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Welcome to opportunity in SW La.

Posted by: George Swift on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

This article originally ran in the American Press, June 2, 2020

“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.

Industry has been an integral part of the five-parish economy. Sulfur development started in the late 1800s in what is now known as Sulphur, Louisiana. The first oil well was drilled near Jennings in 1901. Today’s modern industrial complex in Calcasieu Parish developed during World War II.

Industry has allowed the regional economy to participate in globalization. The area’s overall Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) attribute to a large percentage of industrial projects. Products made over at the two dozen petrochemical facilities are utilized domestically and in the international market place. Another important industry that benefits the local economy has been tourism, gaming, and hospitality. That industry was generating over $700 million annually and employing over 20,000 people.

The world’s perfect storm of COVID-19, tariff wars, and unbelievably low oil prices have changed the traditional business development and investment paradigm.

The Alliance/Chamber SWLA is adapting as business leaders and government officials around the world now have to assess and adjust to the way goods and services will be managed now and in the future.

Today, we are focusing on workforce issues so our workers can get back to work, whether in their old jobs or in new ones. We are talking with prospects in new categories to diversify our economy, while meeting virtually rather than traveling. We are pushing for federal and state infrastructure funding which would put people to work and provide us with safe bridges, roads, and rural broadband so we can continue to grow. The Alliance continues to provide information to ailing businesses which need financial assistance to survive.

Despite these problems, this could be a good time to open a business. For those with ideas and need assistance to get started, the Business Incubator at The SEED Center stands ready. The Alliance, McNeese Small Business Development Center, and SCORE offer business counseling at no cost. Some companies can change their business model to fulfill new opportunities.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the use of technology and pushed us faster than expected into adapting to online businesses, working remotely and automation replacing workers. Therefore, new training is necessary to maintain current jobs or to fill new technology positions. We are fortunate to have SOWELA and McNeese in our region.

As a member of several recovery task forces appointed by the Governor and the Legislature, I have seen dozens of suggestions presented to make Louisiana a better place to live and raise a family. The state Legislature is in special session and they can act on these recommendations to make necessary changes in Louisiana. With the multiple issues we are facing, there are opportunities created. Our challenge in Southwest Louisiana is to do what we have done on many occasions. We’ve dealt with hurricanes, the oil bust of the 80’s, the recession, and more. Our region has always pulled together and come out of adversity stronger than before.

Pastor Jacob Aranza of Our Savior’s Church in the Lafayette area gave the invocation at our Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force Friday. He said with all of the challenges we have been presented, God has prepared us. He said of Louisiana’s recovery, “we are built for this.”

In the meantime by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask when interacting with others, and frequent handwashing, we can continue to decrease the spread of coronavirus, allowing more businesses to open with increased capacity, creating a more normal way of life.

With common purpose and creativity, our five-parish region will flourish in the future.

George Swift is president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Contact him at 337-433-3632 or gswift@allianceswla.org.

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