Quality of Place: Louisiana Attracts Top Talent

In recent years, New Orleans, Shreveport, Baton Rouge and Lafayette have attracted many high-tech companies because of Louisiana’s business-friendly climate and competitive incentives. But these cities also offer unexpected quality-of-life advantages that appeal to talented young professionals, mid-career managers and top-level executives.

When GE Capital created a 300-job technology center in New Orleans in 2012, Alina Butler weighed an offer from the company to relocate from Chicago to Louisiana. She knew about the eclectic culture of New Orleans and the city’s growing reputation as a magnet for young professionals. But as the married mother of a small child, Butler focused first on finding day care facilities, schools, parks, safety and neighborhoods. Such basic elements had to be in place for her to consider uprooting from the Windy City, her hometown.

“I was extremely impressed with what I found,” she said. “There are so many beautiful, safe and affordable neighborhoods in New Orleans that are great for kids. My commute is only 20 minutes, and my child’s school, which I love, is a few minutes away. We’ve found it to be a very family-friendly city.”

Butler embraced the New Orleans culinary and cultural scenes, and she also found a long list of other positives, including an expanded network of bike paths, a renovated live theater district and scores of activities for young children. New Orleans, she discovered, has undertaken some of the country’s most sweeping public school reforms. And its reasonable size makes getting around quick and easy.

After a 20-year career in Washington, D.C., Maura Nelson and her family relocated to her hometown of Lafayette when her husband’s career with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office became portable. The family could choose any city in the country, provided it offered professional opportunities for Nelson and a good quality of life for the family. The couple wanted less traffic, affordable housing and more free time with their sons, then entering fourth and eighth grades.

“This was right after the economy tanked, and I discovered that opportunities for my career were better in Louisiana than they were in Washington and a lot of other places,” she said.

Nelson first joined the staff of Bizzuka, a successful new Internet marketing firm. Shortly after, Schumacher Group recruited her to serve as its vice president of marketing and communications. The $700 million, Lafayette-based company provides emergency medical staffing and management services to hospitals nationwide.

“It takes me six minutes to get to work, whereas it used to take 40 minutes each way. If I need to run an errand or go to my kids’ schools at lunch, it’s possible,” Nelson said.

In the northwest corner of the state, newcomers are finding rich amenities, too. Dallas-based animator John Durbin recently moved to Shreveport to work at Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios, a multimillion-dollar production company.

“I’m thrilled about this position,” Durbin said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

Durbin embraced the Shreveport opportunity because of the city’s growing film industry, relaxed charm and easy access to recreation.

“My wife and I spend a lot of time at new restaurants, parks, riding bikes and going to a hidden beach on the Red River,” says Durbin. “There’s room to create your own culture in a place like Shreveport.”

Calvin O’Neal Jr. is a Detroit native and Moonbot editor who praises the live music and film scenes in Shreveport. The Robinson Film Center, which screens independent films and holds educational programs, is one of his local favorites.

An independent filmmaker, O’Neal said Shreveport provided a great place to screen and promote his award-winning 2012 short film, Secret Agent Jones Takes a Lover. He partnered with a cultural hub, Rhino Coffee, on promotions to drive traffic to the film.

“There are a lot of creatives here – more than people think,” O’Neal said.

PreSonus, an international manufacturer of sound-mixing boards and recording systems, has found great success in Baton Rouge. John Bastianelli, a PreSonus product development executive, said Baton Rouge offers a robust international scene: “My wife is from Japan, and we’ve found that there is much more cultural diversity here than we expected.”

PreSonus Chief Operations Officer Stephen Fraser, a U.K. native who moved to Baton Rouge from Seattle three years ago, said the city offers almost everything you can find in a large metropolitan area, including strong health care, a vibrant culture, contemporary stores and diverse restaurants.

Sarah Wilson Chavez and her family relocated to Baton Rouge from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011 for her position as EA’s worldwide quality assurance training program manager.

“I remember riding past the main soccer facility when my husband and daughter and I were first looking at houses in Baton Rouge,” Chavez recalled. “There was just an incredible number of fields, and I thought, ‘You’d never see this in California because of the cost of land.’ It was a real statement on how popular soccer and other sports are here, which was so important to my daughter.”

Chavez said the cost of living in Baton Rouge compared with the Bay Area is a big plus. “The conversation was no longer about looking for as big a house as we could afford,” she said. “It was about not looking for more house than we needed.”