As we have just completed our nation’s 244th Fourth of July Celebration, this is a good time to pause and reflect on our nation’s system of government. In 2020, we are going through extremely difficult times. There’s the COVID-19 pandemic, the crash of our economy, the oil crisis, global issues, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a sharp political divide in our country.
The mission of the SWLA Economic Development Alliance is to be the regional leader for business and workforce development resulting in improved quality of life for all residents in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jeff Davis parishes. The mission of the Chamber SWLA is to serve as the voice for the regional business community.
“Welcome to Opportunity” was used by the Alliance in our international marketing for several years. In spite of all the challenges of current times, this still may be an excellent theme.
In order to move forward, it’s good to look at our history, what we need to do today, and to present a vision for the future. In January of this year, our five-parish region was leading the nation with growth. Low unemployment, multi-billion and multi-million dollar investments had been made and a qualified workforce led to the area developing the reputation as one of the most dynamic regions in the United States.
As business owners race to open and begin servicing clients and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, some are trying to figure out if their enterprises are viable while others are closing permanently. In recent weeks, economic developers, investors, business strategist, life coaches, etc. have been sharing a message with the world business community. Essentially, the idea is that times are changing and common business practices and models are quickly becoming part of our past. This is not the first time business sectors have had to reshape and customize themselves to societal shifts and economic downturns.
Friday May 15, 2020, will be remembered as the day that Louisiana began to re-open after the March 16 Stay-at-Home order by the governor. In our region, perhaps more businesses and industries continued operation than most other states.
Our industrial plants continued operation, a number of grocery, building supply, and retail big boxes remained opened after being deemed essential. Many restaurants continued to operate with pick-up and delivery options, and drive-thru restaurants probably had record sales. Most folks came to believe that all businesses are essential including hair and nail salons, gyms, and retail shops including the mall.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is issuing a proclamation that will allow more businesses to open up Friday. This effort will go a long way in getting the state economy functioning after being paralyzed for almost two months due to COVID-19.
The results of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact all of us. The business community has been severely affected, with many closed. Therefore, thousands of our friends and neighbors in our region are out of work. The priority for all should be health and safety. It is imperative that we follow the recommendations of our medical community and continue to practice social distancing, frequent handwashing, and other steps to insure that the virus does not widely spread. Our region has fared better than some but we have had too many cases and deaths from the coronavirus.
Our region continues to lead the nation in industrial projects. Over $44 billion in projects are completed or wrapping up. We are anticipating a second wave of projects to begin this year, keeping in mind, our region is impacted by international events. The Lake Charles MSA (which is Calcasieu and Cameron parishes) is projected to lead the state in job growth the next two years.
If you have thought about opening a business or have a business idea you want to explore, or if you operate an existing business that needs expansion or re-imaging, then next month in SW La. is for you.
To compete internationally our best shot is to keep the regional approach. As has been said …to succeed we must think globally, act locally.
Successful resolution to many issues we face in Southwest Louisiana will require participation in the government process by citizens and the business community, large and small. The Chamber SWLA, part of the Economic Development Alliance, has a very proactive agenda for this first year of a new decade.
The Lake Charles MSA ranked 10th in the nation for 2018 in per capita GDP. The people of SW La. can be justly proud of this accomplishment. It serves as testimony to a region producing goods and services for markets outside our region, which in turn brings more money, jobs and businesses into our local economy.
Voter turnout was very disappointing in our recent major election for governor and all statewide officials, the entire Louisiana Legislature, police jury, sheriff, and local positions. Statewide, about 50 percent of voters turned out, but Calcasieu had about 45 percent turnout in most races. A majority of 45 percent means that about 25-30 percent of our voters chose our elected officials.
Most candidates worked nonstop to earn your vote and they deserved better.
Louisiana’s Certified Sites program was first launched in 2012 to enhance the state’s business-friendly environment and to help attract investors looking to locate and start their operations quickly. The program was first intended for sites of 25 acres or more and was targeted toward heavy industrial projects.
