Legislators: McDermott departure impact could be devastating
By PRESTON GILL
Despite wishing for the best the past couple months, the worst kept secret on the bayou was revealed with Monday’s announcement of McDermott closing its shipyard in Amelia.
The effects could be devastating, some local elected officials said, but the parish economic director would not go that far in assessing the pain the region will feel.
“We may have a short-term blip in unemployment for a couple months, but this will not be the economic death knoll,” Frank Fink said. “There is a good news side to this. There are a lot of employers in St. Mary, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes that are looking to pick up highly skilled workers.”
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray, is not as optimistic, especially in the short term.
“This is a major blow to our economy. It is heartbreaking. Many of these workers are my neighbors and friends,” Harrison said. “I hope the companies and the communities will step up and support these people.”
State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said, “This could be devastating to the region.”
Allain said he would work with the governor to try to get incentives in place to promote work for area companies so they can continue to employ workers.
Harrison agreed with that strategy.
“We have to be more aggressive in helping them and other companies. I am a strong advocate at looking at (tax) exemptions,” Harrison said. “We need to be smart and give exemptions to those companies that produce real jobs.”
Many displaced workers will find new jobs with existing companies that are looking for workers, Parish President Paul Naquin said. The closing of the company is a “devastating” loss in the short term “that will put a damper in the economy,” Naquin said.
After that bleak assessment, Naquin softened his prediction.
“I don’t think there will be a major problem absorbing most of the workers,” Naquin said. “We will have to retrain some of these people such as switching over to aluminum trades rather than iron.”
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said it is never a good time for a community to have hundreds of workers laid off, but if it has to happen then the region’s economy helps soften the blow.
“We have great companies and new industries that will be able to pick up many of these workers,” Jones said. He agreed some workers will need to be retrained. “The governor has been pushing … counterproductive policies that cut training to our community colleges and technical schools. We have to beef these up, especially at Young Memorial,” campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College.
Young Memorial director Earl Meador said the college is training workers at full capacity and could train even more with additional funding, he said.
Morgan City Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi said the next step for local, parish and state leaders is to begin looking for another company to fill the void left by McDermott’s departure.
“We have a lot of people that have been employed over there,” Grizzaffi said.
Negotiations are in progress for a barge building contractor to purchase a vacant 90,000-square-foot building in Baldwin owned by Superior Fabricators which could create an additional 100 jobs, Naquin said.
There are many other companies that are looking for skilled workers in the parish, he said, including Conrad, Gulf Craft, Oceaneering and Swiftships.
Rickie Bertrand, human resources manager of Swiftships, said there are 16 jobs available at Swiftships for aluminum welders and shipfitters, she said.
“Hopefully we can keep increasing our productivity and keep the community going,” Bertrand said. She said all of the applicants will have to pass Coast Guard certification.
Meador said any needed training programs that the campus does not have, can begin quickly in order to get the displaced workers trained and into new jobs.
The impact of closing McDermott will extend through the region, the brunt of the economic blow would likely be felt in Assumption Parish, where most of the shipyard is located and many parish residents are employed, Harrison said.
“McDermott is one of the top-five sources of tax revenue in Assumption Parish,” Harrison said.
Based on prior tax year history revenue paid to Assumption Parish and its school system will dip when the yard closes. The company paid $2.81 million in taxes from 2010 to 2012, Assumption Tax Assessor Wayne “Cat” Blanchard said.
Assumption Parish Schools Superintendent Earl Martinez said, “This will be really significant. A lot of people will lose their jobs and it will affect the economy.”
St. Mary Tax Assessor Jarrod Longman said the impact on tax revenue will not be as great in St. Mary Parish where McDermott paid $339,764 in taxes in the same period.
Naquin said, “We will keep most of our tax revenue because someone will be paying the taxes on the buildings and property at the value it is assessed.”