading the luncheon, it was co-sponsored by the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, St. Tammany Parish Tourism Commission, and the Northshore Business Council,
Scott is a professor emeritus with LSU and has headed his own consulting firm for 35 years. He is a featured speaker over 50 times a year at various business and economic events.