For the economic analysts, location of a giant new Formosa plant in St. James Parish, promising 1,200 permanent jobs, is a function of objective factors. There is the Mississippi River and Louisiana’s network of pipelines, the neighboring petrochemical manufacturing complex between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. For the politicians, it’s the incentives that are given the company — Formosa is already a big industrial producer in East Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes — and Louisiana’s traditionally business-friendly environment.
It’s the last that makes the new announcement of political importance, for to hear some business groups tell it, Gov. John Bel Edwards is sabotaging economic development in Louisiana.
It’s not just the tax debate in the State Capitol but Edwards’ background as a trial lawyer.
Here’s how Stephen Waguespack of the Louisiana Business and Industry sees it: “Hand-selected attorneys are broadly attacking numerous energy companies that have legally operated with coastal use permits in Louisiana for years, rather than seeking to penalize specific actions or bad actors. And the pursuit of lawsuits didn’t stop there, parishes are now being pressured by the governor’s team to do the same. This litigious behavior by state government itself is simply unprecedented and unacceptable.”
Perhaps a fair criticism, but what matters politically?
As Waguespack and other Edwards critics probably know, it’s difficult to change an image of a governor making big job-creation announcements like Formosa in St. James Parish and DXC, the new technology company that hopes to put 2,000 jobs into an office tower on Poydras Street in New Orleans. Smaller announcements in places like Hodge, for a timber mill, in 2017 are also important politically elsewhere.
Coming as they do in mid-2018, and with Edwards up for re-election in 2019, these latest announcements are manna from political heaven, even as the coastal lawsuits are little-noticed outside industry circles.
These are big jobs wins for the governor, and are likely to benefit him politically.