CenturyLink is a rare commodity: a global business with over $60 billion in assets, headquartered in a city of fewer than 60,000 people. It’s also a Fortune 500 company with a track record of maximizing the human resource and higher education resources its Louisiana home provides.
Seventeen months after finalizing a merger with Denver-based Level 3 Communications, CenturyLink announced a commitment to remain headquartered in Monroe, Louisiana, through 2025. Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Economic Development officials, and regional and local leaders joined CEO Jeff Storey to make the announcement official in April 2019.
“As we continue to evolve into a leading global technology company, our talented employees in Northeast Louisiana will continue to play important roles in our transformation,” Storey said. “A highly trained workforce is key to our continued success.”
Four months later, a linchpin of Louisiana’s success – LED FastStart® – earned recognition as the No. 1 state workforce training program in the U.S. for a record 10th consecutive year. CenturyLink is among the more than 200 companies in Louisiana who’ve benefited from FastStart’s innovative workforce services – offered at no cost to eligible, expanding employers.
Other companies are taking note.
A month before the CenturyLink announcement, Gov. Edwards and LED Secretary Don Pierson traveled to Atlanta and joined Andreas Löwenstein at the world’s largest helicopter trade show. Löwenstein, CEO of the Swiss aerospace firm Kopter Group AG, announced Kopter will assemble its SH09 helicopters in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Already underway is the equipping of a state-of-the-art, 85,000-square-foot helicopter assembly facility at the Lafayette Regional Airport, where Kopter plans to assemble 100 SH09 helicopters annually by 2025. Kopter’s suppliers include Kaman (composite parts), Garmin (avionics), Parker Aerospace (hydraulic pumps), Collins Aerospace (external lighting) and Honeywell (turboshaft engines). Helping attract Kopter to Louisiana were LED FastStart, an optimal assembly facility, and a storied Louisiana helicopter culture.
“The Lafayette facility will become Kopter’s main hub for the U.S. and the Americas,” Löwenstein said. In January 2020, the Italian aerospace firm Leonardo agreed to acquire Kopter in a move that will reinforce the importance of the Lafayette assembly operations: Leonardo had no comparable helicopter and found the high-performance, large-cabin, heavy-payload rotorcraft highly desirable.
Louisiana’s helicopter sector includes offshore energy leaders, such as Bristow Group, Era Helicopters, PHI Inc. and RLC; technical support leader Arrow Aviation; and medical air transport leader Metro Aviation. The Houma-Terrebonne Airport between Lafayette and New Orleans boasts more annual helicopter flights than any other airport in the world. In 2019, Gov. Edwards also designated that airport as a Large-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence for the Gulf of Mexico region. That center will attract over $50 million in federal, state and private investment as unmanned helicopters and unmanned fixed-wing aircraft fly important climate, oil and gas, immigration, defense and other security missions over the Gulf from a strategic air-traffic control center.
Like Kopter, Lotte Chemical recognized the powerful resource base Louisiana offers, and the Republic of Korea-based manufacturer built an ethane cracker facility with co-investor Westlake Chemical, a monoethylene glycol plant, and a new U.S. headquarters — all in Lake Charles. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon joined Gov. Edwards and company officials for a dedication ceremony of the $3.1 billion complex in May 2019.
Meanwhile, a few miles across Interstate 10, Sasol Ltd. of South Africa nears completion of its more than $12 billion complex of seven ethylene-based chemical plants, a project that has produced 6,500 construction jobs and thousands of additional indirect jobs while boosting Sasol’s employment by 800 to over 1,200 full-time employees.
Louisiana’s industrial strength also continues along the Mississippi River, with Canada-based Methanex in 2019 announcing and beginning construction on its third Louisiana methanol project. The G3 plant in Geismar, south of Baton Rouge, will be completely built in the state after the two previous facilities were moved from Chile and reassembled in Louisiana, with production starting in 2015.
The industrial growth strikes a recurring theme for Louisiana, with strong performance in foreign direct investment. In the past decade, Louisiana is one of three U.S. states to attract over $100 billion in FDI activity. Louisiana is outperforming the other two substantially on a per capita basis, with seven times the FDI activity of California and three times that of Texas.
Sites and Services
The Methanex project leveraged Louisiana’s leadership in certified sites. The $1.3 billion G3 plant is being built on 156 acres designated as an LED Certified Site, part of a program that enabled the company to begin construction swiftly after its July 2019 final investment decision.
