Despite economists’ declarations that the worst is over, the recession lingers across much of the country in the form of slow-to-very-slow job growth. In Louisiana, while the overall picture is mixed, growth by some companies has brightened prospects for new jobs. Here are a few highlights.

New shipyard to seek workers in Houma
HOUMA – As many as 1,000 new jobs could sprout from plans by a family-owned shipbuilding company to expand in Houma. Gary Chouest, head of Edison Chouest Offshore, which is headquartered in Galliano, says the company’s big new shipyard, called LaShip, will begin assembling its first vessel in January. Edison Chouest, one of the Gulf’s largest oilfield service firms, now has more than 180 vessels in its fleet, which serves primarily deepwater Gulf of Mexico drillers from a base in Port Fourchon.

Monroe communications company to grow
MONROE – A stalwart of North Louisiana business recently announced that it will expand its local work force by 350 workers during the next four years. CenturyLink, formerly known as CenturyTel, already employs more than 1,300 people at its Monroe headquarters and maintains an annual local payroll above $70 million.

Chief Executive Glen Post says that the company is committed to retaining its presence in North Louisiana through at least 2019. Noting that in 1994 the company generated about $550 million in annual revenue with 2,700 employees in 14 states, he predicted that CenturyLink soon will see annual revenue top $8 billion, with 20,000 employees in 33 states.

Defense industry giant sticks with Slidell
SLIDELL – Northrop Grumman, long a player in South Louisiana at its Avondale Shipyards near New Orleans, recently opened an auxiliary center in Slidell aimed at advancing the company’s technological capabilities. The new 20,000-square-foot center combines previously existing Slidell office space with the company’s Stennis Space Center operations. The $4 million investment by Northrop Grumman retained 35 jobs from the Slidell office, created 40 new high-tech jobs at an average annual salary of $47,000 plus benefits and will generate approximately 31 indirect jobs, according to a company executive.John Olesak, a Northrop Grumman vice president, says the center brings “cutting-edge innovation” in the areas of light detection and ranging. Northrop Grumman is the largest private-sector employer in Louisiana, employing approximately 5,900 employees at six locations throughout the state.

Commodities buoy North Louisiana
DESOTO PARISH – Natural gas will continue to pump prosperity into parts of North Louisiana for a long time to come, an industry spokesman said recently. In addition to the massive and valuable Haynesville Shale field, which was delineated a number of years ago, the lesser-known Bossier Shale field, which lies atop Haynesville, is enormous, says John Sharp, geosciences manager for Chesapeake Energy Corp. The field could produce a
doubling of production activity in the area and a doubling of proceeds from that activity, he says.

“DeSoto Parish will be the place to be in Louisiana for some time,” Sharp recently told a local business group. He predicted that both commercial and residential growth over the next five years will dramatically change the landscape of the local area.

New Orleans airport edges toward a transition
NEW ORLEANS – The “New Orleans Aviation Board in November took a step closer to putting Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in the hands of a private operator. The board voted to submit a
preliminary application for privatization to the Federal Aviation Administration, and the New Orleans City Council quickly endorsed the action. The application does not constitute a commitment by the board to privatize. In fact, a decision on whether to proceed in that direction could be a few years away. But the application is a step toward reserving a slot in the limited privatization program that the FAA has authorized for U.S. airports. Since the agency opened the way in 1997, only one airport, Chicago’s Midway, has proceeded toward privatization. A next step for the Aviation Board is to determine the current and future value of the airport, as this would become the basis for negotiating terms with a potential private manager or acquirer. The board hopes to select a consultant to evaluate the airport early in 2010.Meanwhile, recently tallied traffic figures show that passenger numbers were up more than 9 percent in October as compared with October 2008, with more than 345,000 people boarding planes at the airport.

Although year-to-date figures lag the first 10 months of last year, the gradually increasing numbers of conventions and events are drawing more people to the city, local officials say.