Restoring the economy
Our Gulf Coast economic recovery efforts have focused on paying all legitimate claims stemming from the spill and supporting two of the region’s most vital industries - tourism and seafood
Like the rest of the US, the Gulf Coast has experienced slow economic growth over the past decade. The Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 came amid this economic strain, to a region that had already been impacted by recent recessions and the costs of rebuilding after multiple hurricanes.
Q&A with Maria Travis, Director of Claims and Economic Restoration, Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, BP
Q. When you look at all that has happened over the past three years since the accident, what are your thoughts on how economic recovery is progressing?
A. When you talk about economic recovery you have to start first with the people who have legitimate claims, and I am very pleased that money is flowing to Gulf state residents and businesses. In 2013, we surpassed the $12 billion mark; that means that $12 billion has gone to claimants and into the local economies. It certainly is a large step in helping local economies rebuild.
Q. What about tourism?
A. From the data I see and reports from the states, tourism has largely recovered. We stepped up early in 2010 to give the states money to promote their tourism. That was important. Nearly all of the $236 million we committed for tourism promotion has been paid. That, combined with state and local budgets, seems to have been effective. New records continue to be set in many areas. According to Visit Florida, the second quarter of 2013 was the largest second quarter for visitation in the state’s history. And through the first three quarters of 2013, Florida welcomed 72.6 million visitors, up more than 3% from 2012. Alabama is also seeing records. In August 2013, Orange Beach surpassed $2 million in lodging tax revenue for the first time in a single month. Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes said the area is seeing a consistent pattern of growth after the oil spill, and the area set records for three straight years coming out of the downturn. He called that growth a trend. I am sure it is exciting for the community to see such tourism growth.
Q What about Mississippi?
A. We were pleased to see that hotel sales along the coastal counties were 9.5% higher for the first eight months of 2013 as compared to 2009. The casinos are important to Mississippi tourism, and in September construction began on a new hotel and casino in coastal Mississippi, indicating confidence in the market. From an overall economic perspective, Mississippi saw employment in the state increase nearly 1% during the first eight months of 2013, and about 2% from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2013. This shows a strengthening economy.
Q. Louisiana was one of the hardest hit areas. How is that state progressing?
A. In terms of tourism, New Orleans saw four years of rapid growth in revenue per available room. In 2013, that measure was nearly 8% higher than 2012 and 50% higher than in 2009. So New Orleans has had very positive growth when you compare 2013 to the year before the spill. However, the big story in Louisiana is employment growth. According to economists, Louisiana is expected to surpass two million jobs in 2015 for the first time in the state’s history, and Louisiana is just one of 12 US states with more people employed in 2013 than at the beginning of 2008.
Q. How about fishing in the states?
A. Commercial fishing trends are mixed, but there have been a number of variables in play the past few years including flooding in some areas, drought in others, and freshwater diversions that changed water salinity. Finfish landings in the Gulf in 2012, excluding Texas, were 11% above 2007-2009 levels. Shrimp landings are approaching pre-spill levels; 2012 landings in the four-state region were only 2.9% below the 2007-2009 average, and initial 2013 results indicate that landings were 2.1% below the 2007-2009 average. And these results vary by state. Recreational fishing landings in the Gulf during the first 10 months of 2013 were 31% higher than the average over the same period in 2007-2009, prior to the spill. My colleagues who fish say the fishing is terrific. The fishermen are back and enjoying some of the best fishing in the US.