Patience is not one of our core values at the Alliance, but it’s good not to be patient in community and economic development. Urgency is needed.
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.
Industrial projects take several years to go from prospect to construction, then to operation. For example, the Sasol Ethane Cracker Unit was announced in December 2012 and the project is nearing completion. Four of the seven units are operational resulting in 800 new permanent jobs.
Several LNG projects are awaiting permits and some LNGs are working to lock up customers before making a final investment decision, known as F.I.D.
In the meantime, Sowela continues record-breaking enrollment as they provide the education for the jobs needed in industry, hospitality, health care, aviation and more. McNeese University has an outstanding College of Engineering and with their other disciplines, Southwest Louisiana has become a region of education and training.
The US Census will begin this month and it’s vital every resident be counted. The Census results determine congressional and state legislative redistricting, the amount of federal funds including grants for highway and bridge construction, health care, and education to mention a few.
The 13 parishes that comprise the service area of the regional Chamber of Commerce in Lafayette, known as One Acadiana, and the SWLA Alliance are beginning to work together on the census count and redistricting.
Recently, Governor John Bel Edwards appointed a Rural Economic Development Task Force to spotlight areas to help our less populated areas. A Rural Prosperity Summit was held in Alexandria last week. Gus Fontenot of the Alliance attended and reported that one of the speakers said that rural areas which have prospered did so by promoting their strengths, being who they are, and by cultivating outdoor recreation activities.
Entrepreneurs are needed in rural communities as a variety of successful businesses can be created there as long as they have broadband internet access. Rural broadband access has become a necessity and a major priority.
Allen, Beauregard, and Jeff Davis are benefitting from the industrial projects in Calcasieu and Cameron. Maybe residents of those parishes are working in industry. Perhaps they are building homes for our residents. Perhaps they operate businesses that are gaining new customers.
Rural economic development is the toughest of all. We are impatient for outlying parishes to increase potential. Problem areas to address are low education levels, lack of a trained workforce, and lack of motivation to make changes. These issues don’t just apply to rural areas. These apply to our entire region, and state.
A goal of the Alliance is to promote training for our residents so they can provide a better life for themselves and their families. It’s also a goal to reduce our 18 percent poverty rate. Early childhood education and lifetime learning are among the needs required to cut poverty on a long-term basis. The census figures when released next year will give us information to determine if we are making progress in reducing poverty. There is tremendous potential in our region and we’re not patient to just let things happen. The SWLA Alliance works to be a catalyst for change for the better.