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Best & Worst States for Business Regional Report: The Southeast

While the Southeast is sometimes overlooked in national conversations about economic development, it is a powerhouse of manufacturing economic growth, home to two of the country’s fastest-growing state economies and lures investment with a low cost of living and engaged workers.

#33 LOUISIANA: A Global Hub for Chemical Manufacturing
Falling oil prices took a bite out of Louisiana’s economy in recent years, but that’s been offset by an influx of big investments by global chemical manufacturers. Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, says investments in chemical manufacturing facilities have totaled more than $135 billion over the past five years. Many of these facilities are being constructed by foreign firms to supply the global market. Projects include an $8.9 billion ethane cracker outside of Lake Charles by South African firm Sasol, a planned investment in a $9.4 billion plastics facility in St. James Parish by Formosa Plastics of Taiwan and a $1.4 billion ethylene plant in Iberville Parish by Japanese firm Shintech.

Investments in chemical manufacturing facilities have totaled more than $135B over the past 5 years.

Outside of the chemical industry, Louisiana has been diversifying its economy in recent years with more technology-driven sectors. Pierson says corporate and entrepreneurial tech development is thriving in many of Louisiana’s cities. In April, New Orleans startup Lucid announced a $60 million

minority investment to expand its global reach. In the Shreveport-Bossier region, tech is now one of the fastest-growing sectors, driven by recent investments from IBM and CenturyLink. “Many cities are hosting IT development opportunities and we’ve been able to utilize our higher education facilities with partnerships around workforce development,” Pierson says.


#37 WEST VIRGINIA: Making the Coal to Shale Transition
West Virginia has faced tough economic times in recent years due to the collapse of its coal industry. According to the WVU College of Business and Economics, the state produced 80 million tons of coal in 2016, roughly half of what it produced in 2008. Woody Thrasher, West Virginia’s secretary of commerce, says the state is aiming to capitalize on new opportunities arising in the shale gas industry. He says shale gas could not only be extracted but also refined there, and he points to the cluster of refineries on the Gulf Coast as an example of what shale could do for the Mountain State.

“I don’t think it’s out of line to think we could see $100 billion [in investments] in the next five to 10 years,” Thrasher says. “Now that the raw material is here in the U.S., the manufacturing facilities are coming back.” He adds that the multiplier effect of such investments is “enormous” and could create ripple effects in other sectors.

While there’s hope shale can help pull the state from the coal slump, Thrasher says there’s an even bigger need to diversify beyond resources. While West Virginia’s manufacturing sector is small compared to neighboring states, it is growing. Last year Procter & Gamble announced a $500 million investment in a one million-square-foot facility on a 458-acre site Martinsburg.

Danish Insulation manufacturer ROXUL also announced a $150 million manufacturing plant in the city of Ranson, which will place production near major population centers in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Mid-Western U.S. “We’re paying the penalty for not diversifying and need not make that mistake again,” Thrasher says. “We definitely have some initiatives that we are moving forward with to diversify our economy.”


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