● By Robert Frey
LAGCOE 2017: Why It Matters (And Always Will)
By Scott Brazda
“The first-ever, albeit unofficial, LAGCOE event was in 1953, and it was held in the parking lot of the Petroleum Club,” says Angela Cring. “It was literally just a few companies that pulled up with some pieces of equipment, showed it off, talked to the public and had a party.”
LAGCOE’S executive director pauses for a moment, and then adds these fitting words. “It was all about ‘family’: the oil industry family and the people of south Louisiana who embraced it. And you know what? LAGCOE still is very much a family.”
The “family” has grown over the course of 65 years, grown from that handful of companies showing off in a parking lot to its first official event in Blackham Coliseum in 1955, and then to crowds of 16,000 and 17,000 in 2013 and 2015, respectively. “LAGCOE stands for ‘Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition,’” explains Cring. “Although, the event has really gone way beyond the geographic boundaries of just the Gulf Coast. In a tougher economic time like now, if you’re not working globally, it’s going to be much harder to be sustained long-term.”
The ever-increasing international feel to LAGCOE is evident, agrees Stone Energy Chief Operating Officer (and LAGCOE board member) Keith Seilhan. “It definitely takes the tone of a global conference now. It looks and feels terrific, and while it has the features of the best local conferences, LAGCOE truly brings together both those with a local footprint and the international partners they need to survive and succeed.”
There are those who say LAGCOE’s time has passed, that the downward spiral of oil prices makes the biannual event irrelevant. That couldn’t be further from the truth, says Seilhan. “It always matters, and that’s in terms of new technology, new trends and new ways of thinking about the industry in general.” LAGCOE, suggests Seilhan, is the perfect place for getting longtime oil and gas leaders to embrace the truth of what’s really happening—and not happening---in the industry.
“I believe oil prices will be in the $50-plus range for a long time, and the industry has to adjust to that,” says Seilhan. “And LAGCOE is a catalyst to help the industry adjust to the $50 environment, and to realize that, while changes are necessary, embracing that $50 cost structure will help many of our companies become more efficient and make the right decisions that will then help them stay profitable and lucrative for years to come.”
And that’s not the only way LAGCOE can potentially change a mindset, says another board member. “The oil field does not do a very good job of promoting itself,” says Mike Moncla of The Moncla Companies in Lafayette. “LAGCOE is a way for us to make those changes and to get the word out where the oil companies are not the big, bad guys.” Time, continues Moncla, has seen quite a few of the larger companies leave Acadiana and head to Houston. “Here in south Louisiana there are no majors left, and what you have now is a bunch of small companies trying to make it, whether it’s on the service side or the operator side. It isn’t ‘big’ oil; it’s the little guys, little guys who need to sell their story. And LAGCOE helps them do just that.”
Moncla has seen the evolution of LAGCOE; in fact, he grew up around it. “My grandmother had Pelican Well Service, a company she ran from 1978 to 1991 or so, after my grandfather died. She was always there, meeting and greeting current and prospective customers, trying to stay on top of what was happening in the industry.” And Moncla also remembers those all-important field trips he took as a child. “We’d go as a class on those big field trips to LAGCOE,” he laughs, “and I’d come back with those little hard hats, tons of pencils and pens, and you’d see all kinds of equipment and demonstrations. In terms of educating and mentoring the newer guys, the younger guys, I think that’s where LAGCOE really excels throughout the year.”
As Mike Moncla says, LAGCOE has truly become more than just an exhibition that takes place over the course of just a few days (October 24-26 of this year at the Cajundome & Convention Center); it’s actually a year-round proposition. And the aforementioned mentorship program has others excited as well. “Over the last six years,” explains Cling, “we’ve developed a pretty active young professionals group. We’ve got an active mentor program in which a number of the newer and younger people in the oil and gas industry are paired with more experienced individuals who help guide them through this ever-changing business. It’s been very successful.”
Hundreds of volunteers (300—400) plus 30 or so committees are vital to making LAGCOE happen, and yes, Cring says the economic challenges of recent years have made things a little more difficult.
“It’s definitely been a tough year, and while the 2017 show will have a record number of technical sessions, we don’t have a record number of exhibitors like we did in 2015. But this is typical of what you’re seeing in other trade shows.”
Part of her job as executive director, explains Cring, is to help keep a global spotlight on Lafayette and south Louisiana, especially as so many of the larger companies have moved to Houston. “We can show attendees, including those from international companies, all of the technology and patents and inventions and entrepreneurs who come from our area. If those companies go to Houston, they meet with a corporate sales guy. But if they come to Lafayette, to LAGCOE, they can meet with the actual engineer who invented the product and the process.”
And coming to Lafayette increases the possibility of collaborations between international groups and regional companies. “The international guys come to LAGCOE because they want to visit with the smaller and medium-sized companies who are more agile, capable and willing to create partnerships,” adds Cring.
“It’s going to be a good event,” says Seilhan of the 2017 LAGCOE event. “There will be more technical presentations than in prior LAGCOE conferences which, I think, makes this a great time to go and engage in some industry-wide advanced thinking and problem-solving.” Cring concurs. “Just the technical program in general, with four rooms of speakers for three straight days, creates quite an educational opportunity.”
And there’s the matter of jobs, suggests Moncla, of the number of extremely talented professionals who, given our economic climate, are looking for work. “Unfortunately, we’ve had more people laid off this year, and so, there are more people who are eager to get back to work. LAGCOE provides a golden opportunity for these job hunters to press the flesh and see who’s hiring, see what’s out there.”
“If I didn’t think it was worth it,” says Seilhan pointedly, “I wouldn’t waste my time, either as a LAGCOE board member or a LAGCOE attendee. But what’s delivered at our event every two years is this: An industry trade show that helps people not only understand what’s out there in terms of technical advancements, but also in terms of what’s the best way to learn and share developments. It’s about more than just E&P (exploration and production); LAGCOE is about the industry and how what’s going on in the industry matters outside the industry.”
LAGCOE 2017 promises to raise the bar yet again on opportunities, on education and the oil industry’s perpetual place in our world. “LAGCOE has been, and always will be, about helping the smaller and mid-size companies survive and thrive in what’s now a global industry,” finishes Cring. “LAGCOE is right here to help, and we’re not going anywhere.”
(LAGCOE 2017 will be held October 24-26 at the Cajundome & Convention Center. www.Lagcoe.com).