Hurricane Ida and its trailing impacts have left most of Southeast Louisiana and the Northeast US devastated. The images of destruction and human suffering bring our thoughts back to the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Southwest Louisiana. Our region continues to rebuild and recover with thousands of houses still in disrepair. Lack of insurance settlements, lack of contractors, and lack of building supplies are adding to delays in rebuilding. Several thousand of our residents are still displaced because of lack of affordable housing. One positive note is that the businesses and homes being rebuilt in most cases are being strengthened and will be better and stronger than before.
Preliminary 2020 Census numbers show that Louisiana’s population increased by 2.7 percent to over 4.7 million people. Only 19 of the 64 parishes increased population or remained the same. The rest of the parishes lost population. The area of Southwest Louisiana increased 5.1 percent. In Calcasieu Parish, the total population went from 192,768 to 216,785.
Originally published in the American Press, 8/3/2021
Three weeks from now, one year will have passed since Hurricane Laura slammed our area.
The Chamber SWLA and other community organizations joined elected officials and community leaders July 27 for a community support rally to push the message that time has long past for our region to receive federal supplemental disaster relief funding. The campaign is “Help Southwest Louisiana Now.”
Virtually every business we know is seeking workers. Regardless of the business type, there is a shortage of folks who are ready to return to the workforce. At the end of this month, the extra $300 unemployment enhancement will end in Louisiana. This may urge many who have not been in the workforce lately to consider finding a job.
While Louisiana and in particular, our five-parish region, await a federal disaster appropriation, rebuilding continues at less than a desired pace. The industrial outlook continues to provide hope for our region’s recovery.
The last two weeks have seen some major projects take shape which give credibility to the belief, that despite massive hurricane damage, our region is on the rebound.
In Beauregard Parish, one of the first major industrial announcements in over forty years was made. Canfor Corporation will build a $160 million state of the art lumber mill at the Louisiana Economic Development Certified Site at the Beauregard Regional Airport in DeRidder. This facility will create 130 jobs and 385 indirect jobs. This also breaks the ice on a project for the airport which should lead to more industrial expansion on the 1,100 acre mega-site.
Before international pandemic and natural disasters impacted the fiveparish area’s day-to-day life, Southwest Louisiana was leading the nation for markets our size in gross domestic product.
We also were the crème de la crème in industrial announcements.
Many have wondered if our region can regain its momentum in economic development.
The answer is a resounding YES!
Last week focused attention on the growing need for investment in our crumbling roads and bridges. “United for Infrastructure 2021: A week to Champion America’s Infrastructure” had a major development for a new I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles. One week after President’s Biden’s visit to Lake Charles to make the case for an Infrastructure bill with the I-10 Bridge in the background, The Lake Charles Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (LCMPO) passed a resolution regarding the desires of the local group to be presented to LADOT.
Nowhere in the nation are there more needs per capita than in Louisiana and Southwest Louisiana with outdated bridges and roads. State DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says there are over $14 billion in projects needed in the state. This backlog can’t continue and action needs to be taken. President Biden has presented a solution in The American Jobs Act. Included are many components but among those is $600 billion for roads and bridges. Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter joined with Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins to issue a joint letter discussing the need for federal infrastructure support. The two mayors stated there are roughly 13,000 bridges in the state. One thousand six hundred or 12 percent are deemed structurally deficient. Louisiana receives a D+ on its infrastructure scorecard. There are currently 3,411 miles of high in poor condition, costing drivers over $667 in repairs every year.
Rebuilding a local or regional community/economy after a pandemic or natural disaster is difficult and complex.
No matter how much planning government and business leaders may have done prior to the troubles, the eventuality is that slow and spirit deflating moments become the reality.
Our region has endured perhaps more than any other in our nation with two powerful hurricanes and an ice storm amid a worldwide pandemic. Despite these challenges, Southwest Louisiana continues to thrive. Our industrial base is strong, our aviation sector is growing, the hospitality industry is rebounding, our vital medical community continues to be the area’s largest employment sector, and agriculture is still the foundation for our region.
Hurricane Recovery In Lake Charles, Louisiana Region Will Be Successful Only With Planning and Regionalization
Southwest Louisiana finds itself in almost the same situation as it did after Hurricane Rita wrought destruction in 2005.
Rita, which caused an estimated $18 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean, had a negative impact to the tune of $8 million in Louisiana.
