2001 economic numbers mixed for Concordia

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Economic indicators for Concordia Parish for early 2001 were a mixed bag, according to figures from state and local agencies.

Sales tax collections for the first half of the year were down throughout the parish from 2000 to 2001 – except in Ferriday, where they were up by more than $24,000. The average unemployment rate for January through May of 2001 was 12.26 percent, down from 12.66 percent for the same time last year.

While the number of welfare grant recipients for the first half of 2001 was 169, down from 182 last year, the number of food stamp recipients rose from 1,203 to 1,396.

In all, 108 new trucks and cars were registered in the first half of this year, down from 121 for the same period in 2000.

For the year to date, 115 building permits were issued in Ferriday, Vidalia and unincorporated Concordia Parish – down from 151 for the same period in 2000.

But that includes commercial and residential construction and renovations to existing structures. As with the other statistics, officials caution that building permit figures fluctuate from year to year.

And local business and government leaders’ predictions for the second half of the year are a mixed bag as well.

The amount and types of aid farmers will receive from Congress later this year will have a great effect on the local economy, which is largely agricultural, said Cliff Merritt, president of Louisiana Central Bank.

&uot;We have heard there might be an additional market loss payment, and that will help if that comes to pass, because (crop) prices are still so depressed,&uot;&160;Merritt said.

&uot;The farmers are going to have a good yield, especially on corn and soybeans, but the market is down and the price of equipment continues to rise,&uot; said Charlie Blaney, Concordia Police Jury president and past president of the Vidalia Chamber of Commerce. &uot;And that’s going to hurt us.&uot;

While Merritt said he does not predict &uot;doom and gloom&uot; for the rest of 2001, he does believe consumers will probably continue to be more cautious about spending, due in part to the stock market’s recent uncertainty.

Still, through watching national news and markets, keeping up with trends through banking associations and talking with local leaders, Merritt said he has gotten a better picture for 2002.

&uot;The last vestiges of this (caution) should clear up next year, I&160;believe,&uot;&160;Merritt said. &uot;The (federal) tax rebate that is due later this year should give the economy a little lift.&uot;

While he acknowledged that low crop prices will hurt largely agricultural Concordia Parish, Concordia Bank President Pat Biglane said he is &uot;cautiously optimistic&uot; about the second half of 2001.

&uot;For one thing, short-term (interest) rates are going down,&uot; said Biglane who, with Merritt, co-chairs the Vidalia Chamber’s Industrial Committee.

&uot;People are looking for ways to increase their cash flow by refinancing their house, and they’re seeing opportunities to go out and buy a house,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;That’s having an immediate effect on our area.&uot;

Biglane also said the Vidalia Landing development being built on the banks of the Mississippi River will have a major impact on the area’s economy not just in the last half of 2001, but far into the future.

&uot;Overall, it will be a big plus for our economy,&uot;&160;Biglane said.

A $8 million to $10 million outpatient surgical complex is already being planned for Vidalia Landing.

And a 100-room hotel and a restaurant that will cost about $750,000 to build should be officially announced for the riverfront this fall, said Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland.

&uot;We feel really positive about our economic future,&uot; Copeland said. &uot;This development will create jobs in the short term – construction jobs – as well as in the long term.&uot;