If you had to condense the Southwest Louisiana region’s many competitive advantages into just one word, that word would likely be ”logistics,” says George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Economic Development Alliance.
”Logistics is what we specialize in,” Swift says. ”The No. 1 asset we have is the Calcasieu River Ship Channel and access to the Gulf of Mexico. We have a network of six ports, including the port of Lake Charles, which is the 11th-busiest port in the United States. We have an extensive rail network, interstate highways and a very robust pipeline network to support the petrochemical industry here. Moving product is one of our specialities.”
Indeed, location and logistics are the cornerstones of Southwest Louisiana’s thriving $14.7 billion economy that is supported by energy, health care, aviation, agriculture, manufacturing, gaming and hospitality. But the region’s natural resources also play a role in its economic growth.
”Thanks to Louisiana shale formations, Southwest Louisiana has one of the densest networks of natural gas pipelines in the world,” says Clair Hebert Marceaux, Port Director, West Cameron Port, Harbor & Terminal District. ”This network coupled with deep water access creates a unique circumstance for the development of liquefied natural gas related projects. Another factor is our access to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way. Access to natural gas and deep water greatly impact energy and manufacturing projects because they provide direct contact with two of the most important factors considered in those types of projects.”
Southwest Louisiana’s natural resources also impact the region’s quality of life, which Swift says is a major consideration of relocating businesses and talent.
”We’re very fortunate in our region in that our natural resources provide a number of outdoor recreational opportunities. We have people coming from all over the world coming here to go duck hunting and fishing. This is truly a sportsman’s paradise,” Swift says. ”Southwest Louisiana is a combination of Texas and Louisiana so we have a lot of rodeos here and a large equestrian community with a lot of activities. The city of Lake Charles has a ballet and a symphony – things you don’t usually find in communities this size. We also have McNeese State University, which has a cultural series of about 30 events for the community. Our casinos also bring in a lot of big name entertainment. We have over 50 festivals in our region, so just about every weekend, there are one or two festivals going on.”
A Ready Workforce
Marion Fox, economic development director for Jefferson Davis Parish, agrees, and notes that the region’s top-rated schools and low crime rates also add to its attractiveness.
”You can still have that safe, secure quality of life and go to big cities if you want to. We’re within two-and-half hours of New Orleans and Houston,” Fox says. ”Our school systems are really good. Every parish has an arts council and does a lot to devise opportunities for students in the arts. In terms of quality of life, I think we provide a lot of the things that people are looking for when they come to Louisiana.”
Another of the region’s key advantages is a highly skilled and readily available workforce, thanks in large part to the efforts of Southwestern Louisiana Technical Community College (SOWELA) and McNeese State. SOWELA is building a 50,000-square-foot, $10 million training facility in Jefferson Davis Parish to help keep pace with growing workforce demands. The college has also partnered with businesses in high-growth industries to design customized programs to speed the flow of skilled workers to the workforce.
”The Southwest Louisiana workforce plays a major role in economic development efforts. Our workforce is robust, skilled, committed to quality performance and willing to go the extra mile for safety and productivity,” Marceaux says. ”I’ve heard many times that when a worker from Southwest Louisiana was seen on site out of our state, it was a relief to his or her employer because they could rest assured that the worker would show up ready to work, safely and until the job was done.”