Unique new event runs the levees April 7

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HT Sports launches Louisiana Run for the Wetlands

HOUMA – While South Louisiana is known for marshes and wetlands, opportunities to experience the environment can be limited… until now! On Sunday, April 7, Terrebonne Economic Development Authority (TEDA) is opening the levee and wildlife-preserve gates in Montegut to runners and walkers who want to take in the scenic wetlands. The Louisiana Run for the Wetlands is the first event in TEDA’s HT Sports initiative and features a semi-guided 5K, 10K, half-marathon and bird-watching walk.

Winding through wetlands that comprise one of the most-rapidly eroding estuaries/ecosystems on the earth, participants can learn about the initiatives being undertaken to manage water, preserve and restore the wetlands, and protect the species residing therein. After finishing the route, enjoy the sights, sounds and cultural tastes associated with life in Bayou Country.

The trail route, edging along the 35,000-acre Pointe-aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area, runs along drainage levees and part of the 72-mile Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane Protection levee system. It offers stunning views of marsh stretches, wetlands terracing projects, coastal vegetation, water-management tools like sluice gates and pump stations, and beautiful waterfowl and animals that call one of the rapidly-eroding estuaries home.

This family-friendly event will feature informational booths on local wildlife and cultures, coastal preservation and restoration projects, and water management strategies. Cultural vendors (those showcasing local culture or culturally-tied arts and crafts) are welcome; interested parties should visit www.tpeda.org for a vendor registration form or email ktheriot@tpeda.org.

The Louisiana Run for the Wetlands kicks off at 8 a.m. Sunday, April 7, at Recreation District 6, 104 Dolphin St. in Montegut, after a blessing from nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Come prepared – insect repellent, binoculars, cameras, hats and sunscreen are encouraged.

Funds raised will benefit Restore the Earth, which has a restoration project in Pointe-Aux-Chenes.

For registration and information, visit http://www.louisianarunforthewetlands.com or https://www.facebook.com/LouisianaRunForTheWetlands/.

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Contact: Matthew Rookard, TEDA CEO; 985-873-6890

LOUISIANA RUN FOR THE WETLANDS

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The Louisiana Race for the Wetlands is a new experiential run designed to get a broader group of people to experience and understand more about the coastal wetlands in south Louisiana. The route offers an off-road perspective through some of the most beautiful scenery you will find. With food and drinks included, it is sure to be a good time. Come join our inaugural event and help make it like no other.

SUN, APRIL 7, 2019

Louisiana Run 4 the Wetlands

Montegut Recreation Center in Montegut, LA

Check out our facebook page and website to register today!

U. S. Small Business Administration: NEWS RELEASE

Disaster Field Operations Center West

Release Date: Feb. 25, 2019 Contact: Richard A. Jenkins, (916) 735-1500, Richard.Jenkins@sba.gov

Release Number: LA 15879-01 Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs & Instagram

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans Available to Louisiana Small Businesses

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Small nonfarm businesses in 36 Louisiana parishes and neighboring counties in Texas are now eligible to apply for low interest federal disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, announced Director Tanya N. Garfield of SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center-West. These loans offset economic losses because of reduced revenues caused by rain and flooding in the following primary parishes that occurred Aug. 25 - Nov. 16, 2018.

Primary Louisiana parishes: Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Catahoula, Jefferson Davis, LaFourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John The Baptist, St. Landry, Terrebonne, and Vermilion;

Neighboring Louisiana parishes: Caldwell, Concordia, East Baton Rouge, Evangeline, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, LaSalle, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tangipahoa, Tensas, Vernon and West Feliciana;

Neighboring Texas counties: Jefferson, Newton and Orange.

“SBA eligibility covers both the economic impacts on businesses dependent on farmers and ranchers that have suffered agricultural production losses caused by the disaster and businesses directly impacted by the disaster,” Garfield said.

Small nonfarm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations of any size may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred.

“Eligibility for these loans is based on the financial impact of the disaster only and not on any actual property damage. These loans have an interest rate of 3.675 percent for businesses and 2.5 percent for private nonprofit organizations, a maximum term of 30 years and are available to small businesses and most private nonprofits without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship,” Garfield said.

By law, SBA makes Economic Injury Disaster Loans available when the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture designates an agricultural disaster. The Secretary declared this disaster on Feb. 19, 2019.

Businesses primarily engaged in farming or ranching are not eligible for SBA disaster assistance. Agricultural enterprises should contact the Farm Services Agency about the U.S. Department of Agriculture assistance made available by the Secretary’s declaration.

Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The deadline to apply for economic injury is Oct. 21, 2019.

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About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.

Sales tax collections rise in Terrebonne, Lafourche

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Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes saw a combined increase of more than $11.5 million in sales tax revenues last year, a sign that the local economy may be improving.

Local sales taxes are divided between parish government, law enforcement and levee, road and school districts.

According to totals from the Terrebonne Sales and Use Tax Department, Terrebonne Parish collected about $120 million last year. That’s a $3.7 million increase from 2017.

This is the second year in a row of increased sales tax revenue for Terrebonne.

Lafourche’s gains were even stronger. According to monthly collection totals reported by the Lafourche School Board’s Sales Tax Department, the parish collected about $80.2 million in 2018, a $7.8 million increase.

