Louisiana industrial boom could create labor shortage
Don Ames Reporting
South Louisiana is in the midst of an industrial spending boom that looks to be an economic windfall for the state for years to come.
And, much of the investment in Louisiana is being driven by historically low natural gas prices.
"The expected low prices and the abundance of natural gas over the next ten years, certainly, have initiated a major boom or a potential expansion of certain industries in the state," says LSU Economist, Dr. Jim Richardson.
Natural gas prices are also a major catalyst, because many other industries tend to be heavy power users.
A report earlier this year from Louisiana State University predicts companies will spend more than $62 billion in Louisiana on capital investments over the next five to eight years, fueled, at least partially, by the low natural gas prices.
The most recent example is Lockheed Martin's $3 million capital investment at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility to manufacture liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanks for storage and transportation. The Michoud project will create more than 400 new direct and indirect jobs.
In a release from Lockheed Martin, Governor Bobby Jindal is quoted as saying “Louisiana is at the forefront of the natural gas boom."
Stephen Moret, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, has said he expects the state to add seven to 15 projects over the next five years, in the range of $500 million to $5 billion apiece.
Methanex Corporation is relocating a huge methanol plant from its Chile site to Geismar, Louisiana at a cost of approximately $550 million. The Louisiana plant is set for completion in late 2014, creating approximately 1,500 construction jobs over two years and 130 permanent, full-time jobs.
The $750 million Nucor Corp. iron-processing plant in St. James Parish was also lured to the area, in part, by low natural gas prices. It's expected to employ 1,250 workers at its peak by 2019.
But, Louisiana may not have the skilled laborers to handle all the work, says Dr. Richardson.
"Because we'll need certain skills that we may not have and may not be able to develop quickly."
Skilled laborers will be in high demand, especially welders, electricians, pipe fitters and instrumentation experts.
"We may not have those people right now," says Richardson. "But, people can come in from other states, people can learn here. And, if we know it's going to happen over ten years, people have plenty of time to get training."
Parts of south Louisiana could be short as many as 15,000 workers.
"We will probably will have to import people from other states. That's just the way it goes. It'll take a large number of people in the construction industry, at first, for sure."
While the shortage of workers may cause headaches for local contractors, the building boom is welcome economic news.
"It will be somewhat similar to after Katrina," Richardson says. "That was a boom that really created a sharp increase in employment, an increase in our per capita income and an increase in state and local tax collections."
Also, on the bright side, says Richardson, "It's much better, having to bring people into the state to work, than seeing our people having to go out of the state to work."