Contractors group: La.’s outlook bright

The outlook for construction employment in Louisiana in 2014 is bright, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America said Tuesday.

“Louisiana is the state I’m most optimistic about,” Kenneth Simonson said during a conference call with reporters. “It may have the biggest growth, percentagewise of any state this year.”

Louisiana’s activity is being driven by the nearly $84 billion in petrochemical plant construction projects, much of it in the works in the Baton Rouge to New Orleans Mississippi River corridor and the Lake Charles area, which will result in thousands of new construction jobs. Ample supplies of cheap natural gas are driving the petrochemical boom.

“The big concern I have is where will they find all the workers,” Simonson said. “There are very specialized skills needed to do petrochemical plant construction, related to pipelines and rail.”

According to a survey of construction companies released by AGC of Louisiana, 60 percent of the firms polled said they plan to add workers in 2014. That compares with 41 percent of construction companies nationally that plan to do additional hiring in the upcoming year.

Of the Louisiana companies that are looking to add workers, 67 percent said they expect tor hire more than 25 workers. In contrast, 64 percent in the national survey anticipate hiring five or fewer employees.

In Louisiana, a majority of companies said they expect manufacturing and hospital/higher education construction to improve in 2014. Exactly half said retail, warehouse and lodging construction will pick up, and half said there would be more private office construction.

Half of the firms said there would be less public building activity and less marine construction.

“It’s two different markets, but there is a lot of optimism on the private side,” Simonson said.

George Wilson Jr., president of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors board of directors, said the boom for highway construction work is over, until new funding sources are found. In 2014, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has earmarked $650 million for road construction. In past years, that annual total was $1.1 billion.

“The industrial sector has seen a fair amount of growth,” said Wilson, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Barriere Construction Co. Metairie-based Barriere has about 450 employees.

“Everything else is flat, and we’re working harder even to keep it flat,” Wilson said.

Barriere is competing with other firms for a share of the industrial construction pie.

“Depending on the work this year, we’ll be building up our number of core employees,” Wilson said. “We’re taking on temporary employees job by job.”