Diversifying the Lafayette economy away from the oil and gas industry was a hallmark of the Durel administration. Oil and gas was too unpredictable so the goal was to focus on something else. Even today, the decision to move in that direction continues to exact a hefty price. The area has lost so many oil and gas jobs that last year, for the first time since its founding in 1953, LAGCOE decided to have their Oil and Gas Expo someplace other than Lafayette. Of course, they’ll tell you it’s just an amazing coincidence.
Just how many oilfield related jobs have been lost?
If we compare the Lafayette area job data on page 66 the 2014 Louisiana Workforce Information Review and page 90 from the 2018 Louisiana Workforce Information Review, some 18,073 mining and manufacturing jobs were lost. Mining is the category used for oilfield jobs, and manufacturing can be attributed to the many oilfield support industries.
Applying a touch of math to the average weekly salary for those jobs is very insightful. That salary data is listed on the same page 90 of the 2018 Louisiana Workforce Information Review. The calculation works out to twenty-eight and a half million dollars. More precisely, $28,511,633 is no longer being invested in oilfield and related jobs in the Lafayette area. Don’t gloss over that this number represents losses for a single week. Monthly, that number is a hundred and twenty-three million, or $123,550,409. Over a year, that’s a billion and a half dollars, or $1,482,604,916 lost because those jobs that are no longer here.
New diversification jobs aren’t materializing
The Durel plan to bring technology to Lafayette brought with it several failed or failing experiments. Much like saying someone who opposes $200 million in new taxes must want children running through the rain, their answer to anyone who didn’t support these boondoggles was they opposed job creation. A few examples immediately come to mind. After ten years of operation, of the $114 million they originally borrowed, LUS Fiber still owes creditors nearly $182 million. If we count the $8 million refund for duplicative services they’re likely going to issue to LUS electric, that would put LUS Fiber at $190 million in debt. A second is the LITE Center, which finally had to abandon all hope in 2017 after racking up over $31 million in losses. The big egg it laid on Cajundome Boulevard remains an ever-present reminder of their failure.
The hollow promise of CGI jobs for Lafayette
The big promise of the CGI experiment was jobs. Everyone naturally assumed they meant to employ Acadiana residents. However, upon a close inspection, the jobs created by this unholy alliance between government and out-of-town business hasn’t worked out that way at all.
In a months-old document acquired by Citizens for a New Louisiana, the number of people employed at CGI is 528. Of those, a striking number are not just new to Lafayette, but they’re new to the United States! A good portion are H1B Visa holders from India. That’s significant because if CGI ever decided that a particular visa holder was no longer needed, back they go to their home country. Such an employee’s loyalty to CGI would be as strong as their desire to stay in the country.
The document lists the number CGI’s employees from the Lafayette area as about 10% of the total workforce. That works out to about 53 Lafayette natives. Even if we counted all 528 jobs, it’s nowhere near the 17,000 oilfield and related jobs that have abandoned Lafayette for warmer welcomes elsewhere.
If Lafayette didn’t benefit, who did?
The Mayor-President’s office, working in tandem with LEDA, arranged to establish a Lafayette footprint for the Canadian company. Taxpayers did their part by constructing a brand-new, $13.1 million, 50,000 square-foot building to house the firm. It may be worth noting here that if $13.1 million was the final price, the math would work out to a shocking $262 per square foot. If we were to compare this with purchasing and remodeling existing facilities that were vacant at the time, such as the old Whitney or Chevron buildings, local experts say a high estimate would be around $60 per square foot. That’s less than a quarter of what our government spent.
We’ve heard the final price for the CGI building may have been closer to $17 million, or $340 per square foot. As of this writing, a public records request for the final total amount spent on the building has not been released.
Add to this ULL and the State of Louisiana chipped in by covering ten years rent. The rent starts at zero and gradually increases to “market value” at the end of the ten-year agreement. The total value of the rent subsidy ends up being about $1 million. The state of Louisiana also kicked-in an additional $5.3 million for personnel relocation, to which LEDA added another $1.1 million.
The building is owned by Ragin Cajun Facilities, a division of ULL, which is exempt from paying property or income taxes. This wouldn’t be the case had they remodeled existing, privately owned facilities around town. At current values, ten years worth of property taxes works out to another $1 million. All told, various agencies of our government have spent, forgiven, or absorbed over $21 million in taxpayer money to give CGI a significant position in town.
The rise of Carlee
Sometime around 2010, Carlee Alm went from school teacher to Assistant Mayor-President of Lafayette. Four years later, in 2014, the Mayor-President, LEDA, and ULL crafted a deal to bring to town the company responsible for the failed Obamacare website rollout. At the time, Canadian CGI (Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique) had but a single employee working in Lafayette, William LaBar, husband of Carlee Alm. It is possible, but unlikely, that the selection of a company employing the Assistant Mayor-President’s husband is another one of those amazing coincidences.
The $21 million deal was inked in April of 2014. Just before the official ground breaking of CGI’s new facility in January, sometime around December 20th of 2014, Joey Durel promoted his assistant, Carlee Alm, to Chief Development Officer. One benefit of that promotion, according to budget documents, was a 99% pay raise; going from $45,087 per year to $89,643. However, page ten of a recent financial disclosure statement reveals that she was paid a salary somewhere north of $100,000 for that position. We’re not sure how north because $100,000+ is the maximum amount the form records. This also happens to be the amount separately recorded as her salary at Southern Lifestyle Development and for her husband’s salary at CGI.
Before 2015, Carlee Alm’s husband, William LaBar, had been CGI’s only employee in Lafayette for fifteen years. During this time, emails acquired by Citizens for a New Louisiana list his title as “Director, Consulting.” While Carlee’s promotion came right before the CGI building’s ground breaking, her husband’s didn’t come until right after. According to a local news report, that groundbreaking happened on January 27th, 2015. William LaBar’s promotion to Vice President in charge of CGI’s Lafayette operation was announced on February 7th of 2015.
More CGI buildings on the horizon?
By our count, the CGI experiment has successfully replaced 53 of the 18,073 oilfield jobs lost by Lafayette area natives at a taxpayer cost of more than $21 million. We’ve recently been hearing chatter that CGI is actively looking to add another 50,000 square foot facility somewhere in the Lafayette area. Several people have asked the Downtown Development Authority about rumors it will be located in their district. Apparently there is a non-disclosure agreement keeping anyone from talking about it.
One document acquired by Citizens for a New Louisiana, dated April of this year, shows that whoever is putting the deal together has LPTFA committed to $3.5 million of a $14 million total price tag. That total works out to $280 per square foot, by the way. The document also includes lease payments to DOTD. The only thing like that in the news lately is LPTFA’s lease of the old Coburn building. LPTFA’s attorney, Brandon DeCuir, insists that neither he nor his client know anything about the plans.
Does mayor candidate Carlee know anything about it? Certainly her husband should. If she’s elected, would another $20 million taxpayer funded deal with her husband’s company be considered a conflict of interest?
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