The Future is Water

Water management is projected to have 12,000 job openings by 2019.

The Southeast Louisiana Super Region — the combined metros of Houma-Thibodaux, Baton Rouge and New Orleans—is working on comprehensive growth plans around key economic sectors such as water management.

Water management is particularly ripe for growth because of multibillion-dollar investments planned by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, local parishes taxing themselves to fund levees and other protection systems, and private industry investing in their own flood protection measures along the coast.

With growing markets for coastal protection all along the East Coast and Gulf Coast, water management has the potential to provide Southeast Louisiana with a unique export specialization that can bring new revenues into the region for decades, spurred by demand for Louisiana’s expertise.

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Water management also has many well-paying jobs in this cluster that do not require a full four-year bachelor’s degree, and thus has the potential to boost prosperity in the region in the medium term.

All told, the water management cluster is projected to have 12,000 job openings by 2019 in its top 20 occupations. Essential to filling these openings will be public and private investments in workforce development that can increase the supply of qualified applicants.

To be sure, preparing a strong workforce in Southeast Louisiana will have substantial benefits beyond simply meeting employer demand. A well-prepared low- to medium-skilled workforce benefits the economy in many ways, including identifying inefficiencies in the production of goods and services, offering advice on how to improve labor processes, and even recognizing opportunities that are ripe for entrepreneurship.

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Importantly, as the demographics of our region and nation change, effectively boosting the recruitment of candidates of color will be an important strategy for filling these job openings. This is because, as of 2010 in Southeast Louisiana, 29 percent of people older than 64 were people of color; 42 percent of people 18-64 were people of color; and 51 percent of people younger than 18 were people of color.

Assuming no net in-migration and factoring in age-specific birth and death rates, we can easily project when the super region will become “majority minority” ­— by 2054.

By expanding inclusive workforce development, we can build a strong and capable labor force that can take on the challenges of tomorrow.

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A Closer Look

In the top 20 water management occupations in our region:

More than 3,500 jobs

were created between 2010 and 2014


didn’t require an associates or bachelor’s degree in 2014

15 of the top 20 jobs paid more

than the regional median earnings for Southeast Louisiana

6 of those 15 jobs

did not require a bachelor’s degree

More than 12,000 jobs

by 2019 in these top 20 occupations will be due to new jobs + retirements

Allison Plyer is executive director and chief demographer of The Data Center in New Orleans. Dr. Plyer is author of The New Orleans Index series, developed in collaboration with the Brookings Institution to track the region’s progress toward prosperity, and she leads The Data Center’s research on the development of the water management cluster in Southeast Louisiana as published in The Coastal Index series.


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