Baton Rouge to New Orleans, Lake Charles get leg up on potential federal funding to support manufacturing growth _lowres

Photo provided Cheniere Energy Inc. -- Four liquefaction units are under construction and two more are expected at Cheniere Energy's liquefied natural gas export complex in Cameron Parish. The industrial boom in that area and from Baton Rouge to New Orleans has helped Louisiana land a federal designation that could mean funding to support manufacturing growth.

The industrial boom going on between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and in the Lake Charles area grabbed the attention of federal officials who Wednesday gave both areas a special place in line for manufacturing support.

Dubbed the “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership,” the special designation does not come with immediate federal funding, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said, but “helps those communities when they go to apply for federal funding.”

Both Pritzker and Jason Miller, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said the designation is intended to help boost economic development in each of 12 manufacturing centers identified around the country Wednesday. At stake could be a share of $1 billion.

LSU will lead a group of 20 private sector, nonprofit, government, higher education and other organizations making decisions regarding applications for funding from the Commerce Department and 10 other agencies, Pritzker said.

“I really look forward to seeing how these communities grow,” Pritzker said.

Jonathan Shi, a professor at LSU’s Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management, collected much of the data used in the university’s application for the IMCP designation.

“The designation will bring significant benefits to the state, including national and international visibility for attracting new investment to the region; new federal resources for workforce, infrastructure, research and operational improvement; and coordinated efforts of the regional partners for a sustainable manufacturing economy,” Shi said.

Federal agencies, Shi added, are making $1 billion available to the dozen designated manufacturing centers.

“LSU will be working with its partners to compete for these federal resources,” Shi said. “We don’t know how much we can bring to the region at this moment.”

In Washington, D.C., Miller noted 40 percent of U.S. manufacturers closed their doors in the first decade of this century.

“We’ve seen incredible progress in U.S. manufacturing since 2010,” Miller said.

The Louisiana Chemical Association was among scores of companies, chambers of commerce, educational institutions and others who supported south Louisiana’s IMCP designation.

“It’s important that we got this designation. It recognizes what a powerful force Louisiana is in this manufacturing renaissance,” said Dan S. Borné, president of the 64-manufacturer LCA. “America’s manufacturing prowess is being released to an extent that hasn’t been seen since World War II,” Borné added. He said the designation occurs at a time when the state has two critical needs for continuation of its growth in manufacturing.

“Workforce (training) and infrastructure are those two extremely important needs,” he said, adding that he hopes the IMCP will help fund those critical improvements.

Wednesday’s announcement followed significant increases in Louisiana’s manufacturing efforts and plant expansions over the past five years, particularly in the production of chemical products.

In October, LSU economists Loren C. Scott and James A. Richardson reported about $100 billion in new or expanding industrial facilities were either under construction or in the front-end engineering and design phase in south Louisiana.

In the Lake Charles area alone, manufacturers already had begun work on $30.2 billion of such projects.

Federal officials added Wednesday that the chemical corridor and Lake Charles area, combined, employed 255,920 full-time workers in 2013 at either manufacturing facilities or other businesses indirectly related to the manufacturing, energy and services sectors.

“We appreciate and applaud LSU’s leadership to secure the new manufacturing-community designation for the Baton Rouge/New Orleans super region,” said Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

While 12 other areas received the IMCP designation last year, this year’s designees are the last for a while, Pritzker said. She said no additional designations are planned for next year.

Pritzker mentioned several of last year’s designees as early success stories.

A southwestern Ohio partnership used $20 million of federal investments to attract $500 million in private-sector commitments to the region’s manufacturing base, she said. Portland, Maine, used its IMCP designation to attract a $9 million grant from the state and $27 million in private sector funding for upgrades to the Port of Portland.