LED secretary: Diversifying economy will be key to success

Continued focus on education also essential

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said Southwest Louisiana and other regions should look at ways to diversify its economy to continue growing long after work on the industrial mega-projects are finished.

Pierson told the American Press editorial board on Tuesday that introducing more job opportunities locally will soften the impact once the number of temporary construction jobs start tapering off.

Another area of continued focus is education, including McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College. Pierson suggested McNeese shift its nursing program in order to meet future health care needs, like online care.

The challenges in Southwest Louisiana are different from areas that aren’t experiencing unprecedented growth, Pierson said. While other areas are struggling to rebound their economies, local officials are working to ensure an adequate housing market and make sure infrastructure is in good shape.

Pierson said the state’s 5 percent unemployment rate in August is “unusual” and “doesn’t reflect our current condition,” with roughly 2 million people employed currently.

“If you look historically, (it’s) the highest number of people working in our state ever,” he said. “What we’ve heard on the ground in Lake Charles is there are lots of jobs available.”

Another goal is to make sure overall wages are increasing, Pierson said.

The workforce training program, FastStart, was named the ninth-best program nationwide, Pierson said. He said jobs are becoming more “technical-oriented” and require more skill sets.

Pierson said the Louisiana Business Connection website connects large-scale economic projects with small businesses, especially those owned by minorities and women. A companion website, Louisiana Job Connection, lets corporations post their employment needs and match them with qualified job seekers.

“Those kind of things are helping us have this bestin-class workforce training program, which supports both the expansion of existing industries and our ability to recruit new industry,” he said.

Pierson said there are more opportunities for Louisiana to expand its aerospace footprint. Currently, Pierson is visiting various regions statewide to get public feedback on any existing challenges.

””Louisiana Economic Development

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