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Richard: Southwest Louisiana on verge of economic boom

Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 11:30 AM

By Bobby Dower / American Press

Southwest Louisiana is on the verge of an enviable economic boom, according to a local businessman with ties to the energy sector.

Rick Richard told the Rotary Club of Lake Charles on Tuesday that the United States could be the world’s largest producer of hydrocarbons by 2020 and that the area stands to benefit from that surge.

He said the energy business ‘‘has turned upside down’’ because of recent natural gas and shale discoveries in North America.

With its refineries, liquid natural gas terminals, chemical industry and pipeline infrastructure, the Lake Charles area is well-positioned to take advantage of the coming energy bonanza, Richard said.

He noted that the anticipated Sasol Gas-to-Liquid facility has been estimated to cost $10 billion and that the refit of the Sempra, Cheniere and Trunkline LNG facilities for export has been estimated to run $5 billion at each site.

Toss in the $2.2 billion Leucadia gasification facility, which could see construction begin next year, and the investment alone tops $27 billion.

‘‘There’s going to be a lot of money for not only plants you see built around here or modernized or added to, but there’s also pipeline facilities and such that are not counted in that $27 billion,’’ Richard said. ‘‘That will be, I think, great opportunities to Southwest Louisiana.’’

He said the infusion of money and employment will fuel a renaissance in Lake Charles and the downtown area.

He said construction of a transit building at the corner of Ryan and Clarence streets and the construction of a new 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal building on Mill Street are well under way.

He plans to put a new courtyard and two new restaurants in the old Calcasieu Marine Building, which he owns. He noted that Bill Dore has purchased the old Powell Lumber building on Lakeshore Drive, that Tom Shearman has purchased the former Scarlett O’s building on Broad Street; and that Richard’s wife, Donna, has purchased the Noble Building.

Richard also praised the introduction of Lady of the Lake, which will provide cruises on the lakefront.

He said future projects could include Mardi Gras Boardwalk, development of the Sears property, a downtown hotel and another hotel adjacent to the Civic Center. He also said the YMCA on Kirby Street could be developed into day care and child care facilities with sports activities and shops.

To reap this bounty, Richard said, government needs a ‘‘can-do attitude.’’ ‘‘It starts at the top but is implemented below,’’ he said.

He expressed frustration with local and government regulation that ‘‘becomes a negative impression rather than a positive impression.’’

He said too many regulations and barriers frustrate entrepreneurs. They are like ‘‘those ducks that will nibble you to death,’’ Richard said. ‘‘If we don’t get positive on the implementation side, it just won’t go anywhere.’’

He said the downtown has too many parking lots.

‘‘Too much parking is as bad as too little parking,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a lot of empty lots at night, but during the day they are fairly filled up.’’

He said older businessmen and entrepreneurs need to mentor McNeese and Sowela students. ‘‘We need younger people on boards; we need to get some of that vibrancies,’’ he said.

‘‘I think there’s a whole lot of money and whole lot of investment coming to Southwest Louisiana. Like they said during the last oil boom many years ago, let’s not screw it up this time.’’

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