The Louisiana State University of Alexandria College of Business released its July 2022 issue of the CENLA Economic Dashboard which includes a mid-year report on the central Louisiana economy.
“Economic indicators for central Louisiana have been mixed the first half of the year,” said Dr. Randall Dupont, Dean of the College of Business. “Although there is good news on the employment front, rising interest rates, inflation, and energy costs are slowing the economy,” he added.
Employment levels in central Louisiana reached new post-pandemic highs for Alexandria and Natchitoches in the Spring. By mid-year, Alexandria had added 1,062 jobs while Natchitoches added 656, representing increases of 1.7% and 4.1%, respectively. The backlog of job openings has been filled to some degree by additional workers returning to the labor force, driving unemployment rates to record lows.
“Central Louisiana saw record low unemployment rates in April,” said Dupont. The unemployment rate for the 11-parish area reached a low of 3.2%, while Natchitoches and the Alexandria MSA reported unemployment rates of 3.0% and 2.6%. “Unemployment rates such as these have not been seen in a decade or more,” Dupont noted.
However, Dupont says the employment picture may be changing in the second half of the year, according to unemployment claim data. Initial unemployment claims bottomed in February and have risen every month since. By late June, initial claims had risen 61%. Continued unemployment claims followed suit in late April and had risen 20% by June. Nevertheless, hiring remained tight in the central Louisiana labor market. The Alexandria MSA had the tightest metropolitan labor market in the state this year, averaging about four jobs for each unemployed.
While employment has remained strong, consumer spending growth has slowed compared to the first half of last year. Consumer spending in Rapides through June 2022 remained at the same level as 2021, meaning there was no growth. Alexandria saw a 1% increase in spending year-to-date, while Pineville and Natchitoches experienced 13% and 18% spending growth during the same period. While the rate of growth may have slowed, only one of the twelve tax jurisdictions in the CENLA Economic Dashboard reported a decrease in consumer spending compared to last year.
Online sales, on the other hand, grew at a faster pace than last year. Whereas Rapides had no change in total consumer spending so far in 2022, online sales within the parish grew 11% compared to the same period in 2021. Vernon recorded a 5% increase in online sales, while Grant saw a 6% increase. Overall, online sales in central Louisiana increased 13%, with Natchitoches leading the region with a 26% increase.
Regarding housing, higher mortgage rates have slowed the housing market causing lumber prices to fall -27% from a year ago. The average number of active listings in Alexandria and Leesville increased by 10% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. Natchitoches saw a -35% decline in listings. The average number of days a house stayed on the market fell by -14% in Alexandria, -25% in Leesville, and -11% in Natchitoches in 2022 compared to 2021. The average listing price fell -7% and -2.6% in the Natchitoches and Alexandria markets, respectively, but was up 2.4% in Leesville / Fort Polk.
“Travel and tourism indicators were mixed,” said Dupont. With gas prices up 53% since January, some travel-related businesses in central Louisiana are feeling the impact. For the first half of 2022, hotel occupancy tax revenues were down -3% in Avoyelles and -7% in Vernon, while Rapides saw an 8% increase. A temporary, out-of-town boost in the workforce accelerated hotel occupancy tax revenue in Natchitoches by 30% through mid-year. Nationwide, year-to-date air passenger traffic remains -13% below 2019 levels, the last “normal” year for airline traffic.
Through June, 226 new businesses have been created in Rapides compared to 269 in 2021, representing a -16% decline. The decline in local business applications corresponds with the decline in statewide business applications. New business applications in Louisiana through June 2022 were down -17%, 46,532 compared to 55,858 in 2021.
The CENLA Economic Dashboard is a service of the LSUA College of Business to help business and community leaders monitor the economic pulse of central Louisiana. To view the July 2022 CENLA Economic Dashboard, click here.