For the sixth straight year, Webster Parish has lost population.
In 2011, the parish’s population was a hearty 41,259, but the latest numbers as of 2016, show the population has dwindled to 39,710 – an average loss of about 258 people per year.
Webster Parish Police Juror Nick Cox, District 6, said he is worried about those numbers.
“It worries me, because an average of 258 a year is a high number,” he said. “It really never has increased, and we need to turn those numbers around. This is a hard topic.”
Police Jury President Jim Bonsall said he believes the parish’s bread and butter – the oil and gas industry – has been the biggest reason for the decline. Since the Haynesville Shale boom has died down, the jobs have left with it.
“What I’ve seen is tax collections go down, and I’m not sure if it’s the population decline, but I think it’s due to oil field decline,” he said. “When I think about it,
I think about International Paper going away about 15 years ago, and the Shell Plant shutting down about 20 years ago. I think those are the main reasons why there’s a decline.”
Cox also believes economics plays a large role in why the parish’s population is declining so rapidly. He’s attended several economic development seminars and other events, and the most important lesson he has learned centers on marketability. He said Webster Parish as a whole has had trouble marketing itself to bring in those much-needed jobs that would boost the population numbers.
“Economic incentives are extremely competitive when it comes to marketing,” he said. “One of the biggest things is having site-ready places for businesses to move into. One of the things businesses look at is, ‘How quick can I put up a banner and go to work?’ Everyone is looking for site-ready.”
Bonsall said more stability is needed in the parish’s economics to stabilize the parish’s population because the oilfield will always be unstable.