Touted as “The Most Cajun Place on Earth,” Vermilion Parish is a large and diverse coastal parish that boasts both farmland and wandering bayous, as well as the deep and navigable Vermilion River which leads to the Gulf of Mexico. Most of its 60,000 people are bilingual, speaking both Cajun French and English.
Vermilion Parish’s residents and businesspeople make the most of their abundant natural resources by cultivating and attracting individuals and businesses that pull oil and gas from the earth, harvest creatures from the sea and the bayous, graze cattle on its lands and grow rice, sugarcane and soy beans in its fertile soil.
Businesses that sell to and service these enterprises understandably gravitate to the Parish, too. For instance, those who provide oilfield equipment and services abound in Vermilion Parish. Consequently, there are plenty of professional machinists, welders, pipe fitters, helicopter pilots and so forth, according to Anne Falgout of the new Vermilion Economic Development Alliance (VEDA).
Major Vermilion Parish employers who support the oil and gas industry in one way or another include Schlumberger Inc. in Maurice, Shaw Global Energy Services, Inc. in Delcambre and EcoServ in Abbeville.
In addition to providing fixed wing pilot training, aircraft rental and a full range of ground services for airplanes of all types and sizes, Vector Aviation at the Abbeville Airport regularly provides fuel and services to 25 helicopters that operate daily, ferrying people, emergency parts and lightweight supplies like fresh produce to the oil and gas platforms.
“This area has been very oilfield-driven for the past 50 years or so,” explained Mike Mouton of Vector. “Some of those platforms are 150 miles out into the Gulf. It takes an hour to reach them by helicopter or 12 hours to reach them by boat. These helicopters provide a very important service and we make the owners’ and pilots’ lives easier.”
The Port of Vermilion, Abbeville Harbor and Terminal District, is an industrial park on the Vermilion River that houses tenants that want the ability to do business by truck or by river. Many of those tenants also service the oil and gas industry by offering marine fabrication, construction, logistics services and marine contracting/transportation, while others service the marine industry, according to Jay Campbell, executive director.
“We have 400-plus employees working at the Port of Vermilion who earn $23 million-plus in salaries so we have a huge impact on our district, Abbeville, the Parish and the entire state. People come from all over Acadiana to work here in positions ranging from clerical to metal fabricating to transportation and crane operators. Two of our tenants even have their own tugs and barges, so they employ captains and mates,” Campbell said.
Those tenants engaged in oil and gas services are Cajun Maritime, Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., Gulf Coast Marine Fabricators, Stallion Offshore Quarters and Tanner Services, LLC. The port is also the home of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Pelican and to Maritime International which provides marine fenders and mooring bollards, engineering/design services, laboratory performance testing, heavy steel fabrication, and naval systems.
Marine-related businesses prosper in the Parish, thanks to not only those fishing the Gulf, but also to the many fisheries which raise and sell crawfish, shrimp, alligators and pogy. Packaging those pogy bait fish for shipment to East Coast fishermen creates work for many Vermilion residents as does processing the tiny fish into fish oil supplements and animal feed additives at the Omega Protein Corporation processing plant in Abbeville.
“Those aquaculture-related industries are huge and have a lot of future potential if the owners choose to ramp them up and capture a bigger share of the market,” Falgout of VEDA stated.
Vermilion Parish also has firms which process and add value to locally-grown rice and sugarcane like the Planters Rice Mill, Stansel’s Gourmet Rice and Steen’s Syrup Mill.
These long-standing industries in Vermilion Parish continue to grow as they serve the oil and gas, agriculture and aquaculture industries.
Nearly 40 percent of Vermilion Parish’s 783,000 acres is currently devoted to agriculture and aquaculture, bringing $300 million into the Parish annually, according to Andrew Granger, County Agricultural Agent for Vermilion Parish. Rice and cattle have been huge cash crops in the region for the past 50 years and sugarcane was added to the mix in the late 1980s. Soy beans and wheat are also raised by some. U
Vermilion Parish’s farms are mostly family-owned and they are seasonal employers, Granger said. Extra labor is only brought in at planting and harvest times, in most cases. Rice farmers double as aquaculturists because they rotate between using their land to grow rice and to raise crawfish, giving the soil a chance to regenerate between rice crops.
“The Vermilion Economic Development Alliance is focused on retaining the Parish’s existing businesses and helping to make those businesses more resilient to market changes. To do this we have initiated a business visitation program,” Falgout explained. “We are also planning to educate local residents about how to start a business and are recruiting new businesses to come here to fill any gaps we have in terms of necessary goods and services.”
“We don’t want there to be any missed opportunities, so we are looking at what makes sense for this area and we are open to any good ideas. We are even planning to meet with our local farmers to discuss how we can transform each individual operation into more of a commercial entity,” she added.
“We have also assembled a team of local and regional people who can respond when a company expresses interest in locating in Vermilion Parish,” Falgout explained.
Ryan LaGrange, Manager of Workforce Development for the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, would likely be one of those experts.
“When a company considers relocating or expanding to this area, we have to present ourselves on a regional basis in order to be competitive. They want to look at the commute area around any potential site so they would be asking about workforce availability within a one-hour radius,” LaGrange explained.
“Roughly one-third of the Vermilion Parish workforce is employed within the Parish. Another third commute to Lafayette to work and the balance go everywhere else in Acadiana to work. I know that about 800 Vermilion Parish residents travel to Baton Rouge every day, for instance,” he continued.
The largest number work in health care, followed by retail, then oil and gas, manufacturing and agriculture.
“We have a high per capita income – approximately $34,030 per year on average – and low unemployment, particularly among those working in industries that produce wealth for the region. Omega Protein, for instance, ships its products worldwide, bringing its profits to Vermilion Parish,” LaGrange explained.
“The highest paying jobs within the Parish generally go to those with a technical degree or an associate’s degree from a community college. Area schools have been adept at developing programs to meet the needs of area businesses. South Louisiana Community College’s Gulf Area Campus in Abbeville, for instance, offers a program in industrial agriculture mechanics technology which has a 100 percent placement rate.”
Those with a bachelor’s degree (approximately 16 percent of the local workforce) generally find work in Lafayette, he said. The University of Louisiana – Lafayette offers more than 120 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs.
“All of us are working together to try to attract more high-impact industries. We are also trying attract more national and international that work with and supply the concentration of industries that are already here,” LaGrange stated.