Economist: Shreveport-Bossier economy may boom

Product is unloaded at the Port of Caddo-Bossier. (Courtesy of The Port of Caddo-Bossier)

A state economist says Shreveport-Bossier is expected to emerge from the darkness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not for several years.

Dr. Loren Scott, professor emeritus of economics at LSU, looked ahead to 2021-22 during his 39th Annual Louisiana Economic Outlook hosted by the Port of Caddo-Bossier in mid-September.

Dr. Scott gave the caveat of forecasting the rest of 2020 and 2021-22 due to uncertainties over a vaccine for COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election. But, he called the state and local recovery a “Nike swoosh” pattern. 

Nationally, Gross Domestic Product is expected to grow 4% in 2021 and 2.1% in 2022. 

Across the state, Dr. Scott sees an increase of 3.9% for 72,600 jobs in 2021 and a modest 1.1% gain of 21,500 jobs in 2022. He says the state won’t recover its pre-COVID losses until 2023, mainly due to low oil prices.

The Shreveport-Bossier Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is expected to gain 6,400 jobs in 2021 and 1,000 jobs in 2022. 

“We expect you won’t recover all your jobs until 2023. If you get (potential) nice hits at the Port and the National Cyber Research Park, that could all change and make this much, much better,” said Dr. Scott. 

The primary reasons for this positive outlook is the recovery of COVID losses — restaurants, entertainment firms, etc. — and expected growth at the Port of Caddo-Bossier, National Cyber Research Park, and Ochsner Health System. 

Port of Caddo-Bossier 

The Port and its entities are currently at 1,850 jobs. The Port itself is currently building a $14M, 100,000 sq. ft. warehouse for steel products. They also have a prospect for the 2021 timeframe that would see a firm use existing infrastructure to build a $325M plant using a considerable amount of barges.

“The Port is continuing to purchase additional acreage in the future I-69 corridor to expand the Port’s footprint. It is our plan to mirror the development and success, we have seen over the past 25 years, for generations to come,” said Eric England, Port of Caddo-Bossier director.

Benteler Steel temporarily laid off 375 of its 530-person workforce. However, they expect to grow from 158 to 280 by the fourth quarter of 2021 and are making a $1 million upgrade on a furnace floor.

OMNI is at 254 employees and expected to grow over the next two years. The company will be finishing a $2M blending process capital expenditure in October of 2020.

Ternium is at 165 employees and stable. A $2.3M capital expenditure for 2020-21 was deferred due to COVID. For 2020-21, $8.3M and $7.8M projects have been deferred.

Sports South is stable at 245, so is Morris Dickson at 230. 

Ronpak is adding machines through 2022 and expects growth. 

Pratt will be stable and has a $13M capital project in progress, with a plan to spend $5M over the next two years.

Calumet Packaging has stable employment with potential for a $15M building addition. 

Lastly, ADS hopes to add six to seven drivers to its business.

National Cyber Research Park

The Bossier City-based park currently employs 1,200 people across four facilities — General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), Louisiana Tech Academic Success Center, and a Benton-Road based call center.

Construction is underway over the next 18 months on the $22M Louisiana Tech Research Institute building that will employ 400 people by 2022. This will house professors and staff working on classified cyber research. 

“That’s a nice little bump to offset the Libbey Glass loss,” Dr. Scott noted.

GDIT is expected to add 100-200 new jobs over 2021-22. And, the CIC added 20 jobs in 2020 and is expected to add another 20 over 2021-22.

“Those are not big numbers, but they’re big payrolls and that’s important for this area,” said Dr. Scott.

His report cited CIC CEO Craig Spohn saying he expects to announce a new 100 person firm on the campus. 

They are also working on a 600-1,000 person firm as result of Air Force Global Strike Command’s STRIKEWERX program. This program that engages innovators and entrepreneurs in aiding U.S. Air Force operations will require a new building on the National Cyber Research Park campus.

Other business gains

Ochsner Health System took over LSU Health System and reopened a closed CHRISTUS Schumpert hospital as St. Mary Medical Center, adding 133 jobs in the process. They forecast to spend $56M in projects on two hospitals and add 425 jobs over two years.

Barksdale reversed its recent downward trend of declining civilian and troop counts. It is up to almost 300 jobs. Base leadership also hopes to announce a $170-225M weapons storage facility. Construction is also underway on a new entrance off the I-20/I-220 exchange and a corresponding $46M gate. 

Fibrebond worked with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to upgrade 50 miles of highway to better transport its product. That resulted in the 752-person firm staying in the Minden area, a $2.5M capital expenditure comes online, and the decision to add 50-75 jobs. 

BRF is looking stable to retain 600-plus jobs at its InterTech Park, BRF units, and EAP Program.

Tomakk Glass Partners is spending $1.9M on a new plant to make tempered glass, insulated windows and more, which will result in 50-plus jobs.

Natural gas

Looking at the Haynesville Shale, Dr. Scott sees gains as the price of natural gas is expected to almost double between now and 2022. This is because of decreasing rig count and new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants coming online in south Louisiana. 

“In the shale basin, a lot of associated natural gas is un-produced, so the price will go from $1.60 to $3.10. That’s good news for you all because of the Haynesville Shale. I think there’s some good things about to happen there for you folks,” Dr. Scott exclaimed.

Gaming industry

The local casino industry employed 4,820 persons pre-COVID, making it the second largest casino market in the state. However, it is losing its smallest casino in the DiamondJacks resort casino, a total of -393 jobs. 

However, Dr. Scott revealed that even under a 50% occupancy rule due to COVID, revenues recovered at 78% when compared to July 2019.

“That’s a really unusual thing to happen there,” said Dr. Scott.

Shreveport Regional Airport

Western Global Airlines was moving into the Express Jet facility with a maintenance facility but has dropped from 125 to 60 employees due to COVID.

Advanced Aeros Services was due to start a MRO facility in Hanger 5 but is only at two employees and two contract workers. However, they plan to grow to 500 jobs by 2024. 

“What’s going on in the airline industry has really, really slowed them down,” said Dr. Scott.

– BIZ. Magazine