What do Welders, Nuclear Engineers, and Psychiatric Aides have in common?
While some of the fastest-growing occupations in Capital Region parishes may come as a surprise, they reflect the unique local economies that make up the Baton Rouge metro.
We often talk about the Capital Region in aggregate terms. Taking a more detailed look at individual parish job growth, however, can tell us a lot, not only about jobs and employment but also about demographic trends, state funding, project announcements, and more. In BR By the Numbers’ last scheduled post of 2022, we dig into job growth for the Capital Region’s nine parishes, highlighting the top-five growing jobs in each and explaining what this means for the local economies that collectively create the Capital Region economy.
*One quick note – we use occupation names determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can sometimes appear clunky and nonspecific. You can learn more about these occupations by searching in your web browser “BLS [insert occupation name]”
Ascension Parish, the third-largest parish by population in the Capital Region, saw its total employment decline between 2019 and 2022. Certain occupations, however, bucked that trend. The number of general/operations managers – which includes job titles like business manager, store manager, and plant superintendent – grew 28% between 2019 and 2022. These jobs are found across all sectors of the economy – in Ascension, nearly 1 in 5 general/operations managers can be found working in skilled trades, restaurants, or chemical manufacturing. Overall employment in two of these industries – skilled trades and chemical manufacturing – grew 18% and 29% respectively over the past three years. More employment requires more oversight and, therefore, more managers.
Despite declining total employment, Ascension’s population grew 7.1% between 2016 and 2021. Enrollment in Ascension Parish Public Schools increased 7.2% in just three years between February 2019 and February 2022. These trends are likely responsible for parish-wide employment growth in the restaurant industry (which grew 13% between 2019 and 2022) and in education. More restaurants require more restaurant managers, and greater school enrollment calls for more teachers.
Ascension’s large petrochemical and construction industry base along with its growing population helped drive employment growth for managers, truck drivers, schoolteachers, and general business positions over the last three years. Going forward, Ascension Parish’s petrochemical and construction industries are going to play a critical role in the Capital Region’s focus on attracting new transitional energy projects through initiatives like the Baton Rouge Area Carbon Reduction Alliance.
East Baton Rouge
The Capital Region’s largest parish, East Baton Rouge, netted 10,000 new residents between 2016 and 2021 bringing the parish’s total population to 455,447 or 54% of all Capital Region residents. Like in Ascension, general/operations managers saw more growth than any other occupation between 2019 and 2022.
We previously highlighted the impressive growth in nursing jobs that the Baton Rouge metro has seen over the past three years, and it makes sense that so much of this growth has been concentrated in East Baton Rouge where major hospital systems like Baton Rouge General, Ochsner, Our Lady of the Lake, and the Baton Rouge Clinic serve patients from all across the Capital Region.
One of the fastest growing industries in East Baton Rouge over the last three years was professional, scientific, and technical services which is a sort of catch-all for office-type jobs ranging from consulting and accounting firms to legal practices to engineering service firms. More than two-thirds of all management analysts can be found in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry, and growth in this industry has helped drive demand for management analysts. Job titles that can fall under the management analyst umbrella include program analysts, management consultants, and operations research analysts. These jobs typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, pay well above median wages, and are among the most adaptable to remote work.
As the Capital Region’s central urban parish, East Baton Rouge is important for maintaining a healthy Capital Region economy. Sustained population growth helped fuel growth for general business employment, from entry-level to management and beyond. Additionally, as the center of the Capital Region’s healthcare ecosystem and industry base, East Baton Rouge is growing the number of jobs available for nurses and truck drivers. With a diversified economy including numerous state institutions, public agencies, and a growing startup community, the city-parish of East Baton Rouge will continue to play a critical role in the larger Capital Region economy.
Jackson, Louisiana is home to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System (ELMHS), one of two state-run inpatient psychiatric facilities. While there are other state-run facilities in East Feliciana Parish, including the Villa Feliciana Medical Complex and Dixon Correctional Institute, it’s likely that ELMHS is responsible for the doubling of psychiatric aides found in the parish.
Tulane University has provided psychiatric services at ELMHS since 1993, but the Louisiana Office of Behavioral Health’s FY2023 agency budget request highlights the struggles that ELMHS is facing regarding hiring qualified staff. COVID-induced labor market changes along with inflation inspired a 38% year-over-year increase in requested funding for the services provided by Tulane because of Tulane’s concerns that staff members “are being courted for more lucrative positions.” In addition to rising costs for psychiatric services, ELMHS is struggling to fill open nursing jobs like registered nurses (54% vacancy rate) and licensed practical nurses (33% vacancy rate). The agency requested $11.1 million to hire 64 contract nurses in 2023 which doesn’t include expenses for the 57 contract nurses already on staff.
At 43.9 years, East Feliciana has the oldest median age of any Capital Region parish, and the parish looks like it will continue to rely on sectors funded by state revenues: about 29% of all jobs in East Feliciana are found in state government, demonstrating the reliance this rural parish has on the health of the Louisiana economy generally.
