Pass Christian, Miss., Is Bustling, Despite Economy, Hurricane

Robin Roberts in Pass Christian

Neither the fury of Hurricane Katrina nor the stifling recession has permanently crippled the small town of Pass Christian, Miss.

The city, which is the hometown of "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, is riding out the poor economy.

Indeed, the Gulf Coast region that Katrina ravaged has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. While the United States struggles through its highest unemployment level in 25 years, the Katrina Zone is bustling.

Houma, La., for instance, has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 3.6 percent, and the continually rebuilding New Orleans; is at 5.3 percent.

Harrison County, where Pass Christian is located, has an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent. "Grant money is starting to show up now as a result of Katrina but, nonetheless, with the economy slowing down, that's been a big boost to us," Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermot said.

Experts call the boost the Katrina effect. The rebuilding effort brings in a steady stream of construction jobs and lures new companies into the region.

But there's more to the Gulf Coast survival than the Katrina effect

"The industries here have been pretty steady; you've heard people say, 'We didn't have a boom, so we didn't have a bust,'" said Peter Ricchiuti of Tulane University's Freeman School of Business.

Once-thriving sectors like finance and housing that threw many Americans out of work never had as far to fall in this area.

And Southern-based foreign auto manufacturers, like the Nissan plant in Mississippi, have avoided the large-scale layoffs like the Big Three in Detroit.

And then there's tourism.

Gaming at casinos dropped 23 percent in Las Vegas in February but increased 1.4 percent in Louisiana.

And area residents can expect to see $2.5 billion in stimulus money in the next two years.

But Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said his state is still susceptible. "We're not immune to what's going on in the national economy," Barbour said on "Good Morning America" today.

He cited the state's recent decrease in revenue and some job losses.

Barbour added that his state is affected less by things like real estate, which has devastated places like California and Florida.

Still, Tulane's assistant dean Ricchiuti said, "I think that if the [national] economy doesn't start to change between now and 2009, the economy here will start to fray as well."

The Boys and Girls Club

When Pass Christian opened a Boys and Girls Club opened in 1999, the city of about 6,300 people hoped to serve as an after-school haven for local children.

"We want them to be productive citizens in our society and what more so in our community," Boys and Girls Club unit director Jackie Payne-McGee said.

It did just that until Katrina hit in 2005 and leveled the facility, which left many of the children without a place to go.

"It was very sad because we had done so much there and it was all gone, all the belongings, all the memories, everything," said Gabriella Cuevas, 11, who has used the club for years. "It was just gone."

Club attendee Dominique Howard, 13, said, "I missed being — seeing my friends after school and relaxing."

Soon donations began pouring in for the Boys and Girls Club. Benefactors from across the globe wanted to help the people of Pass Christian rebuild their center.

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