Situated near the Louisiana Gulf Coast, Calcasieu Parish was destined to become the industrial hub it is today. The petrochemical demands of a nation at war with the Axis powers in two theaters of operation, conspired to turn Southwest Louisiana into one of the world's most important industrial corridors.
The United States military machine needed fuel, lubricants, and synthetic rubber for its trucks, tanks and planes, and Lake Charles provided ready access to all of the elements needed to expedite their production and delivery. Raw materials like crude oil and natural gas, abundant water for manufacturing processes, and a waterway for the ships and barges that would transport the manufactured products, made Southwest Louisiana a natural choice.
Among the facilities whose proliferation here was driven largely by war-time demand are the Continental Oil Company refinery, now ConocoPhillips, completed in 1941, the Firestone synthetic rubber plant, now Firestone Polymers, which began production in 1943, and the Cities Service refinery, now CITGO, brought on line in 1944.
The post-war years saw unprecedented economic prosperity in the U.S., and many companies found no better place than the local industrial corridor to build the facilities they needed to meet the country's demand for consumer products. Among the facilities which sprang up around Lake Charles in the wake of post-war industrial demand was the caustic soda and chlorine plant opened in 1947 by the Columbia-Southern Company, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, now PPG Industries. PPG still owns and operates the much-expanded plant, which is now PPG’s largest manufacturing facility.
Industrial development in the area has continued since those post-war years. The 1950s saw the advent of the Davison Chemical Company catalyst plant, now Grace Davison, in 1953, as well as the completion in 1959 of the Gulf States Utilities Nelson Power Station, now owned and operated by Entergy, Inc.
In 1961, the Hercules polyolefin plant, now Lyondell-Basell, Inc., began operation, followed in 1961 by the formation of Conoco Chemicals with what was then the world’s largest synthetic alcohol plant. In 1984, Vista Chemicals took over the facility, which is now called Sasol North America.
Air Liquide began its presence in Lake Charles in 1963 as Lincoln Big Three. Also making its debut here in the sixties was Reynolds Metals, now Alcoa, which opened its Lake Charles facility in 1969 and the Conoco VCM Plant, now owned by Georgia Gulf.
In the mid-seventies, several companies started up operations in Calcasieu Parish. Jupiter Chemicals, now TDC, opened its doors in 1975, followed closely that same year by Certainteed and SRI - now Waste Management. The Gulf Oil Company calcined coke plant, now CII, opened in 1978.
Trunkline LNG opened its facility here in 1981, and continues to grow. In 1984, Westlake Chemical also began its operation here after purchasing the original Cities Service polymer plant in 1986. Major expansions followed for Westlake with the commissioning of their polyethylene plant in 1988 and their petrochemicals plant in 1989.
The nineties have seen major expansions, including several joint-venture projects, for many of the larger Lake Area industrial facilities already in operation. This decade saw the advent of Louisiana Pigment, BioLab, ARCH Chemicals, Dynegy and Georgia Gulf. Most recently, in 2009, Cameron LNG (a division of Sempra Energy) started up its facility in Cameron Parish and also became a member of the Lake Area Industry Alliance.
This abbreviated industrial history of Lake Area Industry Alliance member companies doesn't touch on the hundreds of contractors, suppliers and consulting companies whose stories are also woven into this area's economic tapestry. In concert with the manufacturing facilities they serve, these companies constitute the commercial backbone of Southwest Louisiana.
And the dynamic story of the Lake Area's industrial economic engine is still unfolding. As long as there is a world-wide demand for the very basics of day-to-day life—from gasoline to laundry detergent, golf balls to athletic shoes, window glass to water pipes—the industries of Southwest Louisiana will continue to make the things that make life better.
This section contributed by:
Lake Area Industry Alliance