The Lake Charles economy grew at the fastest rate of any metro area in the nation in 2016, according to a recent study by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product for the area increased by 8.1 percent last year, led by growth in nondurable-goods manufacturing, the report said. The only other area to reach 8.1 percent was Bend, Ore., which saw the most growth in finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing.
Lake Charles topped the list out of 382 cities, 267 of which saw increases. Alexandria followed close behind with 7 percent GDP growth, the fourth-highest increase in the nation.
Other Louisiana cities, however, didn’t fare as well. GDP for Lafayette and Houma-Thibodaux decreased by 11.5 percent and 10.4 percent because of the downturn in the oil and gas industry. The only cities whose growth rates fell farther were also oil and gas towns: Casper, Wyo., saw an 11.6 percent GDP increase, and Odessa, Texas, saw a 13.3 percent decrease.
Although industry is largely responsible for the GDP spike in Lake Charles, it isn’t what drove increases for most urban economies in 2016. Overall, the GDP for U.S. metro areas grew 1.7 percent primarily due to strides in professional and business services; information services; and finance, insurance real estate, rental and leasing.
George Swift, president of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the study reinforces the message the alliance has been spreading for years: Lake Charles is growing at an unprecedented rate.
When asked if he thought growth would start to slacken once construction ends at some projects, Swift said he didn’t anticipate much of a decline in the near future. By the time construction wraps up at projects like Cameron LNG and Sasol, he said, other projects will be underway.
“I think we have enough in the pipeline to keep up construction,” Swift said. “Then as the projects are complete, they will hire more permanent jobs.”
Despite delays at multiple prospective liquefied natural gas export projects, Swift said he’s optimistic that LNG projects will come through.
He said the report shows Lake Charles is “moving in the right direction” and poised to be a global energy leader.