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Southwest Louisiana is on the brink of a monumental transformation, with the 50-year Resilience Master Plan, “Just Imagine SWLA,” leading the way. Among the 11 catalytic projects that make up this visionary plan is the Chennault/SOWELA Resilience District.
A Tale of Two Key Institutions
Nestled on the eastern edge of Lake Charles, Chennault International Airport and SOWELA Technical Community College play pivotal roles in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. SOWELA, an educational powerhouse, offers diverse degree programs, including a new facility for culinary, gaming and hospitality sectors, which helps fortify the local workforce. With a growing student body, it’s primed for expansion.
“The revitalization of the SOWELA/Chennault area is critical for the continued growth of this area of Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish,” said SOWELA Chancellor Dr. Neil Aspinwall. “The combination of a thriving airport and growing technical community college both focused on workforce development create a unique partnership that contributes greatly to the current and future economic prosperity of the region.”
Chennault, an aerospace hub along the I-10 corridor, boasts industrial capabilities and extensive runways that can support aerospace giants, offering increased job opportunities, development and investment—reinvigorating the region. The airport is poised for growth but needs infrastructure improvements.
“Just Imagine SWLA is of immense importance as it underscores the economic diversity Chennault contributes to the region and how it aligns with the workforce development that SOWELA provides,” said Kevin Melton, the airport’s executive director. “Chennault’s focus is to establish itself as a center of excellence in the aviation and manufacturing industries and the work of Just Imagine SWLA is a critical foundation to support Chennault’s efforts.”
The Port of Lake Charles is interested in collaborating with Chennault and SOWELA on future development.
Chennault and SOWELA’s Vision
The airport has twelve tenant companies and has identified 14 sites for development to support job growth. However, the key lies in addressing critical infrastructure needs to unlock these development sites. Roads such as Sen. J Bennett Johnston Avenue, Main Street and East Prien Lake Road require significant improvements to accommodate the expansion.
Earlier this year, the community celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Chennault International Airshow. The nonprofit’s biennial event is hosted at the airport and generates thousands of dollars for teacher grants and student scholarships that support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education across Southwest Louisiana classrooms. So far this year, the event has raised over $30,000 and counting.
SOWELA is conveniently located adjacent to Chennault which enables opportunities for both the aviation maintenance companies located at Chennault as well as job opportunities for SOWELA’s students who complete the SOWELA training and subsequent Federal Aviation Administration Certification. Most recently, the college received a $35 million donation from the U.S. Air Force—a E-8A Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.
Pilot training, childcare, fitness and athletic facilities are in the pipeline to foster additional collaborations and school growth.
A Path to Cohesion and Growth
Just Imagine SWLA recognizes the district as a vital opportunity for long-term growth, focusing on community planning, economic development and infrastructure improvements such as:
• Prioritizing infrastructure upgrades including green infrastructure.
• Establishing a funding district.
• Planned investments aimed to create a more cohesive educational environment.
• Offering gathering spaces and dining options.
• Collaboration to foster workforce development opportunities and jobs.
Chennault’s newest tenant, the Louisiana National Guard, is expected to complete construction on its 60,000-square foot facility that will provide training for up to 200 Guardsmen at any given time and is expected to be completed in the Spring 2024.
For more information on the Just Imagine SWLA catalytic projects, visit