With Vermilion Parish not immune to the effects of the downturn in the oil and gas industry, economic development will be paramount to the area’s future.
Members of FUEL Vermilion gathered Friday at the Abbeville Library to receive some insight on the subject.
Anne Falgout, the executive director of the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance, along with Village of Maurice Mayor Wayne Theriot, spoke to the young professionals organization as part of the FUEL Vermilion Leadership Series. The series is taking place each Friday in January and will continue next week with renowned motivational speaker and author Joel Dawson.
“With the turmoil that everyone has been reading about with the economy,” FUEL’s Megan Lalande said, “this is a great way for us to be knowledgeable and to step up an give Vermilion Parish that push it needs.”
As for the local economy, with the price of oil hovering around $30 per barrel, Falgout said any rough patch for the industry is going to have an adverse effect on the parish.
“The reason that it affects every single person,” Falgout said, “is because oil and gas has a high multiplier effect. People talk about how many times a dollar turns over in our economy. Oil and gas has a high multiplier. That means it not only contributes a lot to our gross domestic product and money that comes into the state, but it also employs a lot of people at high wages.
“If someone is no longer employed in a high-paying industry, then they don’t have as much disposable income, which means they don’t participate in the community the way they could before.”
That goes beyond businesses not being as successful.
“You see non-profits getting less donations,” Falgout said. “You see organizations tightening up and people not joining.
“All of those things happen.”
The region adapting is going to be an important factor in its future success.
“There are some companies like Ecoserv that were oil and gas and now they are not,” Falgout said. “There are companies that we can help invigorate and change their lines of business. They can feel less of the fluctuation by diversifying.
“That’s what we are doing, re-imagining what products and services can look like.”
Theriot, who is the mayor of one of the fastest growing areas in the state, agreed.
“I think as an area (Acadiana) we learned a lot from the oil collapse in the 1980s,” Theriot said. “Things started to diversify over the years. I think we need to do more of that, not being reliant so much on one particular segment.”
Theriot said he feels Vermilion has the means to properly adapt.
“In Vermilion Parish we happen to have a lot of natural resources that are not tapped,” Theriot said. “My family and I went on an Alaskan cruise and spent $250 to go watch them catch king crabs, like on ‘The Deadliest Catch.’ We have some unique opportunities here, crawfishing or whatever, that we can market to all of these people who are coming here. You may not charge $250, but you can market that.
“These are things that we can utilize to generate sources of revenue for our businesses.”
Falgout said that with Vermilion Parish’s culture and scenery, citing the popularity of Palmetto Island State Park, tourism is something that can be a boon for the area.
“Tourism is great because it doesn’t put a strain on our resources,” Falgout said. “They come in, they spend their money and they leave. I have talked to the people at Palmetto and they said pretty much every day of the year their RV spots are booked. That tells me that we need more RV spots.
“We are trying to make those kinds of things happen.”
Falgout said a big part of economic development is making sure people have opportunities to work. The Vermilion Parish Job Fair at Abbeville High School on March 30 will play a vital role in that process.
“We are doing a big job fair,” Falgout said. “I think this is the first one in around 10 years that has been community-wide. We have companies that are hiring and we want to try to get people back to work as quickly as possible.”