Making Waves on the Third Coast

If you’re looking for some good news in the U.S. economy, you might want to head to the warm, energy rich Gulf Coast. You wouldn’t be alone in making that move; over the past decade the “Third Coast”—extending from south Texas to the Gulf of Mexico—enjoyed 12% job growth, or about twice the national average.

This is remarkable given that the region was socked with several devastating hurricanes, including Katrina in 2005. New Orleans’ population, for instance, is still well below its pre-Katrina level, although now gaining steadily.

New Orleans also demonstrates the possibilities. Film production is way up, and the city appears to be emerging as a magnet for video game, commercials, and special effects firms.

Some of the biggest advances are further along the periphery from New Orleans, often somewhat closer to Baton Rouge. Nucor is constructing a massive new steel mill in Convent, located in St. James Parish about an hour away from New Orleans. Local chemical and oil refinery firms are also expanding and investing in new equipment.

Yet it’s Houston’s star that is shining brightest. Over the past decade, when the country actually slightly lost jobs, the Houston-Sugarland-Baytown region expanded its employment by over 15%. Since 1990, the number of jobs has risen by 46%, more than twice the national average. Over a period of ten years, the region’s population has soared 26%, the most of any of the country’s largest metro areas, and again better than twice the national norm. Migrants are coming not only from other countries, but from much of the rest of the U.S., particularly the industrial Midwest, Northeast, and California.

Optimism among businesspeople on the Third Coast is infectious, as can be seen in the expanding footprint of the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest such facility. Much of the money for this amazing complex comes from a similar boom in oil and gas.

If there’s a negative tone anywhere, it’s about politics. Concerns over continued federal obstacles to responsible expansions in oil and gas production are widespread. There’s a real concern that this year’s elections will lead to a slowdown in orders and future expansion. Let’s hope not.

This piece first appeared at the National Chamber Foundation Blog.