Just Imagine: Chennault / Sowela Resilience District

Published 12:44 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

Oliver G. “Rick” Richard is a Lake Charles philanthropist, president of Empire of the Seed and chairman of CleanFuel USA.

The forefront of action — and results — in Lake Charles economic growth is on the east side of the city, where a sprawling aerospace hub works to grow jobs while an ever-expanding college trains people to fill them. Chennault International Airport and Sowlea Technical Community College are neighbors by location, allies by mission.

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The new ideas offered by Just Imagine SWLA are ideal quality-of-life complements to the forward-looking work already under way at both Chennault and Sowela. The view along Sen. J. Bennett Johnston Avenue just off Interstate 210 is a model of post-storm progress by these two key Southwest Louisiana economic drivers. It’s testament to vision and imagination that was put in place years before the storm.

Chennault and Sowela aren’t simply rebuilding from storms. They’re building on strategic plans that were in place before the hurricanes. Their plans, either individually or in partnership, center on investing to create new jobs, bring new businesses and build a trained workforce.

Those projects include:
• Construction at Chennault of a $4 million air cargo pass-the facility, now nearly complete, as the airport seeks to enter the air cargo sector.
• Construction under way at Sowela of a $10.2 million state-of-the-art culinary, gaming and hospitality training facility.
• Tangible planning for $30 million in new Chennault hangars to support an additional 200 jobs.
• New parking lots designed to accommodate growth and new activity.
• Building new educational facilities.
• Joint support for pursuing additional flight/aviation curricula.
• Real partnerships with community partners to promote a culture of excellence and growth and break down barriers inhibiting growth.
• Post-storm completion of such vital efforts as the beautification and signage at the entrance plaza, wider shared lanes for both worker and student traffic, and roadwork improvements at the Johnston/210 exchange.

The Just Imagine SWLA plan for the Chennault-SOWELA sector dovetails well with these efforts.

Chennault is advocating for the cleanup and development of the blighted areas immediately surrounding it — meaning that, in time, the Chennault/SOWELA Resilience District could be a destination with:
• Restaurants.
• Housing.
• Other destinations to serve Chennault employees and SOWELA students and faculty.

Sowela also has plans to open a flight school. “We want to train the next generation of pilots by partnering with Chennault International Airport and setting a goal to open a flight school as part of the Resilience District,” said Chancellor Neil Aspinwall. “Careers for airline and aircraft pilots are expected to grow 13% by 2030 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we want these new pilots to earn their wings right here in Lake Charles at Chennault and Sowela.”

The resilience district for Chennault and Sowela has multiple projects that provide supporting data to help make infrastructure upgrades eligible for funding to include water/wastewater improvements, improved roadways and enhanced access to the Chennault and SOWELA

Chennault and Sowela are poised in the time ahead to not only build the regional economy, but also lift east Lake Charles’ business opportunities, attractiveness, and quality of life. The Just Imagine SWLA plan is a pathway to those goals. Learn more about the Chennault/SOWELA Resilient District and other projects by visiting www.justimagineswla.com and attending a community meeting:
 Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8PM
 Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulphur, 6-8PM
 Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gym, Grand Lake, 5-7PM