Lake Charles conference slated to prepare for influx of jobs

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

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.