If New Orleans and Baton Rouge are Louisiana’s two largest employment centers, it’s still smart to hold a significant state conference on workforce development in Lake Charles. While it’s a smaller city, it is the site of Louisiana’s largest announced industrial project, ever. To be built by a South African company, the Sasol plant is estimated to cost up to $21 billion. Yes, billion.
Further, the Sasol ethane cracker and gas-to-liquids facility is expected by state economic development officials to be one of several projects that will use natural gas in different ways than in the past, either for ethylene production for use in plastics, or liquefying natural gas for export abroad.
This project is not the only one to be addressed. As much as $50 billion in new projects are in the pipeline. Sasol alone is expected to employ some 7,000 workers to build the plant, with production to begin in 2017.
“Louisiana is on the cusp of a major industrial and manufacturing expansion,” says the Council for a Better Louisiana, organizer of the Oct. 30 workforce conference.
Significantly, this is not just about industrial employment, although large construction workforces are needed for major expansions in the petrochemical corridors along the Mississippi and Calcasieu rivers.
“Technology-based companies are hiring skilled programmers, software designers and computer scientists as fast as they can find them,” CABL added.
Not only are there big numbers needed for industrial construction, other workforce needs are pressing. We think there are significant issues facing the state, and hope for specific recommendations from economists, university leaders and employers at the meeting.
What are the things that the state and local leaders can do to meet the immediate issues of housing, transportation and other needs of the industrial work force?
And what are the medium-term plans for education and retraining to allow Louisiana workers to take advantage of such a boom?
“Louisiana is headed for a period of economic growth that some predict will be of historic predictions,” CABL said.
Also without doubt, growth can have its pains. If this boom is to be of historic dimensions, it should fuel state policies that change Louisiana into a star performer in the South in the years to come, not just in the two or three years ahead.