Editorial: Lake Charles could be shining light in state’s economy

One of the state’s top economists marvels at what lies just over the horizon for Southwest Louisiana.

Loren Scott, professor emeritus of

economics at LSU and an authority on the state’s economy, projects that

job growth in the

Lake Charles metropolitan area will top 8 percent in the next two

years. He told a collection of area business leaders recently

that he’s never seen job-growth numbers for our corner of the

state like he’s projecting.

“It’s a scary thing to forecast numbers this big,” he confided.

How big? He believes by the end of 2015, a record 100,000 people will be employed in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes.

And that’s just the start of a unprecedented construction boom for the area that is now forecast to run through at least 2017

or 2018 and could even spill over into the next decade.

Scott, who said he’s been keeping tabs on the area for nearly four decades, said a good year for the area would be $2 billion

in capital spending. What’s projected over the few years for our area is 23 times that amount.

His annual report noted that the Baton Rouge Metropolitan area is expecting $23.7 billion in capital investments over the

next few years, “considered remarkable there but about half of what is expected in Lake Charles.”

According to Scott, the Lake Charles area should be the “shining light” in Louisiana’s economy over the next two years, unless

there is “some unforeseen large spike in natural gas.”

It is the abundance of natural gas, its relatively low price and the area’s network of pipelines to transport it that is fueling

this bonanza.

Cheniere’ Energy’s project to convert its liquefied natural gas facility at Sabine Pass from import to export is under way.

Similar conversion projects for

existing LNG terminals owned by Sempra at Hackberry and Lake Charles

Exports south of Lake

Charles are awaiting government approval as is a new player,

Magnolia LNG, an Australian company, that wants to build an export

facility on the Industrial Canal near Lake Charles Exports’

terminal.

But the real game-changer is Sasol’s plans to build one $17 billion – $21 billion gas-to-liquids plant in Westlake. The price

tag, notes Scott, is the largest single capital investment in Louisiana’s history.

That behemoth overshadows, but can’t diminish the LNG refits nor Lake Charles Clean Energy’s plans to build a $2.5 billion

petcoke-to-methanol plant on the Calcasieu Ship Channel or G2X Energy’s designs to construct a $1.3 billion gas-to-liquids

plant on the Industrial Canal.

All of this construction is expected to require as many as 7,000 construction workers in the next few years.

The good news is not limited to the

petro-chemical sector. IFG’s grain elevators are currently under

construction at the Port

of Lake Charles and an accompanying railroad expansion by Union

Pacific, the construction of the Golden Nugget casino adjacent

to L’Auberge’s casino and AAR’s maintenance-repair-overhaul

operations entry at Chennault International Airport will add hundreds

more jobs.

The oft-used laissez les bon temps rouler, i.e. let the good times roll, appears to be as applicable to Southwest Louisiana’s

economy as it is to our culture.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.