On the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, about an hour upstream from New Orleans, the outline of Nucor Corp. (NUE)’s new $750 million iron-processing plant is rising between fields of sugar cane and sweet gum trees.
Surveying the facility from the road, Michael Eades, president of Ascension Economic Development Corp., says it’s part of a wave of investment lured by low natural gas prices to this stretch of Louisiana’s industrial riverfront. Companies such as Westlake Chemical Corp., Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. and Methanex Corp. (MX) have projects in the works. Ormet (ORMT) Corp. reopened an alumina refinery last year, bringing back 250 jobs.
“We’re just seeing an incredible amount of activity,” said Eades, who tallied $1.1 billion in new projects last year in Ascension Parish alone, where his private, nonprofit group promotes development. He expects twice that this year.
It’s a harbinger of a nationwide investment boom spreading from the oil fields of North Dakota and the Marcellus gas shale in Pennsylvania to power plants in California and chemical refiners in Texas. A surge in U.S. natural gas development has spurred $226 billion in spending plans on pipelines, storage, processing facilities and power plants, most slated for the next five years, according to Industrial Info Resources, a market- intelligence provider in Sugar Land, Texas.
U.S. energy supplies have been transformed in less than a decade, driven by advances in technology, and the economic implications are only beginning to be understood. U.S. natural gas production will expand to a record this year and oil output swelled in July to its highest point since 1999. Citigroup Inc. (C) estimated in a March report that a “reindustrialization” of America could add as many as 3.6 million jobs by 2020 and increase the gross domestic product by as much as 3 percent.