That thoroughbred we call Louisiana has traveled far, through rocky terrain at times, to get to where it stands today. It galloped through tough policy fights and government downsizing, and slogged through a national recession. Along the way, it hauled on its back a federal government that weighed it down with unnecessary mandates and burdensome restrictions. Having navigated that harrowing trail, our horse now finds itself standing on the shores of a great river of opportunity and flowing before its very eyes are limitless instances of jobs, investments and economic growth for our people.
All of us have heard the announcements of more than $70 billion in new projects, the manufacturing and industrial expansions due to affordable energy, the new market sectors that are expanding in technology and research, and the small businesses in our communities aggressively growing and expanding for the first time in years. All of that opportunity is no mirage. It is real. It is all there for the tasting and, frankly, it all looks pretty darn refreshing.
However, we have been this close to a river of promise before. In fact, in the 70s the water felt just as warm and tasted just as good. Back then, we sat around the campfire and told stories of energy booms that would never end, corporate entities and professional jobs that would never leave no matter how badly we treated them, and government spending that would cure every problem. Those campfire stories, as we all know, turned out to be fiction and that chapter of our novel still haunts us today. That river dried up and hasn’t been seen around these parts in a long, long time.
Now we find ourselves with that second chance we always asked for. The river returned and it is flowing like we haven’t seen in years. As we bend down to take that first sip, just like any good western movie, we find ourselves suddenly attacked at the river’s edge by bandits from the brush. Trial lawyers are lining up governing boards, parishes and community participants to file lawsuits that will bring a fist full of dollars for the brazen few in amounts that could rival any bank or train holdup. They are also lining up lobbyists and pontificators to peddle their snake oil as an elixir full of community purpose rather than one of personal fiscal gain. These bandits see all that the water offers and they want it for themselves.
The word is out, the plans are set, and more bandits are likely to emerge and follow that gold rush. You can bet your bottom dollar that more lawsuits will drop in the days and weeks ahead. The amounts will be staggering and the brazenness of it all will be the stuff of legend. Every one of them will stake their claim and no stagecoach will be safe.
We are outmanned and outgunned, but we must stand and fight. That river is Louisiana’s river. It doesn’t belong to the brazen few; it belongs to the people of this state. We all traveled too far to get here to give up without a fight. The job creators and the innovators of our new economy need the water to grow and prosper. Without it, they will become just another cactus along a dusty creek bed where hope was forgotten.
Will Louisiana drink this time, or will it simply turn and walk away down the trail? Will Louisiana leave spoils from the riverbed for the bandits from the brush, or will she drink all the nutrients and refreshment it offers so our entire traveling party can be rejuvenated? Will this be the same old Western we last saw in the 70s, or will we write a new story with a happy ending? The choice is ours. Let’s make the right one this time. I say we drink.
by Stephen Waguespack, President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry