Chamber executive forecasts 8,700 BR-area jobs

The Baton Rouge area should attract 8,735 new jobs in 2014, a growth rate of 2.3 percent, the chamber’s chief executive said Monday.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, also told the Press Club audience at the Belle of Baton Rouge that the state’s supplies of natural gas should continue to help expand the area’s industrial footprint. Knapp said natural gas is expected to supplant coal as the nation’s leading power generator by 2040.

In 2008, the industrial price of natural gas was more than $9 per thousand cubic feet, Knapp noted. By 2013, that price had declined to about $4.

BRAC will increase its efforts to attract international businesses in 2014, Knapp said. Five business trips this year will focus on companies in Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. He said four international trips were made last year.

A decade ago, Knapp said, people in many other countries had never heard of Baton Rouge.

“We’re building from scratch to create an identity,” he said.

Part of that effort, Knapp said, is creation of a database of talented job prospects to match potential employers’ hiring needs. There are 500 names in the database now, and Knapp said he wants to increase that number substantially.

“We’re a center of engineering talent,” Knapp said, noting that area engineering jobs have increased by 17 percent over the past decade.

And BRAC’s nine parishes — East and West Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, East and West Feliciana, and St. Helena — have embraced the concept of regional recruiting and development, Knapp added.

BRAC is working with school districts in all nine parishes to emphasize the importance of STEM studies — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In 2013, chamber officials were hoping for a $45 million increase in the area’s permanent payroll, Knapp noted. Instead, that increase totaled $112.5 million.

“We had in 2013 an historic year in economic development,” Knapp said.

BRAC hopes 2014 will see an increase of $57 million in the area’s permanent payroll, the chamber president said.

Population growth is occurring in the nine-parish area despite lower forecasts from the past.

Knapp quoted LSU sociologist and demographer Troy Blanchard as predicting the area population will increase in 2014 to a total of between 825,000 and 835,000.

The 2010 census recorded only 802,000 people living in the nine parishes in 2010, Knapp noted.