The impact of small businesses is often overlooked but when combined, they have tremendous financial force in sales and employment. These mostly locally-owned businesses form the fabric of each community where they are located. According to the Small Business Administration there are approximately 32.5 million small businesses which employ 61.7 million people. That is 47.5 percent of all jobs in this country. These are your neighbors and people you know who support our schools, sports teams and churches.
Allow this to serve as my introduction and give my impressions of Southwest Louisiana since joining the Alliance in April of this year. As Vice President of Economic Development for the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, it’s my job to promote economic opportunities for all in our five parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis.
As for my impressions of Southwest Louisiana, I have learned that the region’s people are tough, resilient, and hardworking. They make contributions to our local, state, national, and international economies.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and a good time for businesses and other organizations to take stock of their accessibility to those who are disabled. As one who has relied on a wheelchair or a scooter the last several years as a result of diabetes, I have come not only to appreciate but also rely on accessibility to businesses, offices, transportation, and institutions.
Business and workforce development opportunities abound in Southwest Louisiana.
What is even more impressive is that our five-parish area has the chance to diversify its economic climate with new business sectors that pave the way for entrepreneurs. Technology and innovation are the driving force for the cur-rent and future economy. Local businesses and agencies are encouraged to investigate ways to engage in new technology enterprises that will keep the region on the cutting edge of national and international business trends.
In spite of the many weather events and the worldwide pandemic that impacted our region in a negative way, the people of Southwest Louisiana have proved they are resilient as we continue to recover and look toward the future. We have seen unprecedented growth in the past
decade due to the over $45 billion invested by industrial businesses in this region. Don’t take that for granted. These completed projects have created over 15,000 permanent jobs and further strengthened our industrial base which is helping us to recover.
The good news is that we have nearly twice that amount in potential projects that will be investing in the future.
Last week, the United States Small Business Administration’s Regional Administrator (SBA) for the South Central Region Ted James visited the SEED Center to share insights on agency operations and outreach efforts.
The most frequent question we get at The Chamber SWLA and Economic Development Alliance is “What’s Up With the Bridge?” Of course, these questions center around the progress in getting a new I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles. The current bridge is well past its lifespan and is the weakest link on the I- 10 corridor between California and Florida. This bridge is structurally sound according to Louisiana Department of Transportation and, if not, would be closed. A lot of money is spent annually to keep the bridge in acceptable shape.
“Rural businesses play a key role in Louisiana’s ongoing economic growth and diversification,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “Our commitment to rural revitalization remains a priority, and our partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation is one of the many ways we leverage available resources. Today, the state can spur rural economic growth by providing rural entrepreneurs with state-of-the-art tools and more of the critical resources they need to be successful.”
Our side of the world, due to multi-billion dollar investments in LNG facilities development, was already garnering attention in energy magazines, trade journals, and business news.
Our five parish region has many valuable assets in the aviation sector. There are airports throughout the area. The Allen Parish Airport, Beauregard Airport with its industrial mega-site, Jennings Airport, Southland Field in Carlyss , and Dequincy all have facilities to handle various private aircraft.
Over the next five years, there are $46 billion of planned projects that will use the Ship Channel — adding 90.8 million tons of cargo per year to the current cargo handled.
Just how important is the Calcasieu Ship Channel? A recent study found that it drives two-thirds of the gross domestic product of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes — and fully $39 billion of the national GDP.
Those statistics show that the Calcasieu Ship Channel is essential — and so is federal support and other funding for its maintenance.
Witnessing economic development success is just one of the rewarding aspects of Chamber life.
The reason for that is simple. Dreams that become plans, which are then converted into viable and strong enterprises, lead to jobs.
In Southwest Louisiana, employment creation has been the hallmark of joint collaborations between state, parish and local entities, the Alliance/Chamber SWLA, business community and more importantly…our residents.
Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, competition in the world market was fierce among LNG competitors. As well as it should be in a free market society. Once the war started and energy products from Russia became taboo, the economic and philosophical arguments to make America a clean energy-independent nation and provider to our allies have intensified.
We are Southwest Louisiana Strong, comprised of resilient people who have been through natural disasters and well on the road to recovery. The I-10 Bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles, however, is not strong and needs to be replaced.
In recent days there have been developments in the legislature that might jeopardize this project. It’s the most important piece of concrete on Interstate 10 between California and Florida. We are comfortable competing with other projects because that’s what we do in economic development. However, we don’t think it necessary to have to compete for replacement of this long-outdated bridge.
The Alliance/Chamber SWLA is encouraging the Biden administration to “utilize resources in support of LNG facility projects by streamlining permitting processes and other means in order for the industry to grow and meet energy and national security demands.”
Our federal government has announced an agreement to supply the European Union with 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas by the end of 2022 in order to offset the natural gas supply from Russia as a result of that country’s aggressive actions against Ukraine.
Southwest Louisiana sits in an economic strategic position due to current LNG expansion.
The Louisiana Department of Justice is encouraging small business owners to consider ways to protect themselves from malware, viruses, ransomware and phishing.
According to the state, 88 percent of small business owners feel their operations are vulnerable to cyber-attack.
Here are a few tips the agency recommends:
- Create strong passwords that contain both lower and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers for all networks and accounts that contain sensitive information.
- Install and regularly update anti-virus, network firewalls, and information encryption tools to scan for and counteract viruses and harmful programs.
- Establish basic security practices and policies for employees. Ensure they are implemented in ever part of your business.
Current headlines in the business and geo-political realm should convince residents in Southwest Louisiana that this region’s expanding LNG infrastructure is more important than we may think.
Before COVID and natural disasters impacted the five parish area, our economy was booming as a result was of a number of multi-million and billion dollar construction projects directly related to the LNG industry.
From an economic development standpoint, the downtrodden mindset is not acceptable. In a free market economy, a person or group is challenged with problems every day. In fact, some would say it is the business community that is best equipped to utilize innovation to find solutions to problems that solve some of society's issues while at the same time reaping financial benefits.
This year, 2022, should be a good one for business in Southwest Louisiana — with much of the outcome dependent on the COVID impact, inflation, and supply issues.
Our Alliance in-house economist, Dr. Dan Groft of the McNeese H.C. Drew Center, reports that looking back to last year, the taxable sales in Calcasieu Parish increased by over $1.4 billion from 2020 to 2021. This represented a 24.2 percent increase.
A prosperous economy, resilient coastline and homes, and updated infrastructure are vital to ensuring we maintain and grow our community. This requires a concerted effort by private and public partners and local, state, and federal governments to secure the future of Lake Charles. One key partner in our efforts has been Sen. Bill Cassidy.
Sometimes we all take for granted what good aspects exist in our home towns. I am a big believer in the thought that the greatest public relations efforts for a city are based in the comments made by citizens when they leave for short term vacations or longer jaunts.
People who appreciate their town or city talk about them and share their passion in ways pictures and slogans do not always accomplish.
Despite natural disasters and COVID, our region is poised for continued growth. The leadership exhibited at the Chamber SWLA Banquet demonstrates our region is in good hands.