Money & Career
First Person with Larry DeRoussel, 
Director of Lake Area Industry Alliance
3/1/2019 12:00:00 AM

You were plant manager at an area industry, but how did your career begin?

After graduating from the University of Southwest Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in electrical engineering, I began at Firestone in 1966 and eventually worked my way into management roles. I moved around to a few different plants and eventually I was at Citgo Polymers (now Westlake Polymers) as maintenance manager and that was where I planned to make my career. In the 1980’s, they ended up shutting the plant down due to the recession. I was fortunate enough to go across the street to what was then Hercules and work as their maintenance manager.

It changed ownership several times – Himont, Montel, Basell – it’s a trip down memory lane just to remember all of them. I was transferred to the Basell Advanced Materials plant in Ohio for three years after which time I was brought back to Lake Charles as production manager. During the final five years of my career I served as plant manager of the Lake Charles plant. I retired from industry in July 2000.

Your retirement was just a stepping stone to another career. Tell us how Lake Area Industry Alliance was formed. During my years as plant manager, I was part of the "First Monday” group. This was an informal group of local plant managers that met for lunch the first Monday of the month to share ideas, community related projects, and discuss issues that we had in common. 

We were collectively doing more and more community related projects and had discussions about the need to form a non-profit organization to oversee our projects and to generally be the representative and face of industry in the community. To organize the non-profit, we needed someone who understood the interworking of industry, understood the goals of our local plants and could work within the community to organize and communicate on behalf of industry.

When I announced my retirement, I was asked by members of the First Monday Group if I would accept the task of reorganizing the group into a non-profit organization. I accepted the task and the new organization became what is now the Lake Area Industry Alliance (LAIA). The primary goal of LAIA was and continues to be the face of industry in the local community. Following this I was offered the position of Executive Director of the LAIA; I accepted and have remained in that position for the past nineteen years.

LAIA has spearheaded several community education campaigns about local industry. Tell us about a few of them. In the 1990s, environmental concerns within the community were paramount. LAIA felt a responsibility to test the ambient air and report the findings to the community. We began a three year air monitoring program that was paid for by industry and operated by an independent environmental contractor with direct oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The results showed no issues with the environment.

Next, our Fight Cancer with Facts campaign tackled the concerns about cancer in Southwest Louisiana. We worked with the EPA, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Louisiana Department of Health to collect and analyze data to determine if there was a connection of industry to cancer. Based on the findings, the public agencies determined that the chances of getting cancer locally were the same as other parts of the nation. They did find that the cancer mortality rates were higher in Southwest Louisiana, meaning more people who get cancer were losing the battle.

Local doctors weighed in and became part of our campaign, lending their expertise. Routine health exams, cancer screenings and a healthy diet with regular exercise are the key in bringing down the cancer mortality rate in our area. 

Our next campaign, the Industry Insider, helps to educate the community about the various processes that occur inside the plants. We knew that flaring and the white air emissions in the fall and winter season were a concern. Industry Insider explains the purpose of flares and the white emissions which are not pollution but instead is water vapor from the cooling towers. These and other videos have been helpful in addressing questions that had gone unanswered for many years.
Our newest campaign is Industry Impact. It will focus on how industry tax dollars, jobs, volunteerism and donations to local charities impact the local community. I think that citizens of our community realize that industry does have a positive impact but what they may not realize is the degree to which this happens. The numbers are huge. 

What are you looking forward to after retirement?
Not having to juggle our personal travel schedule around my work schedule to visit our grandchildren. We have five grandchildren in the Dallas area, five in the Cincinnati area and one in New Orleans. I plan to continue my volunteer work in industry, my church and other areas where I can assist. I am also hoping to squeeze some golf in the middle of all this.

What do you hope your legacy will be in the business, industry and local community?
That I sincerely tried to understand the concerns that the people of Southwest Louisiana had about industry and that I was honest in my communications. The key to the success of LAIA is listening with an open mind, identifying concerns and addressing them with facts.

What do you think of the industrial growth in Southwest Louisiana?
It’s phenomenal. We’ll look back and see that it was a once in a lifetime event, so many people are benefiting from it, both directly and indirectly. I am pleased that I was here to be a part of that growth.
Posted by: Christine Fisher | Submit comment | Tell a friend


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