Area touted at EATEL seminar

Wade McIntyre
Among the featured speakers at the third annual Growing Your Business in the New Ascension Seminar were, from left, EATEL President/Chief Operating Officer Robert Burgess, Marilyn Moats Kennedy of Moats/Kennedy, Inc., and Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp.

The Greater Baton Rouge Area is a good place to be weathering the current national recession based on a report by Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp.

Knapp, who was one of five speakers at the recent EATEL Growing Your Business in the New Ascension Seminar, said the Baton Rouge area is outperforming the nation and its southern peers with a zero percent net loss in jobs expected in 2009.

The area is expected to create 3,000 to 6,500 new jobs next year, for a one to two percent increase, he said.

Baton Rouge area heavy construction, retail, trades and transportation have seen growth so far in 2009, he said.

The area also grew in population by about 4,300 residents in 2007-2008, bolstered by 57 percent of that growth in Livingston and 40 percent in Ascension parishes. East Baton Rouge Parish actually declined in population by 1,600 people, or .4 percent during that time, according to data presented by Knapp.

The BRAC CEO said wages in Baton Rouge also continue rising, up 6.4 percent in 2008 to $780 weekly, while state average grew 5.4 percent.

The U.S. as a whole saw a two percent decline in wages during the first quarter of 2009, while the Baton Rouge area went up two percent, Knapp said.

Single family home sales rose 41.7 percent during the first two quarters of 2009, according to Knapp. He tempered that statistic by noting that in the third quarter, a six percent slowdown from the market’s peak in June has been recorded.

Average area home prices have declined 4.9 percent from the 2008 average, Knapp said, but he attributed the falloff to lower value transactions due to federal tax credits.

Residential construction permits have seen a 35 percent increase, but commercial permits have fallen 18 percent so far in 2009, he said.

According to a BRAC economic outlook survey of region business leaders, 55 percent of respondents expect moderate growth in 2010, up from 44 percent last year. For the longer range outlook for 2010-12, 76 percent said they expect moderate growth during that period.

Revenue growth next year is expected by 75 percent of respondents to the survey, while 48 percent said they expect employment levels to increase.

Concern was expressed in the area of health care, as 80 percent of the BRAC respondents said they expect health care costs to rise.

The major business concern of 54 percent of respondents was the national recession; 33 percent said access to credit and loans; and 32 percent said health care reform.

The BRAC survey was heavily weighted to East Baton Rouge Parish, with only 15 percent of respondents located outside that parish.

Other speakers at the popular annual EATEL seminar were Ascension Parish Chamber of Commerce President/CEO  Sherrie Despino, Robert Burgess, EATEL President/Chief Operating Officer; Marilyn Moats Kennedy, founder and president of Moats/Kennedy, Inc.; and LSU Continuing Education Instructor Kerry Sauley, Ph.d., SPHR.