Community college news is well-timed

By Luke Britt/Editor

This week’s announcement that a site has been selected for a new Louisiana Delta Community College campus in Farmerville is the best news to hit Union Parish in quite awhile, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Since April 2020, when the U.S. government began distributing Covid relief money, Americans have been living in an artificial economy propped up by $4.7 trillion of free money. 

But that’s all over now. There’s no more Covid relief joy to be had, and it’s time to get back to work. And to be fair, Louisianian’s are working. The state’s unemployment rate for August, at 3.3 percent, was the lowest in history. 

The runaway inflation we saw a year ago has moderated. At 3.6 percent, inflation is higher than we like, but it’s still far less than the inflation rate of most western economies. Britain’s inflation rate, for example, was more than 6 percent in August, and Germany’s was 4.5 percent. All things considered, we’re holding our own.

Unfortunately, it won’t last forever. The U.S. economy is so intrinsically linked to the world economy that, even if we do everything just right, there’s no guarantee events halfway around the globe won’t put the kabash on our recovery.

Now is the time, as they say, to make hay while the sun shines, and by ‘hay’, I mean jobs. 

It’s too early to predict when actual construction will begin, but it isn’t likely to begin for, at least, a year, maybe two. When construction commences, however, there will be jobs. How many jobs is dificult to predict, but we know there will be construction jobs, jobs created indirectly as local businesses grow to accomodate new economic activity, and then, of course, jobs working at the college when it opens.  

We’re not experts on economic forecasting at the The Gazette, but we know that construction jobs for any project can be estimated based on the project budget. It’s an imperfect model but reliable enough for our purposes. 

For every $1 million in project budget, between 10 and 15 construction jobs are created. The legislature has committed $18 million dollars to the project. No one will be surprised if that amount grows to more than $20 million before the college opens it doors, but at $18 million the project should create about 200 direct jobs. If that estimate is even close to accurate, the campus construction project, while it lasts, will be Union Parish’s third largest employer behind Foster Farms and WalMart.

It’s more difficult to calculate how many jobs will be created indirectly in local businesses because there is no way to know how much of that $18 million will be spent in Union Parish. For argument’s sake, let’s say a third, or $6 million, somehow makes its way into a Union Parish bank account or cash register in the form of local purchases made by those 200 construction workers and the companies that employ them. The Federal Reserve estimates that Union Parish has a total annual economy of just over $500 million, so $6 million represents a little more than a 1 percent bump. While 1 percent may not sound like much, consider this: since World War II the U.S economy has risen at an average rate of a little more than 3 percent per year. A one percent change either way is, literally, the difference between a mild recession and a good year. 

Finally, there are the jobs created when the college becomes operational. Again, we’re spitballing here, because not even Delta Community College knows for sure, just yet, what the staffing needs will be at the Farmerville campus. We do know, however, that Delta employs about 500 staff and instructors at its eight campuses or an average of 62 per campus with an average salary of about $43,000 per year. 

The real economic value of the college, of course, is the educational opportunities it will offer the people of Union Parish. Over time our workforce will improve in both quality and quantity, paying economic and quality of life dividends, perpetually.

All this adds up to a bright economic outlook for Union Parish. If the state and national economies stay strong, we’ll all have a little something extra in our Christmas stockings. If the economy weakens, the Community College project will help Union Parish continue to hold its own.

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