Iberville Parish is at the heart of Baton Rouge’s manufacturing sector. There are about 4,600 manufacturing jobs in Iberville Parish, accounting for more than a quarter of all jobs in Iberville. These manufacturing jobs account for about 16% of all manufacturing jobs in the Baton Rouge metro. For context, Iberville Parish makes up less than 4% of the Capital Region’s population.
The growing number of millwrights in Iberville, however, are largely concentrated in the construction sector, Iberville Parish’s fastest-growing industry by number of new jobs between 2019 and 2022. These two industries – manufacturing and construction – feed each other. Sustained investment in Iberville-based manufacturing operations by companies like SNF, Eastman, and Shintech, which announced in 2021 a $1.3 billion expansion of its facilities in Iberville and West Baton Rouge, fuels demand for construction labor. Millwrights, defined as workers who “install, dismantle, or move machinery… according to layout plans, blueprints, or other drawings” make up 5% of total construction employment in Iberville, and the increasing number of millwrights reflects the continued growth of Iberville’s two-largest industries.
These figures also remind us of the importance to push forward with the new Mississippi River South Bridge. Traffic on the current bridge that connects Port Allen with downtown Baton Rouge is thought to consist of 80% local drivers. All three proposed locations of the new Mississippi River South Bridge would be in Iberville Parish. Iberville’s ability to continue growing its manufacturing and construction sectors will rely on the ability of firms to hire workers, and the new bridge has the potential to drastically reduce commute times for potential workers in East Baton Rouge, Ascension, and Livingston who would otherwise have to commute across the Horace Wilkinson Bridge.
The two largest industries in Livingston Parish by job counts are local government (5,500+ jobs) and eating/drinking establishments (4,500+ jobs). About 80% of local government jobs in Livingston can be found in public schools, which saw about 2% employment growth over the last three years. The restaurant industry, however, has powered recent job growth in Livingston: there are more than 900 new restaurant jobs in the Capital Region’s easternmost parish since 2019, and the top five growing occupations can all be found in full-service and fast-food restaurants.
Earlier this year, The Advocate highlighted that Livingston Parish’s population has grown 55% since 2000. Growth in the parish has been a little odd, though. Denham Springs, which borders East Baton Rouge on Livingston’s west side, lost an estimated 889 residents between 2016 and 2021 despite being the parish’s most populous city. Residents left largely thanks to flooding in 2016, and population growth has been concentrated in unincorporated areas east of Denham Springs in recent years.
These population dynamics reflect the fact that Livingston Parish, a historically sparsely populated rural area, is quickly transforming into a suburban parish. Livingston Parish residents are overwhelmingly commuters: 78% of Livingston residents commute to somewhere outside the parish for work compared to 69% in Ascension, another big Capital Region commuter parish. According to the most recent Census Bureau estimates from 2019, there are just 29,000 people who work in Livingston Parish compared to 59,000 workers who live there. Livingston Parish is a bedroom community whose residents appear comfortable commuting outside the parish for work and coming home to a growing variety of restaurant options.
One big change to watch heading into 2023 – Livingston Parish is going through the arduous process of adopting its first-ever zoning regulations, and these regulations when passed will impact residential development across the parish.
Hospitals grew their employment more than any other industry between 2019 and 2022 in Pointe Coupee, and today nearly 1 in 11 jobs in the parish are found in a hospital or clinic. There’s a cluster of healthcare facilities in New Roads, the biggest being Pointe Coupee General Hospital. The Baton Rouge Clinic and Our Lady of the Lake have satellite locations in the town, and there are other specialized facilities like Pointe Coupee Homebound Health & Hospice and Pointe Coupee Healthcare.
There are some interesting trends occurring in Pointe Coupee. It currently has the second-lowest median household income among all Capital Region parishes, and its population fell by more than 6% between 2016 and 2021. And while the total population of New Roads, the parish seat, fell by a couple hundred residents, the number of residents age 65 or older rose by more than 9% in just these 5 years. Today, about 1 in 5 Pointe Coupee Parish residents are 65 or older, including nearly a quarter of residents in New Roads.
In May of this year we wrote about vacancy rates across the Capital Region and highlighted that the area around False River, which includes New Roads, has more vacant housing units than nearly anywhere else in the Capital Region. Taking a deeper look, we learned that 9 out of 10 vacant units around False River are vacant because they are vacation homes (vacant just means that a house is unoccupied; it doesn’t have to be in disrepair).
This data highlights the similarities between New Roads (and Pointe Coupee generally) and other waterfront retirement communities. The area is attractive to tourists and retirees alike, but it deserves more credit than that. Despite being home to fewer than 5,000 residents, New Roads is a full-service town with grocery stores, schools, banks, restaurants, and multiple healthcare facilities. There are an estimated 500 people who both live and work in New Roads compared to just 200 that do the same in Downtown Baton Rouge. The area’s aging population is supporting a growing local healthcare industry, and its appeal as a vacation destination will continue to attract dollars from outside the parish.
