Local economist thinks area could become economic powerhouse

By By Eric Cormier / American Press

A local economist is of the opinion that Southwest Louisiana is going to become an economic powerhouse in the near future.

Michael Kurth, director of the H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis at McNeese State University, released the

region’s 2012 economic report Oct. 1.

“The most important finding is what most people in industry know already. It looks like a huge economic boom is heading our

way,” he told the American Press on Saturday.

In the report, Kurth identifies Calcasieu Parish as the key beneficiary for whatever economic growth occurs.

He noted that state economists Jim Richardson and Loren Scott believe Lake Charles could add 5,200 new jobs within the next

two years.

Cheap natural gas and hydraulic fracturing are the reasons the city will benefit, Kurth surmises.

“Very low natural gas prices make this area of the Gulf region from Houston to New Orleans the cheapest place in the world

to make plastics and petrochemicals,” he said.

Kurth said large continental oil finds —

like the Bakken shale formation in Montana, North Dakota and west

Canada — mean more

refinery production. Companies drilling those fields need a

pipeline to move oil to national refineries and propose constructing

that type of infrastructure.

“If they are built, these pipelines will provide a major boost to the refining and petrochemical industry stretching from

Houston to Baton Rouge,” the report reads.

Beauregard and Allen parishes — areas with strong ties to the timber industry and where unemployment is 8.5 percent and 10.4

percent — may not reap the benefits of the economic growth “until the housing market revives,” the report says.

“That is because of the housing bust a few years ago. The timber market is very weak. Until homes are built in large numbers,

plywood isn’t needed right now,” Kurth said.

Jefferson Davis Parish, where

agriculture is dominant, is expected to benefit from rising food prices

around the world, while

Cameron Parish should continue seeing low population figures. “The

only bright spot there (Cameron Parish) is Cheniere Energy’s

$6 billion project to enable its Sabine Pass terminal to liquefy

natural gas for export,” the report reads.

Kurth thinks the Lake Charles casino industry is at an important juncture with the construction of Ameristar Lake Charles

taking place.

He thinks joint marketing between Ameristar and Pinnacle Entertainment’s L’Auberge property could double the market.

“It will all depend on how much they

work together. Is Ameristar just going to come in and take half the

business away from

Pinnacle and split the market. If that happens, there will be no

major impact on the market. I think both companies understand

that,” Kurth said.

Texas is still considered the primary market for gambling operators in Lake Charles.

Kurth estimates the market could grow to twice its size within a five-year period if the two companies market jointly.