Louisiana Association of Business and Industry leader Stephen Waguespack has a short answer for what’s on the Oct. 12 primary ballot: “The short answer is a lot,” he told a St. Mary Chamber audience at a Wednesday luncheon.
“What’s the big issue that [LABI] thinks you should face, what our members are facing? And it gets down to one word. You can call it economy, you can call it jobs, you can call it whatever you want, but Louisiana’s economy is the No. 1 name in the game,” Waguespack said.
The Louisiana employment rate is at 4.3% which ranks us at No. 42 in the country.
“The good news is that it is fairly lower in historical terms,” Waguespack said. “The bad news is it is one of the worst in the country. It is really lagging in comparison to the rest of the country.
“When Texas, our neighbor to the west, and yes, even Mississippi sometimes, our neighbor to the east, is growing faster than us that should be a warning sign to us. That is who we compete with for jobs, human capital, and financial capital.
“That is a concern. Other states are growing in this country. Louisiana is not,” Waguespack said.
Louisiana has a workforce participation rate of 58.5%, which is the fourth lowest in the country, Waguespack said.
The solution Waguespack offered is to elect government officials that will make major policy change in government reform, Medicaid, taxes, spending, regulations and mandates, lawsuits, workforce, and infrastructure.
“So how do we fix this trend?” Waguespack asked. “We think as an organization it is some of these policy issues that matter, we think its issues that are going to create a growing economy, create jobs, that’s the best way to keep people here, give them a reason to stay, but that means you have to get into things like government reform and spending.
“We can no longer dance around these policy issues. They are messy, they are controversial, they are tough to solve, but we have to bear hug them and fix them, Waguespack said.
“When you go to the polls,” Waguespack advised, “try to think of which ones of these issues are most important to you and ask tough questions and decide which one of the candidates are going to come in and fix some of these things.”
Waguespack pointed to Louisiana lawsuits.
“We have three times as many lawsuits as Alabama, which is one of our competitor states and rank in the top 10 of a report called the judicial hellhole,” Waguespack said.
This affects every household in Louisiana, including through auto insurance rates.
“Why does it cost so much here?” Waguespack asked.
“Here is why. Our legal system has allowed double the bodily injury rate than the rest of the country. This bodily injury rate is a big cash cow in Louisiana and that big cash cow attracts a lot more lawsuits. They can do this because it is really hard to get a jury in Louisiana. So when you get sued, you go to court, most likely you aren’t going to have a jury in there to hear your case.
“Instead it’s going to be the lawyer that is suing you in front of a judge and your insurance company says we are settling. No jury in the courtroom is a problem we need to fix, if we get more real-world people in the courtroom, and then we will get more real-world decisions coming out of the courtrooms.”
Mayor Duval Arthur Jr. brought up the issue of all the lawyer billboards that are up along Louisiana highways and asked if there was a way to block that much advertisement.
Waguespack responded by saying that legally there is no way to block the advertisement, but if the money would come out of the system, we would see less.
“If we can get the money out of the system, those guys won’t have the money for all the ads. I don’t want to make light of the issue you are bringing up, however, because it is absolutely toxic to our economic development efforts. If you are in Lafayette and you decide you are going to take (U.S.) 90 down to the bayou, what you see is one billboard after another standing on top of empty service yards where there used to be inventory and trucks and workers. It is literally an empty parking lot taunted by the entity that basically drove them out of business.”
At the beginning of the luncheon, the Chamber announced their Administrative Assistant of the Month.
“So many times we take for granted those that we work with on a day-to-day basis, we don’t even think about how important they really are to us. Each month the chamber would like to honor these special people who help make our work day run smoothly,” said Jason Watson, chief financial officer of Patterson State Bank and vice president of the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce.
Jeremy Callais, president of Morgan City Bank, presented the award to Morgan City Bank employee Joyce Williams.