Monday, 30 March 2015 13:17
Waguespack: Viewing Louisiana's past and future
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Louisiana capitolby Stephen Waguespack, President and CEO of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry

It was a chamber of commerce weather weekend.

All throughout Louisiana, the sunshine, nice temperatures and clear skies replaced the rain that had saturated most of the state over the last few weeks. It was a great weekend to get outdoors, work in the yard, eat your first crawfish of the spring or play a little ball. My wife and I kept the kids outside all weekend, soaking it in. We even visited downtown Baton Rouge to walk around the riverfront and hang out on the State Capitol grounds.

At some point, my youngest son thought it would be a good idea if we went up to the top of the Capitol to get a bird’s-eye view of the Baton Rouge skyline. If you haven’t taken the elevator to the 27th floor to do so, I highly recommend it. It is one of the best views in Louisiana.

The Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest capitol building in the United States. It was built in only 14 months, dedicated in 1932 and to this day is one of only four skyscraper capitols in the country. It is home to numerous inaugurations and great political moments in the past century, as well as some noteworthy tragedies such as the assassination of Sen. Huey Long in 1935 and the explosion of a bomb in the Senate Chamber in 1970.

At the top of the Capitol, the observation deck circles the entire building. This allows visitors to soak in the sights at all angles, with every side of the building telling its own story about Louisiana.

To the north of the Capitol is the Exxon Refinery. This facility is the third largest refinery in the United States and has processed products since 1909. The refinery and chemical facilities employ nearly 5,000 Louisiana residents as the largest private employer in Baton Rouge. This visual is similar to one seen in many areas of Louisiana, a symbol to the strong tradition of energy and chemical production that has been a stalwart in our economy for generations. Our people have always prided themselves in being the energy coast for America and our economic growth will depend greatly on this legacy continuing well into the future.

To the south of the Capitol is downtown Baton Rouge, with its ever-changing landscape. Numerous state office buildings built during the Foster Administration fill the sky and remind you of the power, size and scope of our state government. Closer to the river, rising up from the ground is the new IBM building. This project is set to be completed this spring and will immediately employ 200 people. By 2016, IBM expects to employ 800 people at the site. LSU has predicted that 69,000 STEM-related workers will be needed in Louisiana by 2019. Thankfully, the IBM facility will collaborate closely with LSU and help drive expansion of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. This state-of-the-art facility serves as a testament to the diversification happening in Louisiana, with new industries growing in every pocket of the state.

The Governor’s Mansion and the Department of Transportation can be seen to the east of the Capitol. This fall, voters will go to the polls to elect a new governor and the election comes at a critical time in our state’s history. Our private sector economy is growing leaps and bounds, while our state budgets continue to be mired in challenging decisions. The next governor will be tasked with working on sensible solutions to stabilizing the state budget without jeopardizing the growth and momentum in the private sector economy. Also, it is fitting that the Department of Transportation is next door to the Governor’s Mansion because our next governor must make investing in our infrastructure a top priority. Louisiana’s $12.3 billion backlog in general infrastructure improvements is critical to address, but in addition to that challenge, we must also invest in key mega projects that will remove the gridlock holding back our people, goods and services in certain parts of the state.

To the west of our state Capitol is the mighty Mississippi River. No asset in Louisiana tells our story as much as Old Man River. This river brought some of our first settlers to our shores, has remained a mainstay of our economy since the beginning and has literally built the very land we have called home over the years. The growing state and local economies in our country compete globally and this river is the best tool to help us in that fight. As the world market becomes increasingly attainable for businesses of all sizes, it is most appropriate to clearly view this critical artery for our livelihood from the observation deck.

The top of our Capitol has a nice view, and each direction tells a lot about our past and our future. Standing at the top of this monument to Huey Long, you can clearly see industries traditional and new, state agencies big and small, new opportunities in abundance and the power and majesty of our landscape. This view reminds us not only of all that we have accomplished over our history, but also the next goals we are primed to achieve if we make smart decisions. Louisiana has it all and its potential is even greater. If you need a reminder of this fact, allow me to recommend a view that reinforces it clear as day.

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