A prime location and a wealth of logistical assets make Southwest Louisiana an ideal location for investment. The region is home to a half dozen ports, among them is a deep-water port that is among the busiest in the nation.
Just two hours east of Houston, the five-parish region of 300,000 provides ready access to Interstate 10 and puts other major markets within easy reach. I-10 passes through the metropolitan area of Lake Charles, connecting the region with New Orleans to the east and Houston to the west. Other main thoroughfares in Southwest Louisiana are I-210 and U.S. Highways 90, 165, 171 and 190.
“Logistics is our strength,” says George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
Rail service is also in large supply in the region thanks to Class I carriers Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific. In addition, a high-speed South Louisiana Rail Loading Facility at Agri-Industrial Park in Lacassine near I-10 is convenient and ideal for farmers who ship rice and other grains across the country.
The Southwest Louisiana port network consists of six operating ports. The deep-water Port of Lake Charles is the 11th-largest in the United States, and it manages a 68-mile Calcasieu River Ship Channel that extends from Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico.
“We continue to increase deep-draft ship traffic on the channel, which is expected to double over the next decade,” says Bill Rase, Port of Lake Charles executive director.
About 5 million tons of cargo is loaded and unloaded yearly at two large terminals at Lake Charles, with crude oil serving as the top commodity. Other products include aluminum and steel, limestone, lumber and paper, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and caustic soda, and bagged food used to aid the world is one of the port’s major exports.
The port district houses industrial facilities that produce about 7 percent of the nation’s petroleum needs. Several petrochemical plants and an oil refinery are located along the channel, and companies like, Citgo, Turner Industries and Westlake Chemical employ thousands in the region.
The port released a 2015 study stating that nearly one-third of jobs in the Lake Charles area are tied to the port industry, and maritime commerce accounts for 46 percent of the region’s employment.
“Work continues at the port to increase cargo-handling capacity by modernizing warehouses and berths, and new lease agreements have recently been executed with industrial companies,” Rase says.
Those companies include Dongsung Finetec America LLC, which manufactures cryogenic insulation, and Southern Ionics, a Mississippi-based manufacturer and distributor of specialty chemicals including sulfur, alumina, aqua-ammonia and zirconium used in wastewater treatment, air pollution control, catalyst manufacturing, drilling mud additives and other applications. Southern Ionics has facilities across the Southeast.
Spreading Their Wings
Also helping to move the economy forward in Southwest Louisiana is the air industry, with assets such as Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles that features a 10,700-foot runway and spurs about $300 million annually in economic activity. Chennault International, located in Foreign Trade Zone 87, has rail service offering a direct rail link with the Port of Lake Charles, and is less than a mile from I-10 and the I-210 bypass.
Lake Charles Regional Airport serves about 140,000 passengers annually with daily United Express flights to Houston and American Eagle flights to Dallas-Fort Worth. Lake Charles Regional accounts for 1,600 direct and indirect jobs, and in 2017 the airport is upgrading its entire LED lighting system, replacing all perimeter fencing, and opening a rental car maintenance facility. Lake Charles Regional also has 580 acres of land available for development, with 30 company tenants currently housed on site.
“We have a 6,500-foot concrete runway the same size as Chicago Midway, so we can handle planes up to 737s,” says Heath Allen, Lake Charles Regional Airport executive director. “This airport is accessible to interstates, rail and the port, and we provide an overall impact of more than $220 million to the region’s economy.”