One of the biggest winners in this industrial boom will be the region’s small business owners. George Swift, president and CEO, Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said the region’s estimated $115 billion in new projects will be a boon to small businesses throughout Southwest Louisiana, as the Lake Area’s population is expected to grow considerably in the years ahead.
"There’s going to be a need for more restaurants, general retail businesses of all kinds and medical offices,” Swift said. "As the population grows, the opportunity is there. We hope a lot of our existing businesses expand and take advantage of that growth in population.”
Swift said the five-parish region has about $45 billion in construction projects already in progress. Another $70 billion in projects remain in the pipeline, awaiting approval from federal, state, and local agencies.
Those investments are expected to bring between 40,000 and 50,000 new residents to the five-parish region over the next decade. Swift said that spike in population will foster many opportunities for small businesses to grow their product and service-based businesses.
"The per capita income should begin to rise,” he added. "So there’s a lot of opportunity for businesses of all sizes, but especially small businesses, to do well.”
Kristy Como Armand, owner/partner of Healthy Image Marketing in Lake Charles, said their agency has had to increase staff and services to meet the marketing demands brought on by the boom. Her company, now in its fifteenth year, works with over 100 clients throughout the region and state.
"We have seen increased business from existing clients who are expanding as the result of economic growth in our market, as well as from new clients just entering our region,” she said. "There is no doubt that the growth taking place is impacting businesses of all sizes, including our clients and us.”
As economic growth continues throughout Southwest Louisiana, competition among small businesses is to be expected. Armand, however, does not see competition as a negative force.
"Some people may see competition as a negative aspect of growth, but I think it keeps you sharp and forces you to become even better at what you do,” she added. "There’s nothing worse than complacency.”
Michael Harmison, president and CEO of Lakeside Bank in Lake Charles, said the region’s economic boom has helped his bank grow to $180 million in deposits since its opening in 2010.
"That’s a pretty good run in that period of time,” he added. "When you look at a brand spanking new bank that became profitable in its 25th month of operation, that’s a staggering number. Those kinds of things don’t happen under normal circumstances.”
Harmison, a resident of Southwest Louisiana since 1965, said the region has always thrived because of construction jobs. And when construction jobs are aplenty in the community, he added, other local businesses "do exceedingly well.”
"That’s exactly what’s happening in the community,” he said. "We’re not going to get the Sasol account. What we’re going to get is the employee who works at Sasol. We’re going to get the merchant who does supplies, goods and materials, for Sasol. So the ripple effect is what’s going to help the local people in this community.”
Swift said not all small businesses will be successful during the boom; there will be winners and losers. Those business owners who identify a new market or one that is on the rise and present themselves well "will do fine.” He added that those who are serious about starting a new business in Southwest Louisiana should contact the SEED Center in Lake Charles and learn about its small business incubator program, where small businesses can get their companies off the ground.
Currently, the incubator is home to 18 start-up businesses and has room for about 30 more.
"Our biggest success story has been Waitr,” Swift said. "They have about 140 people working in Lake Charles. They have been very successful, and have branched out into other communities in Texas and Louisiana. They will continue to be based here in Lake Charles, even though they will be growing out of the incubator.”
And while small businesses are expected to do well during the boom, permanent jobs in the region’s oil and gas industries, especially in engineering and operations, will also need to be filled. Swift projected that about 20,000 permanent jobs in Southwest Louisiana will come online in the years ahead.
"Perhaps with the new Trump administration, we expect that conditions will be more favorable for the oil and gas industry and in energy production,” Swift said.
"The permanent jobs are starting now, but they will increase in great numbers two to three years from now after the plants are built. Overall, we think these projects are moving ahead. Some have slowed down; some have not gotten the permitting as of yet. Industries that we’ve talked to and all of the ones that are on our radar, we have not identified any reason they won’t move forward.”
Swift said local industry has about 12,000 construction workers on site as of this month. He added that another 3,000 to 4,000 are expected to be hired in 2017.
For Harmison, spreading construction jobs out over longer periods will allow the community to improve its infrastructure to absorb these workers properly. "Then we can make plans for that permanent employee increase,” he said. "Those employees are going to have consumer needs and credit needs.”
Armand said she hopes business and local government leaders direct the region’s growth "in a positive way.”
"As someone who grew up in SWLA, it’s almost surreal to see the growth and expansion taking place,” she added. "It’s what everyone always wished for and said we needed. Now it’s here and it’s up to us to make the most of the opportunity we’ve been given; not just for our success today, but to provide a foundation for our children and grandchildren to benefit from decades from now.”