This is the first increase the parish has seen in at least four years and brings collections back up to the level seen in 2015.

“An increase is sales tax revenue means a better, stronger and more viable Lafourche. We continue to promote #buylocal and are grateful to wait for a table to dine in our restaurants,” Lafourche Chamber of Commerce CEO Lin Kiger said.

Numbers at a glance

Terrebonne:

$120 million in total collections.

Monthly collections average $10 million.

Up $3.7 million from 2017.

Continuing two-year upward trend.

Parishwide sales tax rate is 5.5 percent.

Lafourche:

$80.2 million in total collections.

Monthly collections average $6.7 million.

Up $7.8 milllion from 2017.

First increase since 2014.

First time breaking $80 million since 2014.

Parish sales tax rates vary from 4.65 to 5.4 percent.

“We have continued to witness an increase in trucks on our highways and are hopeful that this activity only adds to the sales tax collection in 2019 and beyond,” Kiger said. “We look forward to more jobs and opportunities and growth on the horizon.”

The last time the parish broke $80 million was in 2014 when it collected about $83.2 million. Since the economic downturn, Lafourche sales tax collections reached a low of $72.4 million in 2017.

“As always, it is our hope to see collections continue to grow — allowing additional dollars for infrastructure, education and tourism throughout our parish,” Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce CEO Tammy Ledet said.

Terrebonne’s lowest point in recent years was $98.5 million in 2010.

The sales tax numbers are starting to match up with other economic indicators, said Matt Rookard, Terrebonne Economic Development Authority CEO.

Local unemployment numbers started to stabilize at the end of 2018, signaling the beginning of the slow recovery cycle, he said.

“The increased sales tax revenue is a good sign that our economy is going in a positive direction,” said Nicol Blanchard, Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce CEO. “Consumers are enjoying the low gas prices allowing them to have more spendable income while the oil and gas industry becomes more efficient and optimistic when planning for the future. The chamber is encouraged by this growth and hopes that it continues.”

In the future, 2017 will probably be known as one of the toughest economic years as the area stayed at the bottom of the down cycle, Rookard said.

“We were at the bottom and stayed there for a significant time,” Rookard said. “I do think there’s a recovery coming.”

As the job market stabilizes, consumer confidence will increase, and that drives sales taxes, he said.

As TEDA continues to look for new development opportunities, companies are pivoting from getting by to planning for growth.

Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com.

Companies sought for free 2019 CEO program

Local businessman touts efficiencies learned

Applications are being accepted through March 30 in the Bayou Region for the CEO Roundtable program. It brings together key decision makers 10 times a year to collaborate in a trusted environment to grow their businesses.

The free program, presented by Louisiana Economic Development, will begin meeting in July at Fletcher Technical Community College on La. 311. It offers peer-to-peer learning through discussion, interaction and sharing of experiences with qualified facilitators, expert guest speakers and connections to various small business resources.

“I highly recommend it, especially for those who think they don’t have time to do it,” said Jason Bergeron, partner of Technology Professionals in Houma. “The efficiencies and information you pick up in peer-to-peer conversations pay for time invested. You’re able to take information from each session and apply it to increased earning potential of your company immediately.”

To qualify, applicants must be a CEO, business owner or key decision maker in a company that has between 5 and 100 employees, approximate annual revenue between $600,000-$50,000,000 and the potential to serve customers outside the local area. High-growth potential companies will be given additional consideration.

For more information or to apply, visit OpportunityLouisiana.com/CEO-Roundtables or contact Darrell Johnson at 225-342-4680 or Darrell.johnson2@la.gov. Questions can also be directed to Katherine Theriot at Terrebonne Economic Development at 985-873-6890.

PORT OF TERREBONNE - ROAD EXTENSION RIBBON CUTTING

From Left to Right: Stephanie Brüning (SCPDC); Philip Chauvin (T.B. Smith); Amber Plessala (T. B. Smith), David Rabalais (Port Executive Director), Al Marmande (Parish Councilman), Eddie Rome (Port Commissioner), Andrew Blanchard (Port Commissioner), Dan Davis (Port Commissioner), Gordy Dove (Parish President), Pat Gordon (SCPDC)

From Left to Right: Stephanie Brüning (SCPDC); Philip Chauvin (T.B. Smith); Amber Plessala (T. B. Smith), David Rabalais (Port Executive Director), Al Marmande (Parish Councilman), Eddie Rome (Port Commissioner), Andrew Blanchard (Port Commissioner), Dan Davis (Port Commissioner), Gordy Dove (Parish President), Pat Gordon (SCPDC)

The Terrebonne Port Commission officially opened the Rome Woodward Street improvements with Parish President Gordy Dove, Councilman Al Marmande and Executive Director David Rabelais. The project is located on Main Port Court off of Industrial Boulevard.  

Port Commission members, Parish Council, representatives from T. Baker Smith (Engineering) and South Central Planning and Development Commission (Grant Administration) were present for the official dedication. The $425,706.00 project was a funding partnership between U.S Economic Development Agency (EDA) and the Port with $312,320 from EDA and $113,386.00 in port funds. 

