Digital media most promising sector for Baton Rouge region
Digital media, light manufacturing and, of course, the petrochemical sectors are where the Baton Rouge Area Chamber is expecting job growth in the coming year. BRAC has 64 “active projects” — companies eyeing Baton Rouge as a location or existing operations looking to expand.
And the industry area with the most potential jobs is the digital media sector, an area that includes such things as software and video game development that the region has long wanted to develop.
“We’ve got four to five of those in digital media,” BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp said in comments after Thursday morning’s annual BRAC Shareholders meeting at the Renaissance Hotel. “We have some really good prospects in that category.”
Other industry areas like light manufacturing are also a possible growth area in the coming year, he added.
“We really are seeing a diverse set of light manufacturing companies that are considering expansions,” Knapp said, “the kinds of things that sort of fit within our skill sets.”
In the coming year, the Baton Rouge chamber has set a goal of growing 1,000 jobs in the metro region with an annual salary averaging $40,000 a year. This is up from its 2010 goal of a $37,000 annual salary.
“Each year our hope is to keep knocking up that target, and shooting for a higher quality job,” Knapp said.
Not only does the chamber want to grow salaries and the diversity of jobs in the region, it also wants to grow the number of places to put those jobs. BRAC is strengthening its focus on acquiring certified industrial sites — those areas with access to infrastructure like roads, bridges and rail, as well as access to the river.
The step-up in identifying plots of land roughly 25 acres or more is largely in response to what industry watchers are calling a “renaissance” in the petrochemical sectors as low, stable natural gas prices reposition the Mississippi River corridor as a top address for chemical companies wanting to expand or locate operations. Natural gas is used as a fuel and feedstock for the products that many of the companies make.
“This is really sort of a renaissance of the business seeing new-project starts, not just expansions,” Knapp said of the renewed interest in petrochemical investments.
“These are going to be brand new manufacturing facilities opening up along the river,” he added.
A recent survey of plant managers by the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, a petrochemical trade group in the region, found a “definite uptick in capital expenditures and employment” planned in the second quarter of 2012, compared to the first quarter of the year.
The survey, released Thursday, found a 9 percent increase projected in capital expenditures, among member plant managers participating in the group’s survey.
Those managers expect an 11 percent increase in company jobs and 7 percent increase in contractor jobs.
The industry alliance is made up of 53 petrochemical, energy, paper, pharmaceutical, storage terminal and other industrial facilities located in eight parishes around Baton Rouge. Plant managers of 34 sites, or 64 percent of its members, weighed in on what they believe the next six months holds for their plant.
Where the region faces challenges, said Knapp, is finding certified industrial sites. BRAC and other groups like the Ascension Economic Development Corp. are now on a mission to locate those sites and get them certified with the state.
“It’s not that we don’t have sites,” Knapp said. “It’s that we have to make sure they are shovel-ready sites.
A database of sites ready-to-go is something the Louisiana Department of Economic Development has been working on as well, Stephen Moret, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, said in a September interview with the Advocate’s editorial board.
“Here in the Capital region, for example, just in the last year, I can think of one or maybe two projects that were a great fit for the region, but the region just didn’t have a site together quickly enough to stay in their site-selection process,” Moret said at the time.
“A client is not going to look at something that’s going to take three years to get ready,” Knapp said Thursday. “So our focus has to be on taking these projects through site certification.”
The state had 11 certified sites on the books at the beginning of the year, Knapp said. BRAC wants to have 10 sites in the Baton Rouge area alone by the end of 2012. “Over the course of the next four years, we want to grow our certified sites to 40 — 10 a year. It’s an incredibly ambitious goal,” he said.