ABiz Columns

Opportunity Is Here ... Let's Seize the Moment

by George Swift

It's time for Lafayette and Lake Charles to embrace "coopertition."

If Acadiana and Southwest Louisiana work together, we can maximize the economic growth and create a better quality of life for all in both regions. Southwest Louisiana anchored by Lake Charles is leading the nation in industrial projects, and unprecedented growth is in the future. The state of Louisiana has made tremendous strides in becoming more business friendly and is now in the top 10 of many business rankings. The five-parish area of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jeff Davis have announced projects totaling over $80 billion dollars. This is the largest amount in the entire United States. At least 25,000 construction workers and 20,000 permanent jobs will be needed as these projects are built and completed. With its proximity, Acadiana can benefit with housing, goods and services, and employment opportunities.

A compact was signed by the chambers of commerce and economic development organizations in both regions in 2012 to establish the Acadiana/SWLA Super Region. This effort is designed to coordinate the strengths of both regions. In putting together this compact it was realized that for the most part Acadiana and SWLA do not compete for the same industry - we have two different economies.

However, both areas are tied to the I-10 corridor and the Gulf.

The compact stated that we wish to connect with each other and encourage greater participation in the region's future through a "declaration of interdependence" acknowledging that the two regions' resources, institutions, assets and people are intertwined. We pledged to leverage combined resources and talents for economic development, research, transportation and infrastructure, culture and tourism, public policy and information technology. Since 2011, SWLA has partnered with Le Centre International in Lafayette to work together on international trade. We have long-standing family, cultural and educational ties. Many major corporations have a strong presence in both regions. Our clout in the Legislature and with the federal congressional delegation is stronger when we combine efforts.

For example, major infrastructure projects such as I-49 South and a new I-10 bridge at Lake Charles complement each other and would benefit by combined efforts to get these projects completed.

In the future, we may want to consider strengthening our relations with Southeast Texas in the Beaumont area as they also have similar issues.

With two strong universities, technical community colleges and private career schools, we have the resources to train Louisiana residents for the jobs needed in the near future.

While some may fear that their identity will be lost by working together, most of our leaders have embraced the effort. City-Parish President Joey Durel and Mayor Randy Roach of Lake Charles, representing the two largest cities in each region, are on board and so is Congressman Charles Boustany, who represents both areas. Jason El Koubi of the Greater Lafayette Chamber is working to grow that organization into a regional chamber. When completed it will be easier to get both regions together.

Since the compact was signed, little has been done. I believe that the window of opportunity for maximum impact is short. As these construction projects are launched, Acadiana companies can supply goods and services to supplement those in the SWLA region. It will help to grow our Louisiana economy by utilizing Louisiana companies. The same goes for Louisiana residents who want good jobs.

Let's train our area workers to get these high-paying jobs. We can invite our children and grandchildren back to Louisiana for good careers.

The Lafayette-Lake Charles rivalry is well-known, spurned in most part by football between UL and McNeese. However, former Gov. Buddy Roemer used a term that describes how it can work. The word is "coopertition." We cooperate when it is in our best interest to do so and we compete when we need to. In this global economy and on legislative issues, both regions can reap more benefits joining together on mutually beneficial projects. The clock is ticking. Let's seize the moment.

George Swift is the founding president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, based in Lake Charles. Formed in 2006, this organization combines the five-star accredited Chamber Southwest, The Alliance Economic Development Foundation and the Southwest Louisiana Partnership (regional elected officials). The alliance serves five parishes and has been named in the top 10 of economic development organizations nationally three of the last four years by Site Selection magazine.