The 800-foot infrastructure project, completed by Byron E. Talbot Contractor, Inc., included a 10-inch 24-foot-wide industrial class concrete pavement with 10-foot-wide aggregate shoulders and the addition of associated drainage pipe and catch basins.  The extension finished the work started in January 2014 and provides improved access to the Port property allowing for an additional 52 acres of the property to be developed with Port related tenants.

Aligning with many of EDA’s funding priorities, the Rome Woodward Street extension embodies public/private partnerships, national strategic priorities and global competitiveness. Terrebonne Port Commission’s 680-acre site located near LA Highway 57, the Houma-Terrebonne Airport, the Houma Navigation Canal and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway puts it in a strategic position for future economic growth and benefits to the region. For more information about the Terrebonne Port Commission please go to www.terrebonneport.com.

Report forecasts uptick in Gulf oilfield

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The Gulf of Mexico will see an increase in drilling this year for the first time since an oil bust began in mid-2014, a new forecast says.

“We expect 2019 to be a strong year for the Gulf of Mexico,” William Turner, senior research analyst at the global energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, said in a news release. “In addition to exciting new project sanctions, which could usher in more than $10 billion of investment into the region, a couple of historic firsts set to occur next year could set the stage for years to come.”

Whether that translates into new jobs for Houma-Thibodaux, and how many, remains uncertain. But the report from the prominent consulting firm is among the most optimistic since a global crude glut sent oil prices plunging, stripping more than 16,000 jobs from the area’s offshore-oil-based economy.

Shell and Chevron will lead the way, but the actual growth in exploration will come from new entrants, Wood Mckenzie says in its report, “US Gulf of Mexico: 5 things to look for in 2019.” They include companies such as Kosmos Energy, Equinor, Total, Murphy and Fieldwood.

Two major projects serve as bellwethers for the Gulf overall, according to the report, released in mid-December.

-- Chevron’s Anchor project, about 140 miles south of the Gulf oilfield service hub at Port Fourchon, is poised for a final investment decision this year. If approved, it would be the first project using new ultra-high-pressure technology to reach that stage, the result of more than two decades of industry research and development.

“Anchor will be an important one to watch,” Turner said. “The sanction of Anchor will be a significant milestone for Chevron, Total and Venari but also marks a crucial point for the offshore industry as it enters the final frontier in deepwater development.”

Success at Anchor will lead to the next wave of mega-investment in the Gulf, as several other projects using the same technology are waiting to follow its lead. Wood Mackenzie predicts that if Anchor moves forward, more than $10 billion of investment could flow into the region.

-- Shell’s Appomattox development, about 200 miles southeast of Port Fourchon, is set to begin producing oil and gas this year. It will be the Gulf’s first production from a Jurassic reservoir, high-quality oil in sediments that date back about 150 million years. It also required new technology to reach greater depths at higher pressures.

“If the Jurassic roars to life in 2019, it could give operators greater confidence in the play’s potential,” Turner said. “However, if Appomattox disappoints, the Jurassic could continue to lie dormant. The wider region would also be missing an expected strong production growth contributor.”

The report is one of several that predict an uptick this year in the Gulf oilfield. All hinge, in large part, on what happens to oil prices, which are notoriously volatile and difficult to predict, with analysts’ estimates varying widely.

Louisiana economist Loren Scott’s annual economic forecast, released in late September, projects the Houma-Thibodaux metro area, comprised of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, will gain 700 jobs, 0.8 percent, this year. It will add another 2,100 jobs, 2.4 percent, in 2020, driven largely by gains in oil and gas. Scott’s forecast is based on oil rising from an average of $65 a barrel in 2018 to $80 a barrel by 2020.

U.S. crude ended 2018 at about $45 a barrel, down 25 percent, the first annual loss since 2015. The trend was similar for Brent, which ended the year at $54 a barrel, down 20 percent. Both ended last week about $3 higher.

In its annual forecast, the LSU Center for Energy Studies predicts increased activity this year but says in the short term the Gulf rig count will remain around 20, where it has been for months.

The Gulf Coast Energy Outlook, released in November, tempers its forecast for offshore job growth by noting what other economists and analysts have said for years. Specifically, it says companies have cut costs through innovation and efficiency, including increased automation and the use of tiebacks that run pipelines from sub-sea wells to existing platforms rather than building new ones.

“This is great news in terms of making the Gulf of Mexico more competitive for future production by lowering costs per barrel of production,” the report says. “However, these productivity gains also mean that fewer workers are needed for a given level of production.”

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.

Local oilfield service company adds 150 workers

Two major contracts in the Gulf of Mexico have prompted a local oilfield-service company to hire 150 new workers, officials said today.

Danos, based in Gray, says it has secured a contract to provide production workers to Equinor’s Titan platform, which operates in nearly 4,000 feet of water about 60 miles southeast of the offshore service hub at Port Fourchon.

The project, which began late last year, is Danos’ second with Equinor after it was awarded a contract for coatings maintenance on the Titan platform in the fall.

“Danos is excited for the opportunity to work with a high-performing company like Equinor,” owner Paul Danos said in a news release. “Securing and executing the details of the contract has been a true team effort, and we look forward to continuing our commitment to customer service and excellence.”

The company has also been awarded a multi-year contract for production operations with another major oil and gas producer in the Gulf, though company officials would not discuss specifics.

