Anyone who has driven through Calcasieu Parish over the last year or longer has to realize Southwest Louisiana is in the midst of one of its biggest ever-economic booms. The construction of petrochemical complexes prior to and during World War II saw this area become a major industrial location, but current development has eclipsed that growth.
Land is being cleared in every nook and cranny of this city and in outlying areas. Subdivisions are cropping up almost overnight, and new apartment complexes have been built in many neighborhoods.
Traffic is becoming congested during all hours of the day. Strip malls are opening up everywhere and new restaurants are opening on a regular basis. Many business places have displayed “now hiring” signs, and anyone who isn’t working can’t or doesn’t want to.
Gov. John Bel Edwards was in Lake Charles Thursday, and he brought good news with him about the future of this area. He expressed gratitude to many who have contributed to the tremendous growth here.
Those he mentioned included industry leaders, small businesses, members of the business community, educators, pastors and ministers, legislators from this region, elected officials, economic development officials and members of the oil and gas community.
“You represent not just the potential, but the very promise of an economy that we strive to spread across the entire state,” Edwards said. “It is fitting that we would be here to celebrate both economic development and higher education because the two go hand in hand.”
Edwards and officials with Waste Management were here to help McNeese State University launch its First Choice campaign. McNeese President Daryl Burckel said the campaign is a three-year initiative to raise $1 million for the university’s sustained growth and self-sufficiency.
Like all higher education institutions in the state, McNeese experienced devastating budget cuts before Edwards took office. The governor and members of the Legislature have stabilized higher education funding, but essential funds are still in short supply.
Officials with Waste Management donated $60,000 to help launch the McNeese campaign, and Edwards’ visit helps give the effort credibility. Willie Mount, a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said she believes the Waste Management donation will serve as an example for other businesses and industries.
McNeese, Sowela Community Technical College and special schools training workers are playing a major role in filling this area’s increasing job needs. This kind of financial support will ensure local citizens enjoy the major benefits of economic development.
Edwards said, “Here in Southwest Louisiana, you’ve harnessed the power of education to create industry-leading training in refining, manufacturing, engineering, finance and administration, software development and health care.”
The next question might be, “Is the major development now under way here a permanent or temporary thing?”
The governor said Cheniere Energy’s LNG facility, Sasol’s mega-project, and Westlake Chemical and Lotte Chemical ‘s operations are proof the future is bright. Waste Management is also building a $30 million thermal desorption unit.
Edwards mentioned the Chennault International Airport and the work of the SEED Center that involves McNeese, the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and the city of Lake Charles.
The Port of Lake Charles has also been a key player in development. Cameron LNG has invested $10 billion and plans to start operations at year’s end, and other LNG operations are pending. The list goes on and on.
Here is some positive news outlined by Edwards that indicates this area’s economic development gains are solid:
l The average weekly wage in the Southwest Region is 4.5 percent higher than the state average.
l The Calcasieu Parish unemployment rate is 3.7 percent and it’s 3.4 percent in Cameron Parish, the lowest rates in all of Louisiana.
l More than 147,900 people are employed in this region with a net of nearly 5,000 more jobs today than a year ago.
l Business Facilities magazine ranked Lake Charles as the No. 1 mid-sized metro region for job growth in the nation.
l Southern Business and Development magazine named Lake Charles as the small market of the year for the eighth consecutive year.
l Site Selection magazine calls Southwest Louisiana “The $117 Billion Region,” based on current and announced potential projects.
Edwards said the momentum here is spreading throughout the entire state. Louisiana’s Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2018 grew at a rate of 2.3 percent, faster than that of 35 other states, he said.
“We have more Louisiana residents working now than ever before,” Edwards said. “And unemployment is currently at a 10-year low.”
Those of us who have lived in this area for a lifetime and newcomers can rejoice for the secure future that all of this means for our children and grandchildren. We can thank God for our many blessings.