Parish’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.7 percent
With ground broken and ribbons cut for nearly $2 billion in industrial investments in St. Charles Parish in one week, parish Economic Director Corey Faucheux explained it best when he said, “To say it was a good week for us is an understatement.”
These projects, added to what these companies typically spend yearly on maintenance and technology, is expected to fuel an even stronger economy, which Faucheux estimates could range in millions of dollars.
“There is no reason to believe that is not going to continue,” he said.
The growth is expected to span up to three years with construction of Entergy Louisiana’s $869 million Little Gypsy power station expansion and Monsanto’s nearly $1 billion plant upgrade to make dicamba, a weed killer at its Luling facility. More than 3,000 construction and temporary jobs will come available with the projects, as well as 200 permanent jobs when the facilities go into operation by 2019.
“I do expect those numbers to get even slightly better because a large portion of our workforce is employed by the construction sector,” Faucheux said. “As these projects ramp up, we’ll have more construction workers employed.”Even people employed in the struggling oil and gas sector are expected to see improvement this year.
“We see signs of that sector slowly starting to trend back into the positive column, but there is still a lot of ground to make up there,” he said.
By the numbers, the parish is employing more people.Its unemployment yearly average fell from 5.8 percent in 2015 to 5.4 percent last year. December’s monthly total fell to 4.7 percent. The yearly average has been gradually declining year by year since hitting 6.3 percent in 2012.
“It’s incumbent upon us and the private sector in St. Charles Parish to make sure our residents know there are ample job opportunities for anyone that has the right skill sets and wants to go in there and earn a living,” Faucheux said.
Asked if the parish would experience even more industrial growth this year, Faucheux replied: “I think the short answer is ‘Yes’ but when it will occur is the big question. Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty on the state level and on the federal level in terms of policy and the financial environment that impacts the businesses. One thing that businesses don’t like is uncertainty.”
Faucheux also pointed to efforts to diversify the parish’s economy.
“In addition to the industrial sector, we’re always watching to diversify the local economy,” he said. “We’re doing as much as possible, such as Blue Bell [distribution center] and Beaed [sign manufacturer that moved to Luling]” as well as warehousing and transportation related businesses being sought “so that even if that oil and gas sector or chemical sector has a downturn we’ll be able to offset those losses.”
The parish’s overall growth outlook depends on policy changes that could affect the parish’s economic drivers like oil and gas, as well as chemical sectors, he said.Monsanto (654 employees); Entergy, Waterford 3 and Little Gypsy (683), as well as Motiva and Shell Chemical (1,147 employees), Dow St. Charles (1,008) and Valero all rank among the parish’s largest employers as of the second quarter of 2016.
“Right now, that’s some of the uncertainty that we’re hearing from those employers that may have an impact – pro or con – on their investing decisions,” Faucheux said.
To make the most of what is already in hand, parish officials committed to getting the most from what they do know.
“It will be our job to leverage that investment and make sure it rippled through the economy as much as possible in local procurement and local hiring,” Faucheux said of the parish’s industrial investments. “They’re doing everything we’ve asked them to do and they have more events planned. We want to make sure that all of our local businesses get an opportunity to participate.”