Danos has increased its production workforce by about 150 new employees as a result of the contracts. Most of the new positions are production operators who will be working on the Gulf Coast, with projects spanning from Galveston, Texas, to Venice, La.

“Danos’ ability to provide a recruiting and retention model for competent and skilled workers heavily influenced both contracts,” Danos said. “I commend Danos’ operations team, as well as our human resources team who worked closely with our customers’ operations and procurement teams to make both projects possible.”

Danos, which employs about 2,200 people, is the largest private employer in Terrebonne Parish.

Equinor, based in Norway with U.S. headquarters in Houston, owns 100 percent of the Titan operation and part of 10 others in the Gulf. Its operations there produce about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, and the company says planned growth will make it the fifth-largest producer in the Gulf by 2020.

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierEditor.

Fletcher to build new career center

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Fletcher Technical Community College is taking steps to build a $5 million career center building on its main campus in Schriever with the help of a local organization.

The South Central Industrial Association announced last month it was donating $60,000 to the school to build the ACT 360 Career Center.

“The SCIA donation was the last piece of the puzzle in raising the 12 percent of the matching funds to proceed with certifying the match for bond sales at the state level,” Fletcher Chancellor Kristine Strickland said.

The $5.1 million complex will be paid for through bond sales and a $600,0000 match.

“The Career Center will provide career assessment, whether you are age 18 or 55. It will be a site for industry interviews and job placement. It will also house many community agencies, including workforce commission, to learn about training opportunities and job opportunities,” Strickland said.

Depending on the date of a bond sale, Strickland said, she hopes construction on the center will begin in the near future.

SCIA’s donation is part of the organization’s mission to provide resources for local industry, including a focus on education of the workforce and job training, the organization said.

“This falls very much in line with our mission of proactively developing solutions focused on improving the business climate and quality of life in our region,” said Chett Chiasson, SCIA executive vice president and Lafourche Port Commission executive director.

SCIA also made other donations last year, including those to the Morganza Action Coalition, the La. 1 Coalition, Restore or Retreat and Nicholls State University.

Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.

Program can help train workers in farm and seafood industries - - Workers' dependents may also qualify for assistance

HOUMA – Those who work on farms or harvesting seafood – even if seasonal workers -- may qualify for a program to increase their skill sets to benefit their current or future employers. These workers can also potentially receive vouchers to help meet daily living expenses such as gasoline, groceries, supplies and uniforms.

The program aims to aid those in lower-income agriculture and aquaculture jobs reach their goals to earn higher wages. Half of a person’s income must be earned through farm or seafood work to qualify for the Motivation Education & Training (MET), Inc., program, funded through the National Farmworker Jobs Program and U.S. Department of Labor; income limits do apply.

Therefore, a company can identify the training workers need and if workers meet income requirements, they may receive up to 10 weeks of training in those areas. Training may include industry-specific equipment or processing skills; or classes in English as a second language or computer technology, toward a GED, CDL or other certification.

Those workers wishing to change careers may receive medical or dental training, or classes to become a service technician or business-office worker.

Individuals wishing to supplement their farm income or change careers could train in other areas as well, and a stipend may be available to aid with living expenses during training. A qualifying worker’s dependent could also be eligible for career training and other benefits. Career counseling, job-placement and other services are also available.

For more information or to apply, call Nash Pitre at 985-858-2894 or email houma@metinc.org.

Ochsner ups its lowest hourly wage to $12

Ochsner says its recent decision to raise its lowest wage from $8.10 to $12 per hour on Jan. 20 is based on its recent growth and wanting to “make a meaningful impact on a broad employee population.”

What remains to be seen is how other businesses in the economy will respond in the increasing competition for lower-wage workers.

Ochsner’s announced increase follows a 2017 human resources assessment that led to recommendations on programs and changes to “improve the overall financial well-being of our employees,” said Tracy Shiro, Ochsner’s senior vice president for human resources.

“Although Ochsner was already well above the current minimum wage, we wanted to do more. People are our most important asset. All jobs across the system — no matter how big or small — play a role in patient care and it is important to recognize that,” Shiro said.

Among more than 1,200 part- and full-time employees statewide to earn more next year are medical assistants, environmental service aides, patient care technicians and patient escorts. Among its sites, the company operates Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland and Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

The healthcare industry and its hospitals and clinics depend on a large pool of people to operate efficiently, said LSU economist James Richardson.

“Obviously, they felt that $12 was good number for them in terms of recruiting and maintaining people in those jobs that are very critical in a hospital setting, because hospitals are very labor dominated,” he said.

But what Richardson describes as “an internal decision” by Louisiana’s largest private employer could add wage pressure on companies and businesses in other service-oriented industries, such as hospitality and leisure, as competition and compensation for lower-wage workers has increased.

“The big, interesting part of it is that because they are such a big employer, particularly in the New Orleans area, it will seep over and have an impact on other industries. It will probably make hotels reconsider a little bit, and restaurants and maybe retail places. It will perhaps nudge them to ask themselves whether they are going to be competitive,” Richardson said.

The main benefit to Ochsner will be in retaining lower-wage workers, a problem facing large and small businesses across the economy, said Walter Lane, a healthcare economist at the University of New Orleans.

