The forecasts for 2019 by 14 business and community leaders gathered by The Advocate suggest a lot of good news to come for south Louisiana.
And most of the leaders had data to support their optimism for the new year during the Economic Outlook Conference held at the newspaper’s Baton Rouge office. They mentioned capital investments in the petrochemical industry that generate billions for projects, not merely hundreds of millions, leading to thousands of new industrial construction jobs.
Experts with LSU, the Louisiana Chemical Association and Louisiana Economic Development suggested that the big projects either working or announced will generate thousands of jobs for years to come. As much as $90 billion is projected in the energy sector, although LSU’s David Dismukes allowed that “we can quibble about $10 billion or $20 billion here or there.” And Dismukes wasn’t trying to be funny, but simply to indicate the vast level of investment occurring in the state’s oil and gas industry.
That is important to the state’s economy in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro areas along the Mississippi River, and in Lake Charles along the Calcasieu River.
Needless to say, with Louisiana having generations of boom-and-bust economic experiences — “stability and Louisiana in the same sentence, that’s a good thing,” said LED’s Brad Lambert — business leaders were cautious about the national warning signs. Iberiabank’s Daryl Byrd noted the interest rate hikes and stock market, Donna Villar of the Baton Rouge Realtors pointed to rate hikes’ impact on homebuyers, and Greg Bowser of the chemical manufacturers called for greater certainty on economic incentives, and as well as worried over tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into Louisiana ports, particularly the Port of New Orleans.
“Challenges both nationally and locally could impede our competitiveness,” Bowser said.
The discussion assumes greater importance because 2019 is an election year in Louisiana. Voters statewide will elect a governor — John Bel Edwards is running for re-election — and a new Legislature, with big turnover in House and Senate because of term limits.
Looking forward, the leaders gathered by The Advocate looked toward pro-growth policies beyond bricks and mortar. These include better funding for colleges and universities — “stable funding isn’t adequate funding,” noted LSU’s F. King Alexander — and generally a focus on workforce training and bringing new talents to Louisiana.
Transportation difficulties matter to Emile Breaux, of Associated Grocers, having to deliver corn and peas to 200 grocery stores, but the disruption to traditional industries through technology is a matter for businesses across the board, several panelists said.
Altogether, with the good news of economic improvements and capital investments, the fundamentals of education, transportation and technology remain what voters ought to seek commitments about when candidates come calling this year.