Congratulations, Baton Rouge. You’re No. 2 — behind Lake Charles.
Something to celebrate? Yes, in fact, something very suitable for celebration this Thanksgiving.
The bouquets to Lake Charles come from Loren Scott, the economics professor-emeritus at LSU, and his team, who produced a two-year forecast for the state’s economy.
Scott’s been on this beat for 33 years, and he says he’s never had a report like this one, caused by a boom in petrochemical manufacturing expansions. The Scott report, written with LSU’s Jim Richardson and Managing Editor Judy S. Collins, very reasonably put Lake Charles on a bit of a pedestal.
“We have run out of adjectives to describe the industrial boom underway in the Lake Charles (region),” they write. “We have tabulated a remarkable $81.7 billion in industrial announcements for the two-parish region.”
That’s huge for Calcasieu and Cameron, even if not all of those projects are eventually launched, making that region the fastest-growing in the state. But as everyone watching the state’s economy knows, the Calcasieu River is one of two petrochemical corridors in the state. The largest is along the Mississippi River, and if it is No. 2 in the newest megaprojects numbers, it is a No. 2 status that is enviable in every other way.
Nearly $7 billion in projects are now underway, and significant others are planned. “The demand for construction workers has jumped from 17,500 in August 2013 to 28,000 in February 2015 — a 10,500 job swing.”
The Scott team is thus enthusiastic about Baton Rouge’s prospects: “The 19,600 new jobs we are projecting for this MSA (metropolitan statistical area) over the next two years would make it the second fastest growing MSA in the state.”
That’s a No. 2 ranking that any community should appreciate, and although Lake Charles has some diversification in its economy — a new casino is planned for the lakefront — the far larger economic diversification underway in the Baton Rouge MSA is richer and deeper.
As Scott and Co. outlined their analysis, so did the Baton Rouge Area Chamber in its 2015 forecast.
Both made a point of noting the industrial boom, and both noted specifically the IBM building going up in downtown, a visible symbol of tech-sector growth in the city. “Regional job growth outperforms Louisiana and the nation,” BRAC reported, with President Adam Knapp noting that growth is across a lot of sectors, not just that of industrial construction.
Even the job losses in state government and higher education are coming back, albeit slowly because of the deep cuts in colleges by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Privatization of the old Earl K. Long charity hospital shifts some jobs to the private sector in health care.
All of the BRAC data backs up the Scott report in its optimism about the Baton Rouge economy, although both focus on jobs and not on the underlying problems facing Baton Rouge, or for that matter Lake Charles, Lafayette and other cities in the state. Oil and gas is also, as we know from experience, a volatile economic sector.
The good news from the Scott team’s summary: “If our forecasts are near the mark, sometime in 2015, Louisiana will have more than 2,000,000 non-farm employees for the first time in its history.” One-fifth of those will be in the Baton Rouge MSA.
The question, given our state’s history of riding booms and busts, is whether we shall take the opportunity to invest in our future economy even as we reap the obvious benefits from an industrial boom.
Still, No. 2 in this kind of competition is worth a bit of celebration. Have a bottle of Champagne or two, and enjoy Thanksgiving. There are plenty of good reasons on the economic front this fall.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is lkeller@ theadvocate.com.