“These workers can work at any company. The problem is holding on to them. This should reduce some turnover,” Lane said.

In the last couple of years, several hospital systems across the country have announced similar wage floor increases. And Lane thinks Ochsner views itself as not just in competition locally, but nationally as well.

“They want to be one of the big guys. They are still far from that in terms of revenue, but I think when they see other hospital systems do it, that may be some small pressure on them,” Lane said, adding that Ochsner has been “very successful” and that he believes it genuinely wanted to share that with its employees.

Still, the current economic environment and expectations for that environment are always primary factors in any business decision, economists say.

Ochsner’s move comes amid historically low unemployment nationwide and a flattening labor force participation rate, which refers to the total number of people employed or in search of a job.

While Louisiana’s 5 percent unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, labor economists consider it low by historical standards. And the state’s labor force participation rate has consistently trailed the national rate, which stood at 62.9 percent in November.

The participation rate is important to overall economic productivity, and since peaking in early 2000 has declined primarily due to an aging population. But other factors include more young adults in school and more people wanting to be stay-at-home parents, researchers say.

The unemployment rate for less-skilled and less-educated workers has also fallen significantly.

The national jobless rate for workers 25 years old or older without a high school diploma dropped from 7.7 percent in November 2016 to 5.4 percent in November 2018, while the rate dropped from 4.7 percent to 3.3 percent for workers with a high school diploma but no college over the same period.

The tight labor market has placed pressure on companies and businesses to raise wages. But, generally speaking, they have been reluctant to do so.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s summary of regional economic activity, known as the beige book, said in September that its business contacts were continuing to see hiring challenges, “especially for low-skilled and hourly positions.” But firms were focused on other ways to recruit, retain and reward workers — offering flexible schedules, bonuses, profit-sharing and other incentive pay programs that could be discontinued in a downturn.

“Once you make a wage increase, it is hard to pull that back,” Richardson said. “Maybe you can reduce the number of people you employ, but you can’t really pull that wage back down very easily at all. So, I think companies are very cautious in doing this. We have low unemployment now, but how long is it going to last?”

The recent uptick in wages has also been attributed to states and cities setting minimum wage increases and some large private companies raising pay for their lowest paid workers, adding to inflationary pressures.

In 2018, 18 states increased their minimum wages under previously enacted legislation or ballot initiatives and now 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal rate.

And recent announcements by large national firms such as Amazon increasing starting wages at the lower end of the pay scale “have created broad pressure to raise pay ... across the region,” particularly among hospitality and retail employers, according to the Atlanta Fed’s December beige book.

Yet despite the pressure, industries vary in their capacity to raise wages. While Louisiana’s healthcare and hospitality industries are relatively strong, “other industries in the state are not quite as robust as they are in other parts of the country,” Richardson said.

And the fact that workers typically do not relocate for lower-wage jobs could also dampen any ripple effect from Ochsner’s decision. “If you are merely trying to increase jobs at a hotel, you are going to have a hard time trying to move people in from outside the area at that lower wage,” Richardson said.

Louisiana has not adopted a state minimum wage. It follows the $7.25 federal minimum set in 2009. Many businesses pay more to their lowest wage workers. The median hourly wage in the state is $15.62.

About 3.6 percent of hourly workers in Louisiana -- 39,000 workers, including exempt, tipped employees -- earned an hourly wage at or below the federal minimum in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

By Michael Joe / New Orleans City Business

SUNO SURVEY

Researchers from Southern University of New Orleans are seeking local businesses’ input about what programs or assistance have helped business recover quickly in prior flooding events, or what ideas you have that could help your business (or others) return to productivity quickly in future floods. They plan to compile the suggestions to help shape future policies and programs.

Please fill out the questionnaire, scan and email to ktheriot@tpeda.org for submission to SUNO. You are encouraged to add a page for further suggestions.

Jump Start provides job-ready workers

Employers in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes can easily find new employees educated through local schools as part of the state’s Jump Start career pathway program.

“Say you’re a retailer looking to increase your staff for the holiday shopping season. Wouldn’t it be nice to hire a young person for evening shifts who has some training in customer service?” the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority said in a news release.

Terrebonne Parish public school students earned more than 3,000 certifications by their 2018 graduation, TEDA said.

Jump Start is Louisiana’s career and technical education program that aims to begin career training while students are still in high school, allowing them to earn industry-based certifications and a career diploma.

High school student are earning certifications in the areas of automotive, health care, food service, web design, emergency medical services, construction, carpentry, electrical, welding, transportation, agriculture, business and more.

“These Jump Start career diplomas give students a level of knowledge in these areas, offering companies new options when hiring entry-level staff and providing students skills sets upon which they can build through their career or further education,” TEDA said.

In 2018, TEDA said, about 42 percent of Terrebonne graduates, or 480 students, received 3,361 certifications. Next May, the system anticipates graduating about another 450 with certifications.

TEDA is organizing a spring job fair to help the pending graduates. Call 873-6890 for information about Jump Start graduates or if your company is interested in participating in the job fair.

Employers: Look for certifications when hiring entry-level staff

Terrebonne Parish Public School Students earned more than 3,000 certifications by their 2018 graduation.

