Across much of the country, a skilled craft labor shortage has construction firms—particularly those operating in the Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles areas—getting increasingly creative to find the talent necessary to unclog a pipeline of industrial and commercial projects.
This is not the situation in Baton Rouge.
There, demand is on the decline. Construction employment in August was down 2,600 workers, or 5%, over a 12-month period, ranking Baton Rouge second nationally in terms of construction job losses.
Indeed, like the rest of the U.S., Louisiana’s capital city continues to see a shortage in the number of qualified, skilled craft workers available for nonresidential construction jobs. But the other reality right now—evidenced by employment figures released in early October by the Associated General Contractors of America—is that there’s just not that much work available.
Economist Loren Scott, in his 2020 Louisiana Economic Outlook, describes the Baton Rouge metro area as being in the midst of an industrial construction “lull,” or a trough between two crests of explosive industrial activity.
Scott, however, is optimistic about growth next year, citing an upcoming round of planned large-scale private investments—including the Shintech expansion ($1.5 billion), a new methanol unit for Methanex ($1.4 billion) and a new Shell Chemical unit ($1.2 billion)—which are expected to get underway in the next few months.
There are also some major public sector projects planned, like MovEBR ($1 billion) and some federally-funded flood mitigation and resiliency projects (totaling $2.6 billion), though work on most of those projects won’t begin for several more years.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. Our training centers are full and our members are bidding on work, so we think the work is coming,” says David Helveston, president of ABC Pelican, which has more than 300 members across 52 Louisiana parishes. “That being said, these projects are not assured. They can go away, and they can move to Texas.”