The drop in oil prices has had a devastating impact on several states, including Louisiana. But a construction boom is imminent around Lake Charles and Local 861 Business Manager Jeff Sanders is optimistic it will lead to some big opportunities for workers, too.

Local 861 and the local chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association are hosting a job fair for potential new members on May 19. The motivation comes from reports that southwest Louisiana will see as much as $80 billion in construction on industrial projects during the next 10 years as companies look to sell off a surplus of liquid natural gas. Job fairs introduce nonunion electricians to the benefits of IBEW membership.

“They’re saying there could be an influx of 30,000 more people into this area while all this is going on,” Sanders said. “The majority of them are going to be in construction-related jobs. There’s a lot of potential during the next few years.”

Sanders said Local 861 has about 620 members, but expects that will rise rapidly. Construction will be at facilities along the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of Lake Charles.

“If everything comes to pass in terms of what they’re projecting, it will be the biggest deal that I’ve ever been involved with,” said Fifth District Vice President Joe Davis, who has been on the international staff since 1979.

Lake Charles, La., Local 861 Business Manager Jeff Sanders, center, stands atop the foundation of the local’s new training center now under construction. He is joined by training director Carlos Perez, left, and President Lance Corner.

Some areas of Louisiana have unemployment levels nearing 10 percent following the 18-month drop in oil prices. But the area around Lake Charles has a good pipeline infrastructure in place that allows it to get the large deposits of liquefied gas to port facilities.

“The opportunities could be unlimited here,” Sanders said. “We want to grow our numbers because we want to be able to man the jobs that we’re going to get our hands on.”

Dutch-based Mammoet, which specializes in transporting heavy industrial equipment, recently moved a crane weighing more than 6,000 tons from Brazil to the Port of Lake Charles.

“They’re looking at a glut of [liquefied natural gas] across the country with all the fracking and shales they have discovered,” Sanders said. “These companies want to monetize that and sell it abroad.”

Local 861 has started construction on a new training facility after conducting training at a nearby technical college in recent years.

“Education, training and organizing are the most important keys to the existence and prosperity of any local union,” Sanders said. “As business manager, I would like to personally thank the members of Local 861 for their commitment to funding the construction of our new training facility. As always, organizing remains our top priority.”