HOUMA, October 17, 2018 – It’s an HR manager’s dream: Finding a low-cost way of assessing an applicant’s skill sets and training.

Luckily, employers have a new tool they can use when hiring entry-level employees, being brought to the hiring community via the Jump Start career pathway program.

Jump Start is Louisiana’s career and technical education program which aims to begin career training while students are still in high school, allowing them to earn industry-based certifications and culminating their high-school career with a Career Diploma. The program sets the students up to enter the workforce and/or continue their education with a head start on skill sets needed by employers.

Say you’re a retailer looking to increase your staff for the holiday shopping season: wouldn’t it be nice to hire a young person for evening shifts who has some training in customer service? The Jump Start program offers a Customer Service and Sales certification – and students across Terrebonne Parish are testing for the certification this fall.

But Customer Service and Sales is only one of the certifications available to students. Terrebonne Parish School students can earn several of the following in their junior and senior years:

• Adobe Certified Associate Photoshop

• ASE Automotive certifications (auto body/collision and repair technology/technician, drive train and axels, electrical/electronics, engine performance and repair, heating/air conditioning, maintenance/light repair, steering/suspension, and transmission/transaxel)

• ASE Welding Level 1

• Certified Nursing Assistant

• Certified Restaurant Server

• CIW Web Design Specialist, Network Technology Associate, Internet Business Associate

• Emergency Medical Responder

• FEMA National Incident Management System

• First Aid/CPR/AED

• Food and Beverage Executive

• Louisiana Micro-Enterprise

• Microsoft Office Specialist

• Microsoft Office Specialist Master

• MOUS Office Specialist 2010

• NCCER Core

• NCCER Carpentry Level 1 and 2

• NCCER Electrical Level 1 and 2

• NCCER Welding Level 2

• OSHA 10 General Industry

• Pro Start S/P2 Safety and Pollution Prevention

• ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certificate

• T2 Production Safety Systems

• WorkKeys (skills evaluation in applied math, graphic literacy and workplace documents

These Jump Start career diplomas give students a level of knowledge in these areas, offering companies new options when hiring entry-level staff and providing students skills sets upon which they can build through their career or further education.

College-bound students are also earning certifications in the business and production safety applications, all extremely useful as they further their education.

In fact, in its first graduating year of the various Jump Start curriculum, Terrebonne Parish School District graduates approximately 42% of its student population with a total of 3,361 certifications in 2018; that’s 480 graduates with industry-based certifications in hand. In May 2019, the system anticipates graduating approximately another 450 with certifications.

Discussion has started about conducting a job fair in Spring 2019 to help these pending graduates connect with potential employers. If your company would be interested in participating in such a job fair, please contact TEDA at 985-873-6890.

Students training for entry-level jobs

Terrebonne Economic Development Authority is touting a local school district program that aims to provide high school students with problem-solving skills and the ability to be trained to fill entry-level jobs.

The ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate test is given to Terrebonne students on Jump Start Career Pathway tracks, some upper level English students and students who scores a 21 or less on the ACT college entrance test.

TEDA says students can earn certifications that verify proficiency in problem solving; critical thinking; reading and using work-related text; applying information from workplace documents and mathematical reasoning to solve problems; locating, synthesizing and applying information presented graphically; and comparing, summarizing and analyzing information presented in multiple graphics.

“Why is this valuable to businesses? These areas indicate students’ strength in using mathematical reasoning and problem-solving techniques to solve work-related problems,” TEDA said.

Among the skills student are taught are solving problems using mathematical skills, identifying a trend and figuring out a goal to a new situation, TEDA said.

Students with WorkKeys certificates can help employers better align their new hires’ skills with those needed for a job, TEDA said. That also translates into “shorter training times with greater knowledge retention, reduced turnover, increased performance ratings for skilled workers, improved employee morale and decreased operator error.”

Students with certification are being advised to note this on their resumes and job applications. They can be verified at http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/workkeys-for-educators/ncrc.html.

For information, call Katherine Gilbert-Theriot at TEDA at 873-6890.

Schools using test to indicate level of soft skills

HOUMA -- Are you struggling to hire entry-level employees who can show up on time and can be a trained?

The Terrebonne Parish School District is using a tool that can aid in reassuring you that the application of that high-school student or recent graduate you’re holding might be good fit for your company.

It’s the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) test, and it’s given to all students who are on Jump Start Career Pathway tracks, some upper level English students and is available to any student who scores a 21 or less on the ACT. Educators say that’s approximately 50 percent of the high-school population, and TPSD covers the cost for students.

Though WorkKeys testing students can earn certifications in Applied Math, Graphic Literacy and/or Workplace Documents on four levels – bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The credentials verify skills proficiency in

• problem solving

• critical thinking

• reading and using work-related text

• applying information from workplace documents and mathematical reasoning to solve problems

• locating, synthesizing and applying information presented graphically, and

• comparing, summarizing and analyzing information presented in multiple graphics.

For example, with a gold Applied Math certificate, students demonstrate their ability to solve problems using mathematical operations with mixed units, identify where a mistake occurred in calculations, calculate percentages and use it to determine a discount, markup or tax, convert between units of measurement, and other skills.

A gold Graphic Literacy certificate indicates students can locate information in a graphic using information found in another graphic, identify a trend/pattern/relationship and justify a decision based on information, among other skills.

