For the past few years, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has had the “crazy idea” of promoting the Capital Region as one of the South’s leading growth economies.
But the organization is seeing evidence this marketing is paying off, said Adam Knapp, BRAC president and CEO.
“This is becoming less and less crazy every year,” Knapp told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.
Knapp summarized 2012, which was a strong year for the chamber. The group played a role in bringing 13 economic development projects to the area, which will create 1,128 new direct jobs, he said. BRAC has set an annual goal of bringing in 1,000 new jobs, with a $40 million payroll.
But these new jobs will account for a $78.1 million payroll. The average annual wage per job announced will be $69,237, 148 percent higher than the median worker income in metro Baton Rouge.
The new projects are expected to create 2,300 direct and indirect jobs, 2,400 construction jobs and generate $200 million in new state and local tax revenue, he said.
The new jobs represent a $3.5 billion capital investment. In comparison, from 2006 to 2011, all of the economic development projects in metro Baton Rouge had a total capital investment of $2.7 billion, Knapp said.
He said the new jobs come mainly from two industries: petrochemical and digital media. The petrochemical industry is booming because of low natural gas prices and the easy access to an ample supply in the Haynesville Shale. Digital media has taken off because of state tax credits.
“In the words of Shakespeare, we hope past is prologue,” Knapp said.
BRAC is forecasting economic growth of 1.5 percent in the Capital Region this year, as the area continues to recover from the national recession. The chamber hopes to add 1,000 jobs this year, with a payroll of $48 million.
To help this, the organization has launched a targeted recruitment program to generate foreign direct investment in the region. Three foreign companies announced major economic development projects in 2012: Methanex, a Canadian company, will spend $550 million to move a methanol plant from Chile to Geismar; Avalon Rare Metals, another Canadian company, will invest $300 million in a rare earth elements separation plant in Geismar; and SE Tylose, a German company, will invest $120 million in a hydroxyethyl cellulose plant near Plaquemine.
“We have a full wind in our sails as a region,” Knapp said. “We’re pushing hard to take big steps.”