ALEXANDRIA, La – The Louisiana State University of Alexandria College of Business released its April 2021 issue of the CENLA Economic Dashboard. “Central Louisiana’s economy is doing well in terms of employment, housing, and travel,” said Dr. Randall Dupont, Dean of the LSUA College of Business.
Employment remains strong as the Alexandria MSA continues to have the tightest labor market in the state with appropriately two job openings for every unemployed, which is three times higher than the state average. “Many businesses are struggling to find employees with the skills and credentials needed,” said Dupont. March initial and continued unemployment claims in central Louisiana continued downward, falling 3% and 20%, respectively, from a month earlier. The February unemployment rate in CENLA was 6.1% compared to 7.1% statewide, with LaSalle recording the lowest rate in the state at 3.7%.
Sales tax data shows consumer spending in CENLA pulled back in February, which was expected after a strong holiday season, said Dupont. However, vehicle sales in Alexandria were up 25% over January and 54% over the same month a year ago. New business creations in Rapides year-to-date are up 8%. While occupational licenses started the year down in Rapides, occupational license revenue was up 0.3% year-to-date in March, reversing a sharp decline last month.
The April issue of the LSUA CENLA Economic Dashboard reports on remote seller tax collections for the first time. “Consumer spending has increased significantly in the past year,” said Dupont. “However, some segments of the economy have loss revenue such as small businesses as consumers turned to more online shopping during the pandemic.” A remote sellers’ sales tax collection system went into operation in Louisiana last July. The system collects sales tax from online sellers who do not have a presence in Louisiana and distributes it to the jurisdiction where the purchase took place.
In the first eight months of operation, $8.8 million in online sales tax revenue has been collected in central Louisiana with Rapides collecting $2.6 million, St. Landry $1.7 million, Vernon $1.1 million, and Natchitoches $684,000.
The Alexandria MSA housing market continues to show strength with active listings down 62% from a year ago and pending listings up 72%. The number of days a house stayed on the market fell sharply in March to 75 from 94 the month earlier. The U.S. housing market remains extremely strong entering 2021, driven by low mortgage rates and inventory shortages. 2020 saw the strongest U.S. home price growth of any year since 2005.
“Travel is rebounding,” said Dupont. “Increases in the vaccination rate, especially among vulnerable populations, mean more people are traveling, but not necessarily by car.” Hotel occupancy in Rapides is up 20% in February compared to January and up 308% compared to a year ago. Avoyelles likewise experienced strong gains in hotel occupancy with a 270% increase over last February. Total passenger traffic at Alexandria International airport (AEX) averaged 145% of last March’s level, the highest in the state, compared to only 115% nationwide. On the other hand, Louisiana gasoline sales in January decreased -6.6% from December and was 14.3% below January 2020.
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 April 2021 CENLA Economic Dashboard, click here