If there was a bright spot in the flooding in south Louisiana, it was the relatively small impact on the region's big petrochemical industrial complex.
It is a striking contrast to the effect on heavy industry during the storms of 2005. After hurricane Katrina then Rita just a few weeks later — the latter had arguably the biggest impact on offshore operations in that time, because it tracked up the western side of the Gulf of Mexico — industrial operations suffered severely.
Even if a plant did not experience direct damage, its employers and suppliers were prevented from getting to sites and power sources, and other vital components of major industry were disrupted.
During this year's floods, devastating as they were, the supply chains for major industries were not severely impacted.
Dan Borné of the Louisiana Chemical Association said that the major facilities up and down the Mississippi River in the flood-affected parishes employ 20,000 people on direct payrolls and paid via contractors.
It is the impact of displaced employees that most severely hurt industrial facilities, although in some cases water had to be pumped out or dealt with by the plants, or there were other localized issues at sites. In every case, the Department of Environmental Quality worked with industry, Borné said.
In a survey of the impact delivered to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Borné said the disruption in employees' lives caused some scrambling to adjust schedules or in rare cases to slow down production for safety reasons.
"Process safety trumps production," Borne said.
The more than 800 companies that serve the industry also suffered severe disruption, including the damage to homes of workers and their offices or warehouses, Borné said. "A very significant number of employees have been affected by the storm," he noted. Temporary housing will be an issue for all big employers in the region.
Large numbers of smaller businesses have been devastated by the floods this year. Those are real and significant economic damage to the state's business scene. That is why we applaud the efforts of officials like U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, who encouraged a strong response to the floods on the part of the federal Small Business Administration.
Still, the industrial complex between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is a large part of the $62 billion petrochemical industry in the state, and so there is good news that the floods did not hurt greatly the economic mainstay of many river parishes.
The floodwaters that swept through south Louisiana over the past week may have reached 31 pe…