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Baton Rouge industrial plant managers were most optimistic about the upcoming quarter as the economy begins to recover and change. 

About one-third of industrial plant managers expect their plant production to increase over the next six months, a glimmer of optimism for the Baton Rouge industrial sector. 

Still, 44% of industrial plant managers surveyed during the third quarter by the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance suggest they don't expect production to change, while 24% anticipate production declines — suggesting lingering uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic-fueled economic recession continues. 

The alliance has more than 60 industrial members, including petrochemical, paper, pharmaceutical and other industrial manufacturers in the region. 

The quarterly survey, completed by 25 plant managers in the Baton Rouge metro area recently, asks what management expects in the next six months for several key indicators. The index of responses collectively suggests whether the industry membership's experiences predict an economic expansion or contraction. An expansion is 50 or higher. For the third quarter, the index was 40, which suggests an economic contraction, but it has rebounded from 22 in the second quarter. It is still the second-lowest index since first-quarter 2015.

Fifity-two percent of plant managers said they don't expect any changes to capital expenditures at their manufacturing sites in the next six months, with only 12% predicting an increase and 36% projecting a decline. 

Roughly 80% of plant managers expect no change to employment in the next six months, while 8% expect to hire workers and 12% anticipate a decrease in workforce. 

Plant managers were least optimistic about the need for contract workers on-site. None predicted they would need contractors in the next six months, while 76% suggested they would stay the same and 24% anticipate fewer contractors hired at the manufacturing site.

The industrial sector continues to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, and many plants have adopted new policies to keep existing workers safe, such as staggering shifts, which in some cases results in less production. Some oil refineries have cut production in Louisiana due to less demand for gasoline and jet fuel. After Hurricane Laura, there are still at least three refineries without power in southwest Louisiana, which could impact the market in Baton Rouge. 

There have been 54 coronavirus outbreaks at industrial settings in Louisiana since March, which accounts for 504 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Louisiana Department of Health data as of early September. 

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.