Economy growing jobs in southeast Louisiana

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The New Orleans region needs to prepare itself for economic growing pains.

That’s the message delivered Thursday by Michael Hecht, who leads the economic development group Greater New Orleans Inc.

The New Orleans Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1qDMG1v ) Hecht spoke to business leaders at the organization’s annual meeting.

He told them the region’s economy is growing for the first time in decades, and skilled workers will be in demand for such industries as petrochemical, biomedical, software and other fields.

If the region can’t produce those workers, he said, its recovery will stall.

According to the organization’s regional economic growth Index, the local economy has been growing by about 3 percent a year since 2009.

GNO Inc. is the regional economic development agency for 10 southeast Louisiana parishes.

Several parishes, including Plaquemines, St. James, St. Charles and St. John, each recorded $1 billion in business investment last year, Hecht said.

“Folks, in past years if we had $1 billion worth of projects in the entire state, it was a decent year,” he said. “Now we have a billion dollars in each parish.”

But as the region grows, it is encountering challenges. Chief among them, he said, is a workforce shortage.

“Building a skilled workforce is our biggest challenge,” said Patricia LeBlanc, who was installed Thursday as the 2014 chairwoman of the GNO Inc. board of directors.

“We can’t miss the opportunities that are on our doorstep by failing to prepare young men and young women in our community to meet those opportunities and capitalize on all that is great in our community.”

Hecht said the region needs blue collar and white collar workers to meet the coming demand from industries. GNO Inc. is trying to find ways to train and recruit workers to fill the gap, he said.

Other issues are a shortage of development-ready sites in the 10-parish region and a lack of equitable participation in the region’s recovery by all races, classes and genders, he said.

There needs to be a dedicated effort, for instance, to support and nurture minority entrepreneurs, Hecht said, referring to a program launched for that population this week.

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