Louisiana has a lot to smile about.
The Pelican State has four cities listed among the top 10 happiest regions in which to live, according to a recent study by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research.
It ranks among the top 10 states with the most lawyers per capita (presumably happy lawyers) and it is second only to Texas as the leading producer of crude oil.
Louisiana also is rolling out the red carpet for Hollywood, courting television and film productions with attractive tax incentives, which, for some, has translated to a fair amount of pool work.
In a region known for Southern hospitality, the pool market is indeed hospitable.
Maybe even too hospitable.
Pool builders who keep their costs low can get by without a state contractor’slicense, which are only required on projects over $50,000. That’s created a groundswell of amateurs operating out of their pickups, locals say.
A decade ago, about a dozen builders dominated the market. But that’s changed.
“Now there’s a flood of people in allied industries building pools,” says Charles Elfert, owner of Pleasure Aquatech Pools in Mandeville, part of the greater New Orleans metro area.
In many cases, these are plumbers or other tradesmen who are supplementing their incomes by building a small number of pools a year.
“Until we have a licensing law, it’s going to be the Wild West out here,” Elfert adds.
Testing the waters
The temptation to enter the market is so strong that it’s luring warehouse workers away from their jobs in distribution, where they’re witnessing first-hand how much construction activity is going on.
“Just our [distribution] branch alone has produced three pool companies in three years,” says Brandon Miller, owner of Cajun Pools & Spas in Breaux Bridge, about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge.
Though the landscape is competitive, Louisiana can be lucrative. With its muggy climate and laid-back vibe, backyards practically beg for pools. Miller, who specializes in fiberglass pools with custom tanning ledges, says business is up 40 percent so far this year. His pools are typically $50,000 to $60,000, but homeowners are paying tens of thousands of dollars more for luxurious decks.
“Travertine has become a huge upsell market for us,” Miller says.
Showing off showrooms
With the economy showing encouraging signs, some builders are investing substantially in their companies.
Oasis Aquatech Pools recently celebrated the grand opening of its new state-of-the-art facility in Shreveport, in Northwest Louisiana. The 9,000-square-foot warehouse, office and showroom utilize pre-engineered metal building systems and feature a smart use of corrugated wall panels and louvered sunshades.
The modern edifice, designed by Newport Beach, Calif. firm Robert R. Coffee Architect + Associates, is a testament to Oasis’ commitment to creative, responsible design, says owner Paul Broussard.
“I think they can see what you can do with a budget and creative ability; it reflects what you can do in the pool business,” Broussard says.
Located on a busy thoroughfare, the building is an eye-catcher at night. Yard lights illuminate a colored porcelain tile wall along one side, while LED-lit fountains arc into miniature pools.
“This is an advertisement for us,” Broussard says.
He, too, is seeing a spike in quantity on the residential side. Commercial work also has increased, as several casinos and upscale apartment complexes recently hired his firm for high-end projects.
Builders credit the state’s booming energy industry for giving the pool market a shot in the arm. Louisiana is expected to add thousands of jobs related to several major pipeline and methanol projects. In fact, it’s the energy industry that largely shielded Louisiana from the recent recession.
“When the economy tanked nationwide, we actually experienced three to four years of record growth,” says Michael Moore II, vice president of sales and marketing for Morehead Pools.
The 50-year-old firm, No. 8 on this year’s Top 50 builders list, expanded operations in recent years by adding more employees. It also did a complete renovation of its Shreveport headquarters.
State has star power
Film and television is another industry giving the local economy a lift. Louisiana stole California’s title as the film-production capital of the world, according to Film L.A., the city of Los Angeles’ film department.
Morehead Pools landed a role installing a hot tub for one of the “Harold & Kumar” flicks and has prepared pools for their close-ups for a couple of Kevin Costner movies.
“I wouldn’t attribute a lot our business to it, but it does create some service work,” Moore says.
Some builders are also benefiting from Hollywood’s investment through the outcropping of short-term rental houses for cast and crew.
Hollywood transplants are looking for temporary abodes, fully furnished with utilities paid, and property owners are catering to this niche by adding amenities, such as pools, to fetch higher rents.
All the lights, cameras and action taking place in the Pelican State are contributing more than money to the local economy. It’s also helping make Louisiana even happier.
“Quite honestly, it creates this subconscious feel to the market; there are movie stars here,” Moore says with a note of hometown pride.