Two major studies have been launched to assess how community leaders can best prepare Southwest Louisiana for the multi-billion dollar industry expansions planned for the next decade.
More than 70 business and community leaders met at the SEED Center on Wednesday to learn about the SWLA Regional Impact Study and the SWLA Regional Housing Strategic Plan. Conducted by CSRS, an engineering, architectural and program management firm based in Baton Rouge, in partnership with the Go Group and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, the studies will seek information from business leaders, elected officials and members of the community at large to help Southwest Louisiana prepare for the many economic challenges that will come as industry expands their facilities.
“The challenges and the opportunities that Southwest Louisiana has right now are unparalleled,” said Travis Woodard, a principal at CSRS. “There’s nothing like it in Louisiana or in the United States.”
The SWLA Regional Impact Study will focus on the impacts all of the plant expansions will have on the five-parish region. Funded by Sasol for an undisclosed seven-figure amount, the study will address how plant expansions will affect the region’s workforce development, transportation, utilities, health and medical infrastructure, public safety, environment, small business development, education and community relations.
Woodard said the study will focus on assessing a baseline on those areas to determine how they are doing today and how expansion will affect them in the years ahead.
“Once we have that we then got to take these $65 billion numbers and break that down into things that mean something to the school board,” he added. “How many new kids are going to be in school? How many new houses are we going to need? So we will do a socio-economic model that helps us understand what those big numbers mean in terms of the numbers that matter to you and me.”
The SWLA Regional Housing Strategic Plan will focus on how expansion will affect housing in Southwest Louisiana. The plan, which is funded in part by a $380,000 grant from the state’s Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit, will consist of a resiliency study that will examine how the region builds its homes, the kinds of codes that are in place, best practices and its land development ordinances.
The plan will also have a housing market study that will examine what kind of demand is coming, the number and types of homes that will be needed, and when the peak demand is going to occur.
“I think we all recognize that there is going to be a peak at some point,” Woodard said. “If we don’t predict it in advance and instead find it in our rearview mirror, we could find ourselves in a situation where we are overbuilt and have vacant homes and vacant lots.”
Both studies are expected to be completed by June. Woodard said the studies will require the input of business and community leaders in the five-parish region.
“There’s going to be a lot of interviews and a lot of information requested,” he added. “We are really going to need feedback from the people on the ground here who know their areas the best in order to make sure that we don’t miss something and that we get it right. We’ll be looking to the leaders in the community for that information so that we do get it right.”
Calcasieu Police Juror and Go Group Chairman Hal McMillin said once the studies have been completed, the Go Group will reconvene to decide which impact issues are a first priority for the region.
“Trying to prioritize which ones we’re going to go after first will be one of the things that our steering committee will help us with,” McMillin said. “We need roads. We need to make sure that our traffic woes are taken care of in Southwest Louisiana. This is our chance to really get it right. Having this information will help us do the right things for the entire region.”
Michael Hayes, Sasol’s public affairs manager for U.S. megaprojects, said it is Sasol’s hope that the studies lead to a community rooted in environmentally-sound principles that will attract people to relocate to Southwest Louisiana.
“These projects can either go well or they can go poorly,” Hayes said. “It’s our fervent desire that we end up with projects that operate well and the community being a growing, sustainable community that has tremendous quality of life. We cannot succeed unless the communities that we’re in succeed with us.”