Fixing roads and bridges should be a nonpartisan issue. However, the political climate on the national and state legislative fronts has turned infrastructure into another divisive issue. The needs in our nation and especially here in Southwest Louisiana must be addressed without further delay. Failure to act not only impedes commerce, but puts our lives in danger.
In the 1920s Calcasieu Parish Rose Above Problems and Built for the Future...the Port of Lake Charles Was the Result
In the 1920s, Lake Charles and the surrounding areas were feeling the painful effects of a struggling lumber industry, a rice depression, post-World War One economic problems, namely two recessions, rebuilding from the Great Fire of 1910 and a Category 3 Hurricane in 1918.
Congress passed and President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion act known as The American Rescue Plan. Regardless of your political or philosophical beliefs about the size of the bill or the items contained in the plan, Southwest Louisiana will benefit tremendously from this legislation.
We urge every businesses owner and especially every restaurant owner to check out the benefits.
Pandemic, hurricanes and winter storms have pushed many businesses to the brink.
All of us who serve in Chamber and economic development roles anxiously await information related to recovery, loan and grant programs that will benefit our communities. We will share that information and provide assistance to anyone in need.
Our region is fortunate to be home to dozens of industries that not only provide good-paying careers, but also make financial contributions for the well-being of our area. No company has exemplified this any greater than Cheniere Energy.
Impacts of the disastrous year 2020 remain with us in 2021.
COVID impact is still with us as vaccine supplies increase. Full reopening of our businesses and activities are possible when we bring the disease until control.
There is a major issue that is badly needed and could possibly unite our elected officials in Washington. That issue is finally taking action on our country’s crumbling infrastructure. Southwest Louisiana is the poster child for outdated and unsafe bridges with the I-10 Bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles. Built in 1952, this bridge has been in service many years past its lifespan and certainly exceeds its designed vehicle capacity every day.
As we gladly say goodbye to 2020, there are numerous reasons for having a positive outlook about the new year. An Axios/Survey Monkey online poll finds that more than six in 10 Americans are hopeful about 2021. 76 percent were more hopeful than fearful about the pandemic in this year. 63 percent of respondents to the poll said they’re more hopeful than fearful about what 2021 holds in store for the world
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy by employing about 50 percent of the workforce. For our area economy to recover from the impact of COVID and two hurricanes, it’s necessary for our small businesses to get back in full operation.
At the SWLA Alliance, we are working to help our businesses and industries keep on the path to rebuilding.
Our region led the nation in industrial projects in recent years until the covid slowdown, oil crisis, and impact of two major hurricanes. Southwest Louisiana still has several major industrial projects in the pipeline and we are confident there will be construction starts in 2021 or early 2022.
For those observing the calendar, 2020 is coming to an end. For most of us, this year of pandemic and hurricanes cannot end quickly enough.
Business owners – from small to large corporations – have had to adapt in ways unimaginable. COVID-19 alone has shown us that adjustment and brain power are needed to survive. The storms which blew through our local have forced both customers and business owners to rethink how goods and services are going to be provided today and those changes could remain into the future.
The year 2020 will never leave our collective memory.
When SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza visited the SEED Center Sept. 22, a plea was made for SBA counselors to help. It took a while and with prodding from Sen. Bill Cassidy, we now have the help we need.
Last week, the U.S. Small Business Administration sent counselors to help with one-on-one assistance for businesses. Director Tanya Garfield of the SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center-West said the center will provide a one stop location for businesses to access a variety of specialized help.
Without help, a lot of our valuable businesses will close. Not only do these businesses provide goods and services for us, they employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. Local governments also benefit from badly need sales and property tax to offset the unexpected expenses incurred from Laura.
Our five-parish region of Southwest Louisiana has been severely impacted by the triple threat of COVID-19, Hurricane Laura with more hurricanes possible, and the election-year economy.
Just remember this. The fighting entrepreneurial spirit of Southwest Louisiana helped build the ship channel. We have survived several Hurricanes including Audrey, Rita, Ike, and Gustav. We are called to rebuild again.
The coronavirus impact, economic crash, low oil prices, and strong competition from other states pushed organizations such as our Alliance to the limits.
On the state level, efforts are “led” by LED, the Louisiana Economic Development Department. Appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Don Pierson, a long-time economic development professional and friend of Southwest Louisiana, serves as secretary. In the last few months, the agency has operated on fast-evolving multiple tracks.