If Information Is Power, The New Regional Impact Study Will Make Local Planners Supermen
By Brad Goins
On Nov. 7, Southwest Louisiana was introduced to the Regional Impact Study. The study is one of the big steps in the huge process of making official plans for changes that will occur in the Lake Area due to the upcoming business and industry boom.
The report was put together by many groups and researchers and was long in coming. In printed form, it numbers more than 300 pages.
Its primary purpose is to give officials, planners and citizens in general the pertinent information about facets of the boom and its impact that can be anticipated at present. More precise plans — with specific instructions and objectives moving from point A to point B — will follow. The Regional Impact Study provides the information everyone needs to be in a position to make firm plans.
An introductory portion of the study puts it this way:
“Every impact cannot be anticipated; however, the Regional Impact Study is intended to provide the community leadership with the information needed to begin preparing for the coming growth. Rather than provide mandates, the RIS informs the community leaders of the impacts associated with the coming changes and options indicating how these impacts may be addressed moving forward.”
Don’t React. Plan.
The massive study made its initial public appearance before a standing-room-only crowd in the Buccaneer Room of the Lake Charles Civic Center.
Hal McMillin, a police juror and the head of the local GO Group SWLA, which presented the study, began with a dramatic announcement: according to the latest reckoning, planned investment in the big business projects had increased to a total of $85 billion. “It’s $85 billion on the books,” said McMillin, to a round of applause.
(The $85 billion was a significant jump from the $68 billion figure that had been put forward recently. The bump largely reflects some big recent increases in investment by several of the major players in the boom.)
McMillin asserted that “it’s vital that we maintain the quality of life that we have in SWLA” as the boom brings its changes to the area.
McMillan was followed to the podium by Police Juror Dennis Scott, who told listeners that developing for the boom would “take some pioneering steps … It’s not about if we’re going to change. We’re going to change.”
Speaker Travis Woodard was the principal representative of CSRS, one of the three big groups that worked on the study. He did the lion’s share of the explaining in a speech that took about an hour.
Woodard noted some big priorities. It was, he said, important to plan for and respond to growth, and not simply to react to it. (McMillin would echo these sentiments later in his closing remarks, when he said, “What we’re about is being proactive. We don’t want to be reactive.”)
A second key priority noted by Woodard was that it was important to prepare the community for the growth that’s going to take place.
A Job For Every Job Seeker
After all the key developments in the boom do take place, said Woodard, the Lake Charles metropolitan area will be looking at total of 115,000 jobs.
One thing this means is that if every available adult employee in Calcasieu Parish — including adults in their 60s willing to come out of retirement — went into the workforce, that would amount to a total of 7,000 workers from the area. There would still not be nearly enough local workers to meet the demand.
All the new positions the new projects create, said Woodard, will give the Lake Area an average of 4.7 percent growth in employment in each of the next five years, making it “probably” the fastest-growing employment center in the country.
As for the number of temporary jobs — for example, construction jobs — Woodard said these would peak at 18,000 in 2017 or 2018.
Permanent Households And Temporary Dwellings
It’s estimated that as a result of all of these developments, 14,000 temporary dwellings will be needed. The area provides half that number now; another 7,000 temporary dwellings will be needed.
Woodard did not venture far into discussion of the fact that since many of these dwellings will be provided by individual entrepreneurs, it will be difficult for officials to plan for or regulate such developments. Concerns about over-building temporary structures that will later sit empty will linger.
Woodard anticipates that the boom will bring no fewer than 20,000 new residents to Calcasieu Parish. It’s estimated that this will amount to more than 8,000 new permanent households. If such a huge influx takes place, it will amount to more than a 10 percent increase in the households in the area.
Top Priorities And Assorted Issues
The groups putting together the study interviewed numerous local “stakeholders” to see what their priorities for planning for the boom are. The top two priorities turned out to be closely related: education and workforce development.
Woodard briefly discussed the interesting phenomenon of “open house fatigue.” The term refers to prospective local employees who have gone to open houses held by boom employers and have felt they haven’t received warm and attentive receptions. Key players in the boom may have to try harder to show local workers that they really are prized and taken seriously.
There are also the assorted issues that arise from the fact that much of the growth in Calcasieu Parish will take place in areas near Lake Charles that have not been annexed by the city. The Regional Impact Study sees up to two-thirds of the growth associated with the boom taking place in unincorporated areas.
Those coming in with the boom will likely hone in on the same issues others identify in unincorporated areas: difficulties related to sewage and draining; transportation challenges; and weird-looking stuff in ditches.
Whatever aspect of the coming boom you’re interested in, the Regional Impact Study will provide a great deal of information about it. Information is presented in a user-friendly format, with large type, many headings and graphics; big blocks of texts are avoided.
The contents is simple, precise and easy-to-use.
To see or download the study, go to gogroupswla.com or search for “Go Group SWLA” on Google.