Coastal restoration presents a “massive opportunity” for economic development in Louisiana, but the state is not yet positioned to take full advantage, a government committee heard Wednesday.
There is no consensus about how to measure the business sector tied to coastal restoration and protection, speakers told the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation. Greater New Orleans, Inc., the region’s business chamber, estimates $4.2 billion in near-term planned coastal master plan spending in the region will lead to 3,092 permanent jobs.
But as Louisiana’s $50 billion master plan moves forward, the state may not have enough qualified people to do the work, meaning out-of-state workers and firms may benefit instead.
“It is very difficult to gauge how far behind the eight ball we are,” said Lacy McManus, vice president of strategic initiatives with GNO, Inc. “We know that we are. We have to have more outputs from our community colleges, and we have to have those outputs staying here.”
Coastal restoration competes with oil and gas for workers, McManus said, and oil and gas companies in the New Orleans area already are struggling to fill positions. Many oilfield workers are attracted to the higher wages offered in west Texas, she added.
Robert Habans, an economist with New Orleans-based The Data Center, also discussed the challenge of measuring the coastal protection and water management sector.
About 10,000 jobs in the region fall under the classification of “other heavy and civil engineering,” and about one out of six jobs recently created nationally in the sector are in southeast Louisiana, he said, suggesting many of those jobs are sustained by coastal work.
The number of people who live in vulnerable coastal areas is increasing, Habans said, so homegrown companies that can deal with those issues will have opportunities in other parts of the country. He said developing local expertise in coastal issues will “position us to do well with the challenges we face today but also to participate in helping other places address their challenges in the future.”