by Taylor Gautreaux

Workers in the Bayou Region of Louisiana can be described with one word: innovative.

“When people say Cajun ingenuity, it’s truly a thing that people don’t quite understand,” says Cody Blanchard, chairman of the Thibodaux Chamber of Commerce. “It means that we find solutions for things. For example, we are experts at building levees because we had to learn to live with the land.”

In South Louisiana, we work with what’s available. Our location gives access to waterways and natural resources that allow us to diversify our job market.

The fall 2017 issue of Garde Voir Ci focuses on the aspects of our work that set us apart from other areas of the country. We work from the “ground up,” literally and figuratively – from life offshore to the sugarcane fields to family-owned and operated businesses. We are working to power, feed and inspire.

As of March, 1,901,295 jobs are held in Louisiana, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our workforce makes up 1.33 percent of workers in the country, and we are 0.9 percent below the national unemployment rate.

The oil and gas industry is the largest employer of the Bayou Region. Port Fourchon in Lafourche Parish services over 90 percent of the Gulf of Mexico’s deep-water oil production, which accounts for nearly 18 percent of the nation’s total oil supply.

“We’re where the rubber meets the road,” explains Blanchard. “Houston is where they control oil and gas. Lafayette has some service companies as well, but the Bayou Region is where it comes out of the ground. We are those hard workers that get stuff done.”

The industry helped modernize our communities over the last decade by allowing us to advance in ways that other parts of the country already had.

“These were very rural towns,” says Paul Wilson, head of Nicholls State University’s history department. “But because of the oil field, you can now have a city like Houma that is booming economically with paved roads, stores and restaurants.”

Aside from oil and gas, we also work to provide food to fuel our communities.

One out of every 70 jobs in Louisiana is tied to the seafood industry, which brings in $2.4 billion annually for the state, according to the state of Louisiana’s Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.

Additionally, Nicholls State University is home to the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, the only post-secondary institution that offers a four-year culinary degree in Louisiana.

“It’s a great program,” says Blanchard. “It’s something we could expand on.”

And when it comes to sugarcane, Cajuns do more than farm. Alternative uses for the crop have been developed. Virdia, a global manufacturer of biomaterials, has two biochemical plants in Raceland that convert sugarcane and its byproducts like bagasse into pellets that are used for energy production.

“These are unique things that are happening,” says Blanchard. “We’re finding new ways of doing things.”

While energy and agriculture play a large role in our history, our art also embraces our cultural heritage and ingenuity. From glass fusion to paintings, workers in the Bayou Region tend to incorporate aspects of life on the bayou into their craft.

The Purple Penguin Art Company, an art gallery in Thibodaux, features signatures of Louisiana in its displays. Crawfish. Fleurs-de-lis. Pelicans. Sugarcane fields. Plantations.

These images appear throughout the gallery, keeping the culture and history alive.

“If you look at our pieces, they scream Louisiana to you,” said Tyla Deroche, an artist at The Purple Penguin Art Company.

“Louisiana has such a rich culture that you can pretty much get inspired by anything that you see.”

So “look at this” to learn more about how citizens of the Bayou Region are working to power, feed and inspire in this edition of Garde Voir Ci.