Regarding Workplace Documents, a gold certificate indicates the ability to infer meanings of words or phrases from context, apply instructions to a new situation similar to the one described in a document while considering changing conditions and make inferences to accomplish a goal.

Why is this valuable to businesses? These areas indicate students’ strength in using mathematical reasoning and problem-solving techniques to solve work-related problems; graphs, charts, tables, floor plans and instrument gauges; and written text to do a job. The higher the score on the WorkKeys assessment (on a scale of 3 to 7), the greater the ability.

WorkKeys certificates are tools that can help employers better align their new hires’ skills with those needed for a job. That translates into a better-quality hire, shorter training times with greater knowledge retention, reduced turnover, increased performance ratings for skilled workers, improved employee morale and decreased operator error.

How do you know if an applicant has these certifications? Their school counselors have been recommending certifications be listed on resumes, added to job application forms and certificate copies offered to potential employers. Students have also been counseled to make their certificates publicly available so employers to verify them by entering a registration number online at http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/workkeys-for-educators/ncrc.html

Want more information on WorkKeys certificates? Contact Katherine Gilbert-Theriot with Terrebonne Economic Development at 985-873-6890.

Local economy starts ‘long road back’

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New report by well-known Louisiana economist predicts slow recovery after four-year oil bust.

A new forecast from a well-known Louisiana economist presents one of the most optimistic forecasts for Houma-Thibodaux’s economy since an offshore oil bust began four years ago.

Loren Scott’s annual economic forecast, which he delivered Wednesday to members of the South Louisiana Economic Council and other local business officials, does not predict a return to boom times anytime soon. Instead, it describes the area’s oil-based economy as beginning a slow climb from the bottom of the latest downfall.

“After much bloodletting, the corner appears to have been turned,” the report says. “Fabricators and shipbuilders are making a reasonably successful shift to non-extraction-related-customers. An oil price of $80 a barrel by 2020 is expected to start a serious revival in the Gulf by 2020.”

Scott projects the metro area, comprised of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, will gain 700 jobs, 0.8 percent, next year. It will add another 2,100 jobs, 2.4 percent, in 2020, driven largely by gains in oil and gas.

A rebound has already begun, the report suggests, defying his prediction last year that the area would lose another 1,800 jobs in 2018. Instead, he now predicts the local economy will end the year with a net gain of 200 jobs.

“The numbers obviously do not show great growth,” the report says, “but at least they are up.”

‘LONG ROAD BACK’

Houma has a “long road back” to anything akin to the vibrant economy it enjoyed before a global crude glut caused oil prices to plummet and local jobs to vanish, the report suggests.

The area has lost roughly 16,000 jobs -- about one of every six -- since mid-2014 as low crude prices sparked layoffs and work slowdowns throughout the oil industry.

“This is more than 2 1/2 times worse than what U.S. employment declined during the Great Recession over 2008-09,” Scott says in the report.

Here, according to the report, is how some local companies have dealt with the downturn:

Edison Chouest, a Galliano-based company that builds and operates oilfield supply boats, cut the number of workers at its LaShip yard in Houma in half to 500. One hundred of the company’s 250 boats are are docked, and its mariners are working about half the time they did before the collapse. Employment at Chouest’s North American Shipyard in Larose has declined from about 500 to 200. Its North American maintenance facility at Port Fourchon remains open with about 300 workers.

Chett Morrison, a Houma-based fabrication company, cut its workforce from 515 to 320.

Baker-Hughes closed its 50-person oil services office in Houma.

Hercules Offshore, which operated a fleet of oilfield service boats, declared bankruptcy, closed its Houma yard and laid off 50 people there.

National Oilwell Varco, which builds oilfield equipment, closed its Houma facility at a cost of 80 jobs.

CCHI Aviation closed its Galliano base, laying off 74 pilots, mechanics and support staff.

Offshore Specialty Fabricators began layoffs in May 2016 that cost 67 jobs.

“The bloodbath was obviously not confined to the direct oil and exploration companies but also to tangentially connected companies,” the report says.

KEY TO A COMEBACK

Scott cites several developments as evidence the local economy has hit bottom and is on the path toward slow improvement. The area has posted several months of year-to-year job gains, truck traffic to and from the Gulf oilfield hub of Port Fourchon is picking up, and service companies along the Louisiana coast are planning for growth through 2020. Gulf oil lease sales, though far below historic highs, are on the rise. And many companies are beginning to diversify the kinds of work they do to become less reliant on the oil industry’s boom-or-bust cycles.

But the key to any comeback is the same thing it has been for decades: the price of crude oil.

It’s notoriously difficult to predict long-term crude prices because so many variables affect them -- political and regulatory decisions, production activity by major suppliers like the U.S. and OPEC, economic conditions or unrest in far-flung parts of the world, and global supply and demand. As a result, analysts’ and predictions vary significantly.

Scott predicts oil will rise from an average $65 a barrel this year to $80 a barrel by 2020. Whether that happens will have major implications not just for Houma-Thibodaux but for all of Louisiana.