In addition to building the multi-billion dollar industrial mega-projects, construction work on roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, retail shopping, restaurants, hotels, apartment complexes, and residences has created jobs for hundreds of SW La. residents. The goods and services produced and used during this economic boom created a growing economy and more jobs in every employment sector.
Earlier this month, the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitor’s Bureau announced a new branding effort for the region.
Many of our younger generations may not realize that the American economy is fueled by free markets and free enterprise. Southwest Louisiana’s growth was spurred by a visionary entrepreneur, J.B. Watkins. He purchased thousands of acres, marketed it all over the nation, sold property, and according to articles, was basically a one-man chamber of commerce.
The Louisiana Economic Outlook was released last week by LSU Economist, Emeritus, Loren Scott. Again this year, SW La. is projected to lead the state in job growth.
On a daily basis, economists, business developers, and governmental leaders marvel at the indicators (job growth, gross domestic product, sales tax generation, etc.) which regularly demonstrate that Cameron Parish is impacting the local, state and global market.
With recent events at the Port of Lake Charles, the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance/Chamber SWLA believes it is important not to lose sight of the positive impact the Port of Lake Charles has on all of our livelihoods.
Our region has well over five million visitors annually according to the SWLA Convention and Visitors Bureau. Most of those numbers are a result of our five casino resorts. Because of those casino resorts and the large number of new hotel rooms in our area, we now total about 9,000 hotel rooms in our five parishes.
Recent news reports indicate that some LNG projects will be delayed due to world market conditions and potential tariffs on China.
Recently, Dan Groft has joined McNeese State University as director of the H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis, assistant professor of economics, and economist for The Alliance. Groft, an economist with a Ph.D. in economics from LSU, has worked with Louisiana Economic Development and most recently with the La. Department of Revenue.
We asked Groft about the current LNG market:
There are four designated Opportunity Zones in Southwest Louisiana. Each of these areas provides investors, property owners, government and business leaders a pathway to impact and improve struggling communities in our area realizing a tax benefit.
An Opportunity Zone is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as “an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.”
Healthcare is a major issue nationwide and especially in the workplace. Every business, large or small, struggles with providing health coverage to their employees. Having healthy workers on the job is vital to the operation of a business. Without quality healthcare, workers cannot be productive. Businesses suffer.
The economy of the Southwest Louisiana Region is very diverse. Petrochemical and LNG industries are getting the most talk because of the billions in projects underway. The backbone of our region remains agriculture and forestry. Healthcare is growing and, in fact, currently employs more people than any other sector. Hospitality and gaming bring millions of people to our area each year and employ thousands.
At last week’s meeting of the Louisiana Commerce and Industry Board, several speakers presented a progress report on the Sasol Megaproject in Westlake. While there has been much discussion about the benefits of the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, known as ITEP, when the facts are reviewed, there is no doubt this incentive has been beneficial to our region, to the state and local taxing districts and to the employees who now enjoy quality jobs and a better standard of living.
Disruption is a buzzword we hear often. There is disruption caused by technology, growth, and political issues to name a few. Some of the changes are positive and provide opportunities. Many of the changes are challenging. Recently, I visited our five parishes working on various issues and have a renewed appreciation of the various communities with their individual culture, strength, and needs. Disruption in our region mirrors the national issues. For example, there is a major change taking place in the retail sector with the “Amazon Effect” a major cause.
All seats in the Louisiana Legislature are up for grabs this year along with parish and statewide offices including the governor. Since this is an election year, expectations for solving major issues in the 2019 legislative session were low. Unfortunately, those expectations were correct. In the regular session, which has to end by 6 p.m. Thursday, June 6, many good bills died or were not seriously considered.
When President Trump’s motorcade drove over the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles last week, a major breakthrough occurred in advocating for a new bridge. For many years, the Chamber SWLA has been communicating with our federal delegation about the need for a new bridge. With the establishment of the I-10 Task Force, serious investigations into all aspects of this project were undertaken on the local level.
Southwest Louisiana is on the map in the global economy. We have major companies based in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and soon Australia with manufacturing facilities located in our region employing thousands of high-skill, high-wage workers from local communities. The second wave of industrial expansion will soon begin and construction of more new petrochemical and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities is on the way.