There might be a lull in hiring for construction workers in Louisiana, but just wait. The looming possibility remains that construction workers, particularly for big new petrochemical facilities, are going to be harder to find in future.
That’s because the low price of natural gas and — though it is sometimes disputed in forecasts — a continuing demand for petrochemical products are still a good recipe for growth in Louisiana’s two biggest industrial corridors, the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles.
Exports from the Baton Rouge metro area increased, despite trade tensions from China, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently reported.
Still, the number of Louisiana-based construction companies who say they are having difficulty finding workers — a common issue in a solid national economic picture — is slightly lower than the national average.
The Associated General Contractors of America commissioned a survey of 25 Louisiana companies and found that 72 percent are having a hard time finding workers for the hourly craft positions that make up most of the construction workforce. That’s compared to 80 percent nationally, and 83 percent in the South.
However, as noted by Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC, our state’s numbers are not that far off.
That doesn’t mean the jobs data is all to the good. In July, there were 12,100 fewer people working in construction across the state than there were in July 2017, a 7.9% drop.
That’s a significant stat, but it’s one that should be taken as a temporary deficiency in the state’s economy.
We believe the impact of major new construction projects will be felt once again, and significantly. Just last month, Methanex announced its third project in Geismar in Ascension Parish, employing about 1,000 construction workers.
Those are big numbers, and industrial construction jobs are well-paid.
Perhaps in Louisiana we are blasé about plant announcements. At $1.4 billion in Geismar, and billions more in the vast expansions of the petrochemical industry up and down both the river, sometimes too much good news can make these business decisions a bit routine.
While underlying economic factors are the most critical to site selections by industry — not just natural gas, but pipelines and railroads and river transportation — Louisiana is also doing a good job recruiting.
As did his predecessors Bobby Jindal and the late Kathleen Blanco, Gov. John Bel Edwards has been welcoming to industrial development. State programs like FastStart to find workers for new businesses are considered among the best in the country.
We need to keep that up but should not become discouraged by a temporary dip in construction jobs numbers.