St. Tammany Parish Economy Shows Positive Signs in First Quarter

St. Tammany Parish’s economy continued to grow in the first quarter of 2012, making strides in indexes ranging from employment to housing sales, statistics compiled by a parish economic development group show. Unemployment during the first quarter was 5.9 percent, down from 6.3 percent for the corresponding quarter in 2011. Moreover, the parish’s unemployment rate was better than the state’s, at 7.2 percent, and the U.S., at 8.6 percent.

Brenda Rein Bertus, executive director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, which compiled and analyzed the data, said unemployment rates tend to fall in the last quarter of a year, due to holiday hiring, and then rise in the first quarter of the year.

The parish’s unemployment rate for the last quarter of 2011 was 5.4 percent.

“Employment is historically less in the first quarter,” she said.

More than 104,000 parish residents reported having jobs during the first quarter of this year, a 2,000-employed-person jump over the same period in 2011, the statistics showed.

Housing sales, meanwhile, increased 23.3 percent over the same period last year, from 477 in the first quarter of 2011 to 588 the first quarter of this year, the stats show. The average sale price, however, dipped from $206,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to $192,000 for the first quarter of this year.

Reine Bertus said the lower sale prices could be a reflection of much of the parish’s stock of foreclosed houses now being sold.

“In the past few years you’ve seen the market adjust to the changes from Katrina,” she said. “Now, you’re seeing the foreclosures being sold. Historically, they sell for a little less.

“But the sales of single family going up shows these houses are being taken off the market — that’s a positive.”

The number of permits for new single-family homes rose from 148 in 2011 to 156 for the first quarter of this year, an increase of 5.4 percent. Commercial building permits fell 48 percent during the first quarter of 2012, an indicator of a glut, at least in the short term, in current inventory of commercial space.

But citing growth in other sectors, as well as the falling unemployment rate, EDF officials said the glut might not be long-term trend.

Parish retail sales for the quarter also outpaced the numbers for first quarter 2011, with total sales of almost $940 million for first quarter 2012, about a 3 percent increase.

Reine Bertus said the numbers for the first quarter overall paint a very positive outlook.

“With the exception of commercial building permits, we are seeing evidence of a strong and growing economy,” she said.

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