It’s been a rough year for New Iberia, Louisiana and the world, especially in terms of the economy. The coronavirus pandemic has hit many industries hard. Many businesses that seemed unstoppable are struggling to make ends meet, and many have been forced to close their doors.
But we’re not down and out just yet.
According to Iberia Industrial Development Foundation President and CEO Mike Tarantino, New Iberia saw several economic indicators in 2020 that signal to us that New Iberians might be due for a prosperous future despite the emergence of COVID-19. However, that’s not to say improvement isn’t needed in some areas.
Here are 5 economic indicators that might give you an idea of where New Iberia is headed.
Recovering Oil and Gas industry
While Oil and Gas in New Iberia took a major hit when lockdowns started last March, Tarantino said it’s picking back up.
“So in April and May, oil prices had dropped below zero to about -$40 per barrel, which it had never done before. It had never gone negative before, but it did in the April and May timeframe,” he said. “The price of oil and gas is inching its way back up again. The latest numbers I saw this morning were $52 to $53, a barrel, which is very close, not quite, but very close to where it was at the beginning of 2020.”
While some may be concerned about increased regulations on oil and gas from the federal government, Tarantino said he suspects oil and gas drilling to continue in the area for now.
“Recently, the new administration put a moratorium for instance, on new federal permits, but a lot of these companies have stockpiled permits over the last few years,” he said. “And so we think that, for the most part, drilling and exploration will continue.”
He also said that as long as regulations remain reasonable, the industry shouldn’t suffer too much.
“The oil and gas industry, I think, is fine with reasonable rules and regulations. But anytime you put what they would consider onerous regulations on it, it just increases the cost to produce. And that's certainly not what we want to see and certainly not what oil and gas companies want to see,” he said.
Unemployment was, and still is, a major economic problem in New Iberia, but according to Tarantino, we’re making strides in the right direction.
Unemployment was at 5.2% in February 2020, but the number surged after the lockdowns and reached about 14.2% last April, he said. But by November it was already back down to 9.6%, he said.
“And we think when we get December and January numbers, we anticipate that it will be lower than that. It may be close to nine even or maybe even less than 9%,” he said.
In addition, the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation is working with South Louisiana Community College and local schools to provide workforce training to students, he said. This will likely help lower the unemployment rate in the future, as students graduate with the skills to find jobs as well as create new ones.
And with the vaccine rollout underway, he expects the unemployment rate will decline even further. So it looks like we can all look forward to a thriving job market in the future.
Booming retail market
The retail industry in New Iberia has been virtually unphased, according to Tarantino. In fact, the industry is even shattering previous records during the pandemic.
“Retail sales in Iberia Parish never skipped a beat. Even with the lockdowns, we broke our Iberia Parish, retail sales record three times,” he said. “Retail sales numbers hit a high of $129 million in the month of August. That was the highest that we've recorded so far.”
A strong retail industry is sure to help Iberia Parish while the oil and gas industry is recovering from the pandemic, especially when you consider the taxes these record-breaking businesses are bringing to the parish.
Decreased tourism and aviation
Sadly, while many aspects of the New Iberian economy either thrived in the pandemic or have partially recovered, tourism is still in the gutter, Tarantino said.
“Tourism has, of course, suffered because a lot of things had to be closed during the year,” he said.
However, this could improve in the long run, thanks to the vaccine and Mayor Freddie DeCourt’s Master Plan for New Iberia, which will include several beautification projects that will make New Iberia more enticing for tourists.
With all the doom and gloom in the air surrounding the pandemic, it’s easy to think the world, as well as New Iberia, are falling into a state of ruin. But as time marches on, we’re seeing a lot of economic improvement, and it may not be long before we recover to a position similar to before the pandemic.