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Bill would provide funding for two Sowela projects

Last Modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 9:55 PM

By John Guidroz / American Press

BATON ROUGE — Legislation that includes more than $251 million in projects for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System appears to have enough votes to get out of the House Appropriations Committee, LCTC System President Joe May said Tuesday.

The committee is scheduled today to hear Senate Bill 204, by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton. It includes two major projects for Sowela Technical Community College — $9 million for the Morgan Smith Campus in Jennings and $7.2 million for the main campus in Lake Charles.

Former state Sen. Gerry Theunissen said the Chennault International Airport Authority supports the legislation because Southwest Louisiana will need skilled workers once projects like the Sasol expansion in Westlake get started.

“When you put all of these projects together, the biggest issue is the workforce,” he said. “We’ve got to do something about it.”

Theunissen said the legislation is important in filling those jobs with local workers instead of hiring workers from overseas.

“We still have a high unemployment rate,” he said. “While we can bring talent in, and they’re good workers, they send a lot of that money out of state and out of the country.”

One big issue, Theunissen said, is that community and technical colleges here “are not geared to turn out a lot of students.” He said the Leevac shipyard in Jennings is bringing in about 200 foreign workers.

“They’re cramming every little space they can and every hotel and rooms that they can get,” he said. “But we’ve got to have the workers.”

Adley’s measure has been criticized by the state Board of Regents for going around the traditional capital outlay process, through which construction projects are approved.

Theunissen said Gov. Bobby Jindal has expressed support for the measure. If approved by the committee, it will head to the full House for consideration.

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