Port’s role instrumental in jobs news

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Monique Roth

VACHERIE — When Yuhuang Chemical Inc. was deciding whether to locate to the River Parishes, the Port of South Louisiana was one of the first stops for the Chinese company.

Port Executive Director Paul Aucoin said when a company is weighing their geographic options and deciding whether to choose to locate in the River Region, the Port, which works closely with the office of Louisiana Economic Development, is extremely active in the process of land selection and other formalities.

“The Port is very instrumental in the process,” Aucoin said, adding property maps and available real estate information are kept in the Port’s office for easy reference when a company visits the River Region.

The decision by Yuhuang Chemical and the process to secure a location was completed at “warp speed,” according to Aucoin, who said all of the pieces fell into place quickly for the company after their officials first looked considered St. James Parish in February.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Yuhuang Chemical CEO Charlie Yao made the joint announcement Thursday that Yuhuang Chemical will make a $1.85 billion capital investment in a “world-scale” methanol-manufacturing complex at the Port of South Louisiana.

State and international officials are touting the creation of 400 new jobs with an average annual salary of $85,000 for the River Region.

“(Yuhuang Chemical wasn’t) looking to piddle around,” Aucoin said. “They were ready to get moving.”

Aucoin noted the speed of the process compared to other projects, where companies can sometimes take years to analyze location options, secure land and make building announcements.

The speedy process was due to a number of things, Aucoin said, including a suitable site being readily available and company executives finding fast comrades in St. James Parish administrative officials.

“The River Parishes are a driving force in the economic development for the whole state of Louisiana,” Aucoin said, citing low natural gas costs and their location on the Mississippi River. “It’s bustling like nothing I’ve seen since the 1960s.”

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said the Port, “as the largest port by tonnage in the Western Hemisphere, is a tremendous asset for our state and an economic-development partner.

The project is expected to create 400 new direct jobs through the project. In addition, LED estimates the project will result in 2,365 new indirect jobs.

Moret explained the expected indirect jobs are “all permanent jobs in the local area, such as industrial maintenance contractors and other service providers to the facility, as well as new jobs created in the broader economy as a result of all the new spending of the company and its employees”.

He said additional jobs in health care, business services and retail are all examples of indirect jobs.

Additionally, at peak building activity, the company estimates the project will generate 2,100 construction jobs.

St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said the project would lower the parish’s unemployment level.

Roussel said in the last two years, unemployment rates in St. James Parish have dropped five percent, from 10. to 5.8 percent.

Comparatively, the state’s unemployment rate was 5 percent in June, below the nation’s 6.1 percent jobless rate, according to U.S. Labor Department.

Roussel said new industry announcements and expansion from existing industries in St. James, St. John and Ascension parishes have created job opportunities for local residents.

“The economic situation is continuing to improve,” Roussel said. “It’s something I feel very good about.”

The Yuhuang Chemical announcement represents Louisiana’s first major foreign direct investment by a Chinese company.

Moret said Louisiana offers one of the best site selection solutions in the world.

Louisiana has “developed and is implementing a strategic plan to recruit international companies whose business operations would benefit from a location in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S,” Moret said. “Typically, when international companies are presented the total package of solutions and sites we have to offer, Louisiana quickly rises to the short list of finalists for their projects, and we’re often able to win these important investment and job creation projects based on our unique strengths.”

Construction of the methanol project is set to begin in 2016, with the first phase scheduled to be operational by 2018.