“Dubbed the most Cajun place on earth by the census bureau, this area is a wonderland of wetlands, wildlife, fishing and most definitely food.” Larry Lee, rural community development specialist in Opelika, AL, and Bill Davis, with USDA Rural Development in Bismarck, ND wrote in their white paper on Economic Revitalization for Vermilion Parish, LA (population 54,751), which sits on the Intercoastal waterway on the Gulf of Mexico and was devastated by both Katrina and Rita.
“At best, the parish economy was struggling before Hurricane Rita’s storm surge came racing across its marshes and rice fields, not only washing away homes, but a sizeable portion of its economic base as well. Now, Rita’s saltwater surge has left many fields unfit for cultivation for at least one crop. Many rice producers ‘double crop’ their land with crawfish. The best estimates are that nearly 25,000 acres of rice will not be able to be planted in 2006 because of salty soil conditions. This will mean a decrease of $10 million in income for local farmers. In all, it is estimated that the total loss from agriculture will be nearly $50 million.”
Lee and Davis identified the strengths of the region as: The Cajun culture; location on the Gulf of Mexico, rail lines and four-lane roads; strong agricultural work ethic; schools ranked 17th out of 66 school systems in the state; and its proximity to LaFayette.
The Challenges they found were: Disconnect between various entities within the parish; resignation that “this is the way things are done in Louisiana”; no core vision; proximity to LaFayette impedes development of Vermilion.
Lee and Davis proposed the creation of a public-private ED organization, partnering with a neighboring Iberia Industrial Development Foundation, leadership development, exploiting its unique Cajun tourism appeal and branding itself as the “Cajun Kitchen.” They have some great ideas for a region that has suffered greatly. I hope that Vermilion Parish follows their well thought out plan.