“Because Louisiana is the country’s second-largest producer of crude oil, if offshore crude is counted in the number, movements in oil prices can often dramatically impact the state, as Louisiana has learned with a vengeance since late 2014,” Scott says in the report. “The huge decline in oil prices from late 2014 through much of 2017 hammered Louisiana’s oil patch so hard that it sent the state into a 28-month recession and a loss of 23,300 jobs (-1.2 percent). Louisiana desperately needs oil prices to both rise and stay high for an extended period for a drilling recovery in the Gulf of Mexico and a revival of the state’s oil-centered metropolitan areas.”

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com.

Donated barge being used for worker training

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Open enrollment is underway at South Louisiana Community College for a training program of the next generation of maritime industry workers.

Houma-based Cenac Marine donated a refurbished oil and gas tank barge last November to South Louisiana Community College for training students.

Cenac representatives met with Capt. Carl Moore, assistant dean of marine operations at South Louisiana Community College, and discovered the need for updated equipment, owner Benny Cenac Jr. said in a news release.

“From the very start of this project, I have been excited about what we can offer to the community and to those interested in becoming tankermen,” Cenac said. “My company and I are fortunate to have the opportunity to provide a hands-on learning experience to many people for years to come.”

The 158-foot-by-40-foot training vessel replicates a standard Cenac Marine Services tank barge and will be used for the training. The barge will be located at Munson Slip in Houma where South Louisiana Community College tankerman training will take place.

“The barge donated by Mr. Cenac and Cenac Marine services has been a game changer,” Moore said. “We’re excited to be able to offer hands-on, real-life experience while under the supervision of an instructor. This will help everyone in a way we just haven’t been able to in the past.”

Depending on the size of the class, hands-on barge training can last about eight hours per session. The college will offer the class every two weeks depending on instructor availability.

The program currently has two Cenac boat captains serving as instructors during their off-time, the company said. Both captains have been state certified to teach the 32-hour course.

After completion of the course, students are required to complete basic firefighting training before they can become certified tankermen.

The economic benefits of having this training tool are also vital, said Matt Rookard, CEO of the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority. Having these training partnerships and equipment in place will help in attracting more companies to the area, he said.

“The No. 1 thing that comes up in meetings with companies that want to move down here is workforce development. Before costs, before tax structure, it’s workforce development. The reason is simple. You can have the lowest costs in the world, but if you can’t get the people to do the job, then it doesn’t matter,” Rookard said.

Those interested in taking the class can register at 331 Dickson Road in Houma, where the barge is housed and the site of the college’s Terrebonne campus. It has 10 other campuses in Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, Livingston, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes.

For more information about South Louisiana Community College and its Maritime training offerings, visit solacc.edu.

--Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at dan.copp@houmatoday.com.

Houma shipbuilder lands two major contracts

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A Houma shipbuilder has landed two new contracts as it works to rebound from a four-year offshore oil bust.

Gulf Island Fabrication will build a 245-guest riverboat for the American Steamboat Company, officials said Friday. The new paddle-wheeler, called the American Countess, will be built using the existing hull of the Kanesville Queen, a former gambling boat built in 1995. It’s expected to sail the Mississippi River starting sometime next year.

Gulf Island officials said they will report revenue and man-hours associated with the project in the company’s public financial statements for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

“We continue to break sales records and incredible demand remains for more capacity on the river with each of our boats continuing to sail full,” American Queen Steamboat Company Chairman John Waggoner said in a news release. “We look forward to collaborating with Gulf Island’s team of skilled workers and craftsmen to deliver a riverboat that will once again exceed expectations of our guests and continue raising the bar on domestic river cruising.”

The latest contract follows Gulf Island’s announcement late last month that it has finalized a deal to build a second 3300-horsepower towboat for an unnamed customer. Delivery of the second vessel is estimated two months after delivery of the first.

“We are pleased to be awarded this option for the second newbuild towboat,” Kirk Meche, Gulf Island president and CEO, said in a news release. “This work will be performed at our shipyard in Houma. ... This is yet another indication of confidence from our customers as it relates to our ability to perform and provide quality vessels.”

Gulf Island, based in Houston, is a leading fabricator of oilfield structures, including offshore platforms and ships. It also builds structures for the petrochemical and alternative energy industries. Its Houma fabrication and shipbuilding operations in Houma employ about 600 workers.

Like many oilfield service companies, Gulf Island’s business has been impacted by a four-year offshore oil bust that has stripped an estimated 16,000 jobs from the Houma-Thibodaux economy.

Meche cited some improvements in an Aug. 9 report on the company’s second-quarter financial results. The company reported net income of $500,000 on revenue of $54 million for the three months ended June 30. That compares to a net loss of $10.9 million on revenue of $45.9 million for the same period in 2017. And it’s up from the first quarter of this year, when the company posted a net loss of $5.3 million.

He cited strong performance from Gulf Island’s services division in Houma, as well as income from the sale of a fabrication yard in Ingleside, Texas, for part of the gain.

On June 6, the company landed a contract to build a second marine research vessel for Oregon State University for $67.6 million. And in March, it received a $63.6 million contract to build the first in a new class of Navy salvage, towing and rescue ships. Both projects are being built in Houma.

The company’s reported a backlog of work totaling $347.6 million as of Aug. 8, including projects through 2022.

“As of today,” Meche said in the report, “our backlog is the largest it has been in four years.”

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com.