Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

GEOFF DAILY: Lafayette’s enthusiasm gap

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Lafayette has a lot to feel good about, the results of One Acadiana’s quality of life survey seem to say. Of 600+ respondents, 52% believe the parish is heading in the right direction, and almost 73% rated the parish’s quality of life as good or excellent. That last number was the highest ever recorded by the firm behind the polling.

But dig a little deeper and there are some more troubling indicators. There is a clear difference of opinion about Lafayette’s quality of life between people who live in the city of Lafayette and those who don’t. The big thrust: A small majority of city residents feel like Lafayette is heading in the wrong direction. But non-city residents think we’re on the right track.

Just under 55% of parish respondents believe Lafayette is on the right track, while 49% of city respondents agree.

For a deeper dive, check out the Vibrant Acadiana survey data here.

This enthusiasm gap becomes even more apparent when respondents were asked to rate Lafayette’s economic conditions, which were pessimistic overall. Still, 36% of city respondents said Lafayette’s economic conditions were good or excellent, while 53% of the rest of the parish’s respondents said the same.

The survey is really only a measure of perception. That makes views on likely outmigration the most frightening disparity. Around 23% of people outside of the city said they or someone close to them were somewhat or very likely to move away. But almost 40% of city residents responded this way. That’s nearly two in five who are seriously thinking about leaving Lafayette.

Concerns about the local economy aren’t limited to the city. The majority of respondents (50.4%) across the entire parish were either somewhat or very concerned about the security and future of their own job or the jobs of close family members in the Lafayette area. Those concerns are higher (55.5%) among those making less than $75,000 than those making more (46.7%).

But jobs aren’t the only areas of concern for Lafayette’s economy. Only 33% of all respondents think the quality of Lafayette’s public schools are good or excellent, with 29% rating them as poor. Only 36% of respondents think that the availability of affordable housing is good or excellent, with close to 24% describing this as poor. And just 37% would describe public safety and crime rates in the parish as being good or excellent, with 27% rating them as poor.

Despite these significant economic challenges, a strong majority of respondents think Lafayette’s a good place to raise a family, with 67.5% describing the parish as being good or excellent for this purpose.

And 65% thought Lafayette Parish was a good or excellent place to live for people like them. But the same can’t be said for certain categories of people. For people living below the poverty line, only 25.5% of respondents described Lafayette as being good or excellent, with 38% rating it as poor. For recent college graduates, only 35% described it as good or excellent; that number dropped even further in the city at 26%.

Notably, people outside the city of Lafayette think higher of Lafayette’s city amenities. A little less than 69% of non-city respondents rated Lafayette’s nightlife and entertainment options as good or excellent, compared with just 48% in the city. A little more than 44% of non-city residents rated Lafayette’s public transportation as good or excellent, but only 36% of city residents felt the same.

Nightlife, entertainment and public transportation options are generally much more abundant in the city than outside of it. So what these data arguably show is how the expectations of those services differ, with city residents having higher expectations of city services and amenities. If so, this is a troubling data point. Services and amenities are what Lafayette uses to compete to attract and retain talent.

All of these numbers — good and bad — should be taken with a grain of salt since they only represent the views of a tiny fraction of people who live in the city and parish of Lafayette. The dataset is intended to be a baseline for measurement. Still, it offers an unusually objective window into how Lafayette perceives itself as it faces some serious economic headwinds.