Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, April 01, 2013 7:21 PM
Industrial projects like Sasol’s estimated $21 billion expansion at its Westlake facility will benefit the state’s economy, but Louisiana really needs diverse job opportunities and sustained economic growth to compete on a national level, state Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said Monday.
“We have so far to go to catch up with the kind of economic opportunities that are available in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta,” Moret told the American Press’ editorial board. “That will be true even four years from now when things are booming and business is going to be screaming (that) they can’t find enough good workers.”
Moret said Louisiana needs to produce about 40,000 new jobs per year to compete with Texas and other states. The anticipated construction and permanent jobs from Sasol and other similar projects in Southwest Louisiana “is not enough by itself,” even in the short term, he said.
“As big as that (industrial boom) is, the absolute best case scenario is you get maybe one year worth of the long run average rate that we need,” Moret said. “What’s coming with these big industrial projects is a great blessing and a great boost to help us down that path, but it does not solve that problem.”
Moret said the state’s low business tax rate and quality workforce development program puts it in a good position to benefit from economic opportunities.
“It’s really this historic convergence between preparation, hard work and good fortune,” he said. “We’ve got all these different pieces that have put us in an extremely competitive position for those types of projects. But as exciting as those things are, I think we should aspire for more.”
Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue, said Louisiana could benefit from projects similar to the IBM facility that is planned for downtown Baton Rouge. It is expected to bring in 800 new permanent jobs.
Moret said the state should make sure there are enough skilled workers to fill any open positions once the projects are completed.
“A lot of the skilled craft positions are in permanent positions at the plants,” he said. “The construction projects are also
going to be competing with permanent employment as well.”