With 114 sites certified to be development-ready within six months of a site decision, LED has generated one of the nation’s leading inventories of state-sponsored certified sites.
Louisiana also prizes the preparation of small businesses that meet the needs of larger employers. In October 2019, the International Economic Development Council awarded LED’s Small Business Services team with a Gold Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship.
Among many other programs, the LED Growth Network has been hailed as a national model for entrepreneurship by the Edward Lowe Foundation. Launched in 2017, the LED Growth Network has assisted 353 smaller firms in their second stage of growth, with those firms adding 3,265 new small business jobs and $338 million in new annual revenue through Louisiana’s Economic Gardening Initiative and CEO Roundtables programs.
Some 6,600 Louisiana firms participate in LED’s Small and Emerging Business Development Program, which yields a two-year survival rate 19 percent higher than the national average. In 2019, LED’s Small Business Services team assisted nearly 10,000 entrepreneurs and business owners across the state.
Environmental and cybersecurity initiatives form an emerging growth area for Louisiana. In Thibodaux, LED established a Coastal Technical Assistance Center in September 2019 with Nicholls State University, the South Louisiana Economic Council, the nonprofit Water Institute of the Gulf, and Louisiana’s state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is overseeing a $50 billion master plan to preserve coastal habitats and communities. The new CTAC will help Louisiana’s small business contractors take part in the massive slate of civil works projects undergirding the coastal effort.
Similarly, at the Water Campus in Baton Rouge, LED joined the Stephenson Technologies Corp., a research affiliate of LSU; the Louisiana National Guard; and defense contractor Radiance Technologies in announcing a new Louisiana Cyber Coordination Center. The partners will occupy an 11,000-square-foot space with ultra-high security designed for cybersecurity responses and missions.
In North Louisiana, LED signed a $1.2 million agreement with Grambling State University to support the state’s initial four-year degree in cybersecurity and other initiatives, including the university’s new $16.6 million library that will be the first fully digital library among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.
Nearby Louisiana Tech University announced a $15 million, 100,000-square foot Tech Pointe II commercial building that will generate 750 new technology jobs on campus over the next decade. Both Grambling State and Louisiana Tech join CenturyLink on Louisiana’s I-20 Cyber Corridor. An hour west on Interstate 20, Louisiana announced a new $10 million home for the Louisiana Tech Research Institute, which will support development of defense-related technologies at neighboring Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City.
The LTRI facility will join Louisiana’s Cyber Innovation Center and an 800-job Integrated Technology Center of GDIT, located on the 3,000-acre National Cyber Research Park in Northwest Louisiana.
Logistics Meets Biotech
Late in 2019, Louisiana unveiled cutting-edge projects at the intersection of biotechnology, logistics and the electrical grid. On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, across from New Orleans, the nation’s largest privately held medical supplier – Medline – announced a $53 million, 800,000-square-foot logistics facility to serve the Southeast U.S. At the same Interstate 12 interchange in St. Tammany Parish, homegrown electrical infrastructure firm Ampirical announced the retention of 120 jobs and plans for 400 new jobs at a $20 million headquarters now under construction.
Across the lake in New Orleans, three biotech firms announced expansions creating a combined 135 new jobs at the University of New Orleans and the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, where AxoSim, Cadex Genomics and Obatala Sciences were incubated. Capping a big year for biotech in Louisiana, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge attracted the nation’s premier program in obesity surgery, treatment and research from Cleveland. The program will deliver a projected return of over $100 million in its first four years.
“We’re excited to welcome Dr. Phil Schauer and his program, which will further advance Pennington Biomedical’s profile as a global research leader in human health,” said Gov. Edwards, noting the clinical research and treatment will address a $13 billion health care challenge in Louisiana. The Milken Institute estimates obesity exacts a $480 billion annual toll in direct health care costs across the U.S., with another $1.24 trillion in lost productivity costs.
Louisiana concluded 2019 as the fourth-fastest-growing economy among U.S. states. For the third quarter of 2019, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis detailed a 2.9 percent growth rate in Louisiana’s Gross Domestic Product, with state GDP reaching an annualized level of $265 billion.
Compared with 2018, Louisiana recorded a 76 percent increase in new economic development project wins in 2019, with a 71 percent gain in new jobs and a 92 percent increase in retained jobs associated with those wins. The 2019 numbers:
- 83 new project wins
- 12,300 new jobs
- 15,500 retained jobs
- $8.45 billion in new capital investment
Source: Louisiana Economic Development Corporation