With almost 11,000 residents, St. Helena is the Capital Region’s least-populous and furthest-away parish – the parish seat, Greensburg, is about an hour away from the state capitol (it’s only 35 minutes away from Hammond, heart of the Hammond metro). There are an estimated 1,800 jobs in the parish with two industries, fabricated structural metal manufacturing and hospitals, responsible for about a quarter of all jobs.
Southland Steel Fabricators, a Greensburg-based steel fabrication business, announced in 2019 an $18 million expansion into Amite in Tangipahoa Parish. While Amite isn’t in St. Helena Parish, the eye-popping growth in welders in St. Helena is at least partially due to the success of Southland. The company services a wide range of industrial clients, and their location in St. Helena allows them to, as BRAC CEO Adam Knapp noted in 2017, “access clients that are a part of manufacturing along the Gulf Coast.”
Southland gets a lot of props in the steel fabrication industry for their innovative manufacturing techniques and their use of novel technologies. These behaviors – innovative techniques and novel technologies – seem to embody what may come off as a surprising trend in St. Helena Parish. This rural parish registered 350 business applications in 2021, up from 238 in 2020 and 105 in 2019. This 233% growth in business applications over two years puts St. Helena in the top 1% of all US counties for business application growth, a trend we highlighted in our 2023 Economic Outlook report. We don’t have data yet on what types of industries these business applications are concentrated in, but they highlight the entrepreneurial spirit present even in the Capital Region’s most rural parish.
West Baton Rouge
West Baton Rouge was the Capital Region’s fastest-growing parish between 2016 and 2021, adding over 2,000 new residents and growing its population by more than 8%. Like Iberville, West Baton Rouge has a strong industrial and construction employment base. There are a projected 2,400 specialty trade contractors in West Baton Rouge representing 17% of all jobs in the parish.
West Baton Rouge is also quickly becoming a logistics hub for the Capital Region which may explain the growing demand for truck drivers. In 2019, Conn’s HomePlus announced a $5.7 million investment for a new distribution center in West Baton Rouge, and in 2020 an Amazon-linked developer announced plans to build a distribution center in Port Allen for the internet giant. West Baton Rouge is also vital to the Capital Region’s plan to be the nationwide leader in transitional energy investments, evidenced by projects like Arbor Renewable’s plan to build an $800 million manufacturing and distribution center that will create renewable gas from woody biomass.
The industrial development momentum in West Baton Rouge again highlights the need to press forward with the new Mississippi River South Bridge. Iberville and West Baton Rouge have the second and third-highest ratio of employment-to-population out of all Capital Region parishes, meaning they have high numbers of jobs compared to residents. Like in Iberville, the new bridge would provide a valuable new traffic route for workers who live across the river, opening these good-paying jobs to a wider swath of the Capital Region population. Port Allen is one of the only areas in the Capital Region outside of East Baton Rouge where more workers commute in than out, and making it easier for these workers to get to/from work will only further the growth potential of the parish.
West Feliciana Parish boasts what may be the most interesting industry mix of all the Capital Region parishes. The Baton Rouge Metro ranks 9th in the country for nuclear engineering employment largely thanks to the presence of Entergy’s River Bend Nuclear Station, located in St. Francisville. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, River Bend is one of just 92 nuclear reactors in 28 states in the US. In 2019, the River Bend Nuclear Station renewed its operating license through 2045, a contrast to the overall decline in nuclear reactors across the US.
West Feliciana is also home to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Louisiana’s oldest and only maximum-security prison. Commonly known as Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary accounted for 27% of the Department of Corrections’ FY 22 budgeted expenses and, as of June 30, 2021, held 38% of Louisiana’s incarcerated population.
The River Bend Nuclear Station and the Louisiana State Penitentiary help explain occupational growth in the parish, and the parish’s Rural Development Plan, adopted in late 2021, may help forecast the future of West Feliciana Parish. West Feliciana is the second-smallest parish in the Capital Region by population, and it’s not projected to get much bigger. The parish’s development plan outlines several goals for the next 10 years, including maintaining the parish’s rural character, enhancing its transportation system and infrastructure to accommodate forecasted growth, influencing how the parish looks in the future, and capitalizing on West Feliciana’s natural assets. Taken together, the components of this plan show that West Feliciana is likely to remain mostly rural with its two driver industries – state government and nuclear power generation – likely to remain dominant sectors for the parish moving forward.
So what do nuclear engineers, welders, and psychiatric aides have in common?
Not only are these three among the fastest-growing occupations in Capital Region parishes, but they also illustrate the incredible industry and occupational diversity present in the Baton Rouge metro. Heading into 2023, there’s a lot of exciting trends to keep track of across all nine of our unique parishes, and BR By the Numbers will be here to keep you updated.
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Sources: All jobs data are from Lightcast Economic Modeling. Population figures come from American Community Survey estimates. School enrollment figures come from the Louisiana Department of Education.