Baton Rouge area business leaders predict GOP-led government will be good for business

Business Report

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from an earlier version to include updated comments from economist Loren Scott.

As expected, Donald Trump handily beat Hillary Clinton in solidly red Louisiana, garnering 58% of the vote to her 38%. Unexpectedly, he also trounced Clinton nationally, winning Tuesday’s historic election by beating Clinton in key swing states that she was polling favorably in during the days leading up to the election.

While there’s uncertainty surrounding what exactly Trump’s victory will mean for the Louisiana economy, business leaders are optimistic this morning. With Republicans now controlling the White House—as well as both chambers of Congress—they see a more favorable regulatory climate and pro-business tax policies on the horizon.

“A new approach was definitely needed,” says Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. “Regulations, taxes and mandates like Obamacare and the overtime rules are making it harder for small businesses to compete. A new approach to lift those burdens will help our job creators stay afloat.”

While much is still unknown about Trump’s economic policies, Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp predicts “a reduction in federal regulation and possible business and individual tax costs,” all of which is good news to business.

One area of concern is the president-elect’s disdain for the country’s free trade agreements. Throughout the campaign, Trump promised to revisit such treaties as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Economist Loren Scott says undoing the nation’s free trade agreements would not only negate other positive, pro-business developments like reduced regulation but would hurl the country into a deep depression.

“You’ll see serious red numbers if NAFTA is repealed,” Scott predicts. “It’ll make the Great Depression look like nothing. I don’t know how far Trump will go with this or how far Congress will let him go. But there is so much good that might come of this new administration and this one thing is so bad—off-the-charts bad.”

Louisiana port officials say they are hopeful that all the talk about undoing NAFTA was just that—campaign rhetoric.

“I believe all these trade agreements will come back up for consideration under the new administration and will be looked at in a much more favorable light than they were during the political season,” says Paul Aucoin, executive director of the Port of South Louisiana. “A lot of these trade agreements are good for the United States and they’re good for our port system here in Louisiana. They level the playing field and create jobs.”

While it’s too soon to know how the debate in Washington will play out over free trade, local business leaders say it’s not too soon to start mapping out Louisiana’s priorities for the new Congress and administration—and to continue pressing for flood recovery before the end of the year.

“It needs to be a high priority for our state and regional officials to secure flood recovery funding during the lame duck Congress this year, and funding for transportation infrastructure next year,” Knapp says.

It’s also important for newly-elected officials to hear and heed the message voters sent loudly in Tuesday’s upset election, Waguespack says.

“Going forward, elected leaders at the federal, state and local level must realize this sea change or risk being swallowed up by it,” he says. “Individuals, working families and businesses want policies that give them more freedom and autonomy to pursue their dreams and less big government programs and regulations that are suffocating American ingenuity.”

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