With the re-zoning of 12,000 acres of private property in West Calcasieu, our region is now in the process of planning for another potential gamechanger, a huge megasite. By definition and practice, a megasite is a large contiguous tract of land for big industrial operations. To remain competitive among industrial sites around the world, Southwest Louisiana needs these large properties.
Megasites, when developed, can create thousands of jobs. A successful megasite was developed by the State of Mississippi north of Jackson, at Canton. The state spent several million dollars on land development and infrastructure before they had a prospect. The site was ready when Nissan began a search for a new North American site. That was 15 years ago. More than 4 million vehicles have rolled off the line at Nissan-Canton. That facility transformed the area creating over 6,500 jobs and more than 25,000 direct and indirect jobs statewide.
Currently there are five megasites listed on the Louisiana industrial website provided by Entergy: England Airpark in Rapides Parish - 1,573 acres, Point Coupee Power Park - 1,541 acres; Franklin Farm in Richland Parish - 1,440 acres; Shexnayder Site in Ascension Parish -1,000 acres, and Beauregard Airport’s Industrial Park -1,187 acres. As in the case of Beauregard and some of the others, additional acres could become available if projects warrant.
The megasite in West Calcasieu will take time to be certified by the state. Decisions will be made by the property owners on the most likely tracts to begin development. Engineering work will be done to determine if there are environmental issues, wetlands, historical artifacts, or endangered species on the land. When the requirements are met we hope to have several certified sites within the property. While there was opposition to the rezoning by area residents, there will be a permanent agricultural land buffer and much of the property will likely be unchanged.
Target industries will be sought to match the light industrial zoning that was granted. Assembly plants and distribution centers will be high on the list of targets. With the location along the I-10 corridor, rail, and proximity to Texas, this should be a very desirable location. While our area is leading the nation in industrial projects, our growth is primarily in the petrochemical and LNG industry sector. This new mega-site will target a different type of industry and will create job opportunities.
With a poverty rate of 18 percent, and with about 40 percent of our workers classified as ALICE, there is much room for growth among our population. ALICE is an acronym for “Asset Limited Income Constrained Working.” That means these are hardworking people yet they do not earn enough to afford the basic necessities. It was said during the recent rezoning discussion that we don’t need to develop so much property. Until we make a dent in our poverty rate, and our region’s low education levels, we will continue to lag behind many areas of our country.
Southwest Louisiana has many assets: a wonderful population of hard-working people, great educational institutions such as Sowela and McNeese, supportive elected officials, a port network, Chennault and other airports, and strong medical facilities. Utilizing these and other resources, our five-parish area can soar to “mega” levels of prosperity for all. That desire is our driving force at the SWLA Alliance.