There is a saying in the oil and gas business that you can't find a drilling rig anywhere without a Cajun on it.
That's probably an exaggeration—but not by much. Since World War II, the energy industry has become the roux of southern Louisiana's economy, as woven into the culture as zydeco and etouffée.
There's no better example than Lafayette. Known as "The Hub City" for its centrality in the southwest Louisiana region of Acadiana, Lafayette boasts more energy-mining jobs than any other entire state in the Southeast, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.
"Oil and gas is important, but it's not all of the economy like it was in the '80s," said C.L. "Rusty" Cloutier, chief executive officer of the Lafayette-based banking company Midsouth Bancorp and a former member of the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch board of directors.
Health care, in particular, has grown. Lafayette is the medical and retailing hub of Acadiana. Plus, the city utility's network of high-speed fiber optic cable reaches every home and business in town, one of a handful of "Fiber-To-The- Home" networks in the country. The network has attracted considerable publicity and a 20-employee satellite studio of a Hollywood digital arts company. It's also a potential seedbed for more economic development.
But petroleum is king. Directly and indirectly, the oil and gas industry accounts for 40 percent of local economic activity, said Gregg Gothreaux, president and chief executive officer of the Lafay ette Economic Development Authority (LEDA). According to LEDA, more than 900 oil and gas companies operate in Lafayette, a metro area of 263,000 people.
Those companies tend to welcome high fuel prices. While hefty gas prices take a bite from drivers there just as elsewhere, expensive oil is among the factors that have buffered Lafayette and south Louisiana from the worst of the national recession. Midsouth Bancorp noted in a recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that "high energy prices and continued rebuilding from the storms of 2005 in Louisiana and Texas have partially insulated our markets from the full impact of the national recession."