Connie Fabre, executive director of the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance Inc.

The last few years saw a tremendous inpouring of capital investment across the state that in 2016 and 2017 tapered off. The year 2018 has been fruitful, and the future is looking even more promising for those that are encouraged by industrial growth.

Presently at least $100 billion of new investments have been announced and the number could be significantly higher. Companies seeking to make money off of abundant, low-priced natural gas are attracted to invest in Louisiana—and, of course, Texas.

With this new wave of investment comes new opportunity.  Opportunities are there for the obvious—direct suppliers to industry for things like valves, process equipment, personal protective equipment, food catering, uniforms and such.

And there is opportunity as well for things we might not think of right away, like schools and universities, local governments, fire departments, and associations and chambers. Hotels and homebuilders should be busy as well.

But are we ready as a community? Are we welcoming the growth? For the most part I’d have to say that Louisianans are a welcoming bunch and aim to make any newcomers feel at home; however, there are a few sticking points to all this growth, and it’s not all that easy to say that we are prepared.

If we had $1 billion in the bank right now to spend on a new bridge, the first car wouldn’t cross it for another 10-plus years.

For instance, traffic and the infrastructure to move the workforce and to move goods could use a boost. With the region being down one Mississippi River bridge [as of late October], things are even more strained than usual, to put it mildly.

And the fix for traffic improvements do not come overnight. If we had $1 billion in the bank right now to spend on a new bridge, the first car wouldn’t cross it for another 10-plus years. Each parish in the region is considering carefully what they can ask taxpayers to fund. East Baton Rouge Parish is a “commuter parish,” meaning that many people from other parishes come for work and shopping each day, and they use the infrastructure and buy goods in EBR.

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is championing the MOVEBR tax proposal. The proposal has been studied by many and is supported by the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure (CRISIS) group. Many community meetings have been and are planning to be held to gain taxpayer support.

No one likes a tax; however, to keep up with the area’s growth, a tax appears to be the only solution. Last year a property tax was suggested, but this year a sales tax is being proposed, which will spread the tax across more people due to the daily in- and out-migration of people.

Another area to think about is our workforce. Since 2012 much has been done to significantly increase career and technical training in high schools, community colleges and at Associated Builders and Contractors.

Programs have expanded workforce training tremendously, doubling craft credentials being gained each year compared to 2010 levels in the Capital Region. In the Lake Charles region, new training centers were built as well.

With the unprecedented new growth coming, it is now time to get our southern, mid- and northern regions of the state engaged to meet the workforce needs. More people in these regions should be encouraged to enroll in training to prepare them for industrial careers.

Louisiana Calling is an awareness campaign designed to promote industrial careers, as is Build Your Future Louisiana. If you know of someone considering a career change or a young person trying to decide on a career path, there are many resources to help them learn about industrial careers, which include everything from chemical engineering and construction to skilled crafts such as welding or pipefitting. Concrete finishing and scaffold building are great places to start as well.

There are many clerical positions, computer techs, marketing and financial positions available as well.

The rising tide of industry growth lifts all boats, so that will mean there may be a need for more teachers in schools, more police and fire fighters and more clergy in growing communities.

Have you driven through Ascension Parish lately? The number of housing subdivisions built over the last few years is incredible to see. There are thousands and thousands of fairly new homes there. I took a drive around the parish last year considering a move and was awestruck.

So are we ready for the next wave of industrial growth? In many ways I do think so, because we’ve got very talented and resourceful people who will rise to the occasion and seize this time of opportunity. The areas with challenges need all of us to pull together, get engaged and put our best ideas forward.

Engage with your clergy and elected officials and voice your opinion. Consider getting more involved with an association, visiting with school board and city council members, mayors, or your sheriff. And be sure to vote on election days.

Connie P. Fabré is the executive director of the Greater Baton Rouge Industry Alliance Inc.