As the Lake Charles region ramps up for record-setting growth, ABiz lays out the challenges and opportunities ahead for South Louisiana.
This special edition of ABiz has been in the works for more than a year. It's in response to a business story that is so big the ripple effect will be felt all across the northern Gulf Coast. At the epicenter of that story is Lake Charles.
Last December my co-publisher/husband Steve and I sat down with George Swift in his sleek new office complex overlooking the McNeese University campus to present the idea for a super-regional issue of ABiz. In our 40-year career we've made several publishing forays into the Lake Charles market, which is where Steve was born and raised. Given the astonishing statistics coming out of that port city - multi-billion dollar developments creating tens of thousands of new jobs - we hoped that ABiz might be able to help connect business leaders from the Sabine to the Basin to maximize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We also felt that a special report could sort fact from fantasy (given the unprecedented scale of development, we thought it important), and with his background in both media and economic development, Swift provided the perfect sounding board.
A former radio station GM, Swift has spent recent years at the helm of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, which is a regional group of parishes that includes Calcasieu and four of its neighbors. He is a central figure among business, political and institutional leaders in the area, and we appreciate his support of this project. He also has his hands full, coordinating, communicating and connecting needs and resources as Lake Charles grapples with this astounding economic boom.
It is, as we say in business, a high-grade problem, and it's unfolding in two phases. First, there is the rush to build or upgrade facilities for, among others, a new grain export terminal at the port, a new aircraft repair and maintenance facility at Chenault International Airport, and an upgrade to an existing paper mill in DeRidder. The big boom is in the petrochemical space, with four liquefied natural gas projects, one gas-to-liquids conversion, and the construction of a new ethane cracker with the potential to add gas-to-liquids capacity. The construction phase will strain the region's ability to supply the labor, housing and infrastructure required to complete many billions in capital investment. The challenge for Imperial Calcasieu is to ramp up short term to meet the needs of the building boom and then adjust for a new level of long-term economic prosperity as the projects come online.
According to Louisiana Economic Development, this trajectory started in January 2008. Here is its tally over the past six years (keep in mind these are only projects LED was involved with announcing): 26 projects; 4,886 new direct jobs; 12,015 new indirect jobs; and $44.5 billion in new capital investment (some reports used for the stories in this issue peg capital investment at nearly double that amount).
LSU economist emeritus Dr. Loren Scott has deemed this the largest capital boom in state history, and Lake Charles has been reaching out for support in planning for and meeting the demand for labor and resources. We at ABiz will be watching as the story unfolds across Louisiana's Third Congressional District and welcome our new readers to the west for this special issue. We hope our reporting will help define the scope of opportunity for business and community leaders throughout the super region as well as foster and expand relationships that benefit us all.