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Regional Report: The Southeast

Workforce improvement is increasingly the new face of economic development.


Hammered by the soft global energy market, coal-producing West Virginia continues to lag national job-creation rates. Businesses have shed more than 5,800 jobs in the 12-month period beginning April 2015, nearly double the previous year’s rate. Real GDP slipped 2.15 in the four quarters; ending with Q3 2015; the national GDP growth rate was 2%. With tax revenues declining, this spring’s lack of consensus over how to balance the budget raised fears of furloughing state workers.

The coal country in the state’s southwest is hurting; but counties in the northwest, where one out of five residents work for the government, have been spared the brunt of economic turbulence. The Mountain State owns the lowest workforce participation rate in the country and leads in disability payments. Atlanta-based Jones Lang LaSalle site selector Gary Yates sees growth on the state’s eastern edge, driven by distribution centers.

In February, West Virginia became the 26th state in the country to adopt right-to-work legislation, a development that “will make a real difference” in attracting relocating companies, says incentives advisor McIntosh.


Louisiana, like every other U.S. energy producing state, has been hammered by fuel prices. In January, the lifting of the decades-long fuel export ban bolstered the Bayou State’s economy. By February, Cheniere’s Sabine Pass Terminal had exported its first liquefied natural gas shipment, triggering what state economic-development officials hope will be a much-needed capital infusion into the state. In May, Louisiana’s largest pipeline project—the Bosco Pumping Station in Ouachita Parish, connecting with the Gulf of Mexico—came online.

Louisiana Economic Development has announced several major chemical and petrochemical projects, creating nearly 5,500 direct jobs and over 35,000 supplier jobs, with investments surpassing $44 billion. Significant investment comes from overseas; since 2003, Louisiana has led the U.S. in per capita Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and it ranks second for total FDI in that period, attracting over $30 billion, according to FDI Markets. Recent projects include Japan’s $1.4 billion ethylene expansion by Shintech, the $1 billion Australia-financed Aqua Ammonia plant under construction in Jefferson Parish outside New Orleans and the Netherland’s Shell Chemical’s $717 million expansion in Ascension Parish.


Mississippi grew by 1% last year, bettering its rate in 2014. And some economists are projecting a 2.2% growth or better in 2016, which would quintuple the decade’s annual average growth rate.

Moreover, with unemployment falling by half a percentage point in 2015 over 2014, professional and business sector employment growth is leading job creation, expanding at about 18.5%; leisure and hospitality grew 12% and information services growth reached 9%.

In February, global giant Continental announced a $1.4 billion investment in a new tire-manufacturing plant near Jackson to service its North American market. The project will employ 2,500 in this job-hungry state. In March, addressing a major employer concern, Mississippi allocated $55 million for workforce training programs.

Passage of controversial religious-freedom legislation generated pullouts and cancellations from entertainment-industry businesses and high-profile performers and state governments, while business leaders called for the bill’s repeal.


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