(Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 06, 2013 1:11 PM
Southwest Louisiana is on the cusp of an industry boom, and business leaders want to prepare the region for the skilled-labor jobs created in the years ahead.
Next month, the Council for a Better Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance will present a one-day conference to prepare the area for the influx of skilled-labor jobs that will be needed as the region’s petrochemical plants expand in the next five to seven years.
The conference — titled “Stepping Up: Meeting the Workforce Challenge for Louisiana’s Dynamic Economic Expansion” — will run from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 30 in the L’Auberge Conference Center.
“It’s like a new gold rush,” said Marie Centanni, vice president of public policy at the alliance. “We want to identify the specific workforce needs and most pressing needs and figure out the solutions to those needs and who is going to drive those solutions.”
The conference will feature a roundtable discussion with Ronald Troups, CEO of Turner Industries; Nancy Tower, human resources services supervisor, Sasol; Craig Spohn, president of the Cyber Innovation Center; and Mike Mitternight, president of Factory Service Agency. Maura Donahue, chairman of LABI, will moderate the discussion.
The conference will features speeches on Louisiana’s economic expansion from Loren Scott, professor emeritus of economics at LSU, and David Chavern, executive vice president and COO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re heading for a huge boom in our economy and a huge need for a trained and skilled workforce,” said Barry Erwin, CABL president. “We can see a huge workforce need on the horizon, and that horizon is not very far away. We felt the need, listening to employers around the state, to try and bring everybody together ... to lay out all of the information.”
The Louisiana Economic Development Department estimates that at least $60 billion in new manufacturing jobs will need to be filled across the state in the next three to five years. About $48 billion of those new jobs will be needed in Lake Charles, where 25,000 to 30,000 workers are expected to be hired.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission expects demand for workers to increase by more than 230,000 by the end of 2020.
“It’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Louisiana citizens to change our quality of life,” said Brigitte Nieland, LABI’s vice president for education and workforce development. “If our citizens are not prepared to take full advantage of it, industry will be forced to recruit out of state and out of country, and our people will lose out.”
George Swift, president and CEO of the local alliance, said finding skilled labor to fill the jobs industries will need will be one of the biggest challenges facing employers.
“It’s about finding people with a desire to improve themselves and a willingness to pay that price to go to school and work,” he said. “It can be done. If people will take advantage of this, we will be able to raise the standard of living in our region and in our state tremendously. The average permanent jobs that will be created are $90,000-a-year jobs, but you’ve got to have skills to handle them.”
Swift added that he wants industries to look locally for skilled labor they will need as they expand their facilities.
“There are a lot of people who are unemployed and underemployed and need new skills to get these jobs,” he said. “The challenge, I think, is convincing people and showing them the opportunity to make that commitment to go to school and get the skills they will need. We want our people to have the first shot at them, but they’ve got to get the training.”
Registration for the conference is $65 and includes breakfast, lunch and refreshments. Sponsorships for a table of eight are available for $1,500. L’Auberge is offering a discounted hotel rate for guests who wish to stay at the resort overnight. Discounted room reservations must be made by Oct. 9. Guests can register for the conference at www.allianceswla.org.