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Southwest Louisiana ,

Sasol expansion project has nation's attention

Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 6:40 PM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

KINDER — Southwest Louisiana is on the minds of federal commerce officials in Washington, D.C., because of the billions of dollars in investments that have been announced and followed through on in recent years.

Aaron Brickman, deputy executive director of SelectUSA, noted that one big-ticket project makes federal bureaucrats ''excited'' even more.

Sasol’s $21 billion natural gas processing plant — scheduled to be built in Westlake is viewed as the largest investment made by a foreign based company in American history.

Brickman commented that since 2003, Louisiana ranks as one of the nation’s top states in obtaining foreign direct investments with 90 projects.

“Sasol (headquartered in South Africa) is resonating in Washington like a bolder dropped in a kiddie pool,” Brickman told an audience Thursday at the Gulf Coast Trade Alliance’s 2013 World Trade Conference being held at Coushatta Casino Resort.

SelectUSA is an arm of the U.S. Commerce Department and supports American economic development organizations while encouraging international firms to make financial investments in the states.

Brickman explained that America’s new found success in harvesting oil and natural gas makes it a viable destination for international manufacturing companies too.

“Companies from around the world are short listing the United States for energy projects,” Brickman said. “It is an exciting time.”

Michael Hayes, manager for governmental and public affairs for Sasol, said the gas-to-liquid plant that the company intends to build in Calcasieu Parish, is the first of its kind the company is building in America.

Sasol opened a similar facility in Qatar in 2007.

The drop in shale gas prices — from $13 to $4 prompted company officials in South Africa to consider the United States.

"Shale gas is the game changer,” Hayes said. “We want to take advantage of an abundant resource that’s at a competitive price"

The plant is projected to have a $46.2 billion economic impact on the United States. At least 7,000 construction jobs are supposed to be created over a five- to six-year building period. Once completed, 1,200 permanent jobs are projected to be provided.

Hayes said the company is working on obtaining permits for construction and environmental studies while preparing to meet with stakeholders.

In comments made during the trade conference, Hayes stressed the importance of having a group of local, parish and state governmental officials working as a team with Sasol’s representatives in Louisiana to convince the company’s top officials that everything would be done to insure the project could be successful.

“This was the first major investment made by Sasol out of South Africa without having a partner. The Lake Charles project is 100 percent Sasol. The partnership that does exist includes the Louisiana governor’s office, Louisiana Economic Development office, the local Alliance, port, police jury and the Sabine River Authority.”

Hayes recalled a meeting at Sasol headquarters in 2007 in which a company executive told listeners that America was “aggressive” about free market economics and the government would allow a company to succeed or fail. The official wondered if it was possible for the company to feel good about an American investment.

Hayes said lots of “convincing” had to be done but the parties collected in Louisiana were able to sell state to the decision makers.

Brickman said the country — especially the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing a manufacturing renaissance.

“People are talking about the United States like they did about China several years ago,” he said.

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