Higher oil price stirs only guarded optimism in Louisiana’s oil patch as uncertainty looms _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Richard Alan Hannon Aerial view of ExxonMobil Refinery in Baton Rouge. 

Some industrial plant managers across 30 sites around the Baton Rouge expect an economic expansion in the metro area during fourth quarter this year, according to a survey by the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance, a trade organization that represents 60 manufacturers. 

But the overall activity reported in the survey is down slightly from a year ago. In some cases, companies are waiting on the results of elections in 2019 and 2020 before committing to major decisions, said Connie Fabre, executive director of GBRIA. Still, there are more than $32 billion in projects across Baton Rouge already underway. 

For example, ExxonMobil began construction in recent weeks at its Baton Rouge polyolefins plant where the company expects to invest $500 million. The project will add a new polypropylene line with capacity of 450,000 tons a year, expect to start production in 2021. 

The quarterly survey respondents included petrochemical, paper, pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturers addressing capital expenditure and employment plans over the next six months. 

Only 11% of plant managers expect to increase plant production, while 14% projected a decline in production and 75% anticipated no change in the next six months.

About 36% of plant managers expect to spend more in capital expenditures, while 4% reported an expected decline and 61% don't anticipate major changes. 

About 29% of plant managers expect to hire more employees in the next six months and about 29% project their company will hire contract labor during that time frame. But most of the respondents don't expect workforce changes.

The Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance economic index was 66 out of 150, which is considered an economic expansion, while an index under 50 suggests a contraction. The index is down slightly from about one year ago, and down from third quarter this year. The last time the economic index was around 65 was during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Survey: Baton Rouge area industrial plants expect some economic expansion over next six months

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.