In 2008, the State of Louisiana, Bossier City and Bossier Parish invested $107 million to launch a landmark cyber research park in Northwest Louisiana. It was a bold move in a part of the country known more for oil and gas and agribusiness, but state and local leaders believed the region had the potential to become a cyber industry hub. That venture is part of the region’s growing role in the technology industry.
Local assets included Barksdale Air Force Base, also in Bossier City, and Louisiana Tech University in nearby Ruston. Combining the nation’s most competitive business operating costs with an affordable cost of living and attractive quality of life, Louisiana positioned the region as an alternative to established cyber centers in more expensive markets, such as Washington, D.C.
“We knew we had a good beginning, but we also knew from looking at other research parks like Huntsville, Alabama, that it was going to take time,” recalled William Altimus, Bossier Parish Policy Jury administrator. “We committed to the long game, and now we’re seeing big payoffs.”
The top triumph to date arrived in February 2014 as global IT leader CSC announced its choice of the Bossier City-based National Cyber Research Park for an 800-job, next-generation technology center. Louisiana earned the project following a rigorous site selection process that examined 134 U.S. locations.
The CSC project ranks among the most significant economic development wins in the history of Northwest Louisiana. It’s also widely seen as the National Cyber Research Park’s tipping point — and one of a growing number of project wins at research parks and corporate campuses throughout the state that are redefining Louisiana as an emerging technology leader.
In 2010, Louisiana, Bossier City and Bossier Parish leaders strengthened the foundation for the National Cyber Research Park’s success with the opening of the 135,000-square-foot Cyber Innovation Center (CIC). The CIC houses the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center — the education arm of the CIC that offers collaborative programs advancing technology from kindergarten classes through graduate school research labs — as well as a major data center and a host of cybersecurity contractors, many of which conduct business with the Global Strike Command and other operations at Barksdale Air Force Base.
The CIC has helped attract divisions of Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to the research park, in addition to data centers and technology support firms. The common thread is building a next-generation workforce skilled at providing cyber solutions.
CSC will occupy 40,000 square feet of temporary space at the park’s Cyber Innovation Center while a more than $39 million permanent CSC home is completed. That 116,000-square-foot center will become the private-sector anchor of the 3,000-acre National Cyber Research Park when it opens in late 2015. CSC, which generates $13 billion in annual revenue, will serve federal and commercial customers with cloud computing, big data, application modernization and other technology services.
“The announcement is huge,” CIC Executive Director Craig Spohn said. “It validates what we committed to a long time ago: the true diversification of our regional economy.”
The CSC technology center will accelerate development of the research park, bringing 800 professional positions and the extensive resources of a Fortune 500 technology leader with proven global project success. CSC has modernized one of the world’s largest supply chains and streamlined logistics for a major branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, designed and implemented a precision dispatching system for a major railway and managed the world’s largest insurance application services program.
Similarly, CSC’s Louisiana site will develop applications that help clients solve technology challenges with sophisticated solutions. As the research park’s anchor tenant, CSC is expected to attract more cyber sector investment in Northwest Louisiana.
Spohn said CSC’s decision puts the research park on the map for technology companies eager to expand in an affordable, growing market.
“We’re showing how serious we are about developing a cyber sector,” he said. “With this announcement, more companies will take note of the region’s competitive advantages.”
CSC executive vice president, Dave Zolet credited Louisiana’s powerful combination of higher education partnerships, workforce advantages and incentives. A $14 million state-funded initiative, for instance, led by Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, will expand programs and quadruple the number of degrees awarded annually in computer science and information systems while cementing Louisiana Tech’s cyber engineering program as the best of its kind in the nation.
“There was a willingness of the state, city, parish and local educational community to partner on developing a next-generation IT workforce,” Zolet said. “And we appreciated the close proximity of Barksdale Air Force Base, which provides an opportunity for us to hire and train military veterans. Other incentives included a new facility, major investment in local universities and colleges, reimbursement for recruitment, relocation and training, and the ability to leverage Louisiana’s tax incentives.”
Originally, the company planned 256 jobs for its expansion, but Louisiana Economic Development officials offered a competitive package that targeted 800 positions.
“After evaluating the market and seeing the commitment of the state, parish and city officials, we decided that 800 jobs was achievable,” Zolet said.
The full complement of workers will be in place by 2017.
CSC is but one signature example of how Louisiana has established a technology trend linking innovative, global companies to research universities and regional workforce talent in the state.
An earlier example came with custom solutions created by the state to retain the corporate headquarters of CenturyLink in Monroe, where the Fortune 500 company announced expansion and retention projects with the state in 2009 and 2011 following major mergers with Embarq and Qwest.
The combined projects will increase CenturyLink’s Monroe-area employment by 1,150 positions to nearly 3,000 people overall. The company will complete a new 250,000-square-foot CenturyLink Center of Technology Excellence in 2014 that will house 800 employees and spark telecommunications solutions for clients.
A strategic part of CenturyLink’s expansion package included Louisiana’s funding of a $2.1 million, seven-year telecommunications endowed chair and technology curricula at Louisiana Tech, a Tier 1 national research university.
“The state has stepped up to make Louisiana more business-friendly, and we appreciate their efforts and the incentives being put forth,” CenturyLink CEO Glen Post said. “Our people are the engine that drives our success, and we will continue to add jobs and training to enhance the quality of the workforce.”
In New Orleans, the state attracted GE Capital’s 300-job IT Center of Excellence in 2012 with a growing concentration of technology talent in Louisiana’s largest city and an incentive package that included $500,000 a year for a decade to fund software apprentice programs led by the University of New Orleans. Students in training obtain actual experience solving IT challenges for GE Capital’s companywide financial services network. They also receive university credit and competitive wages of $15 to $17 an hour. The company gains a level of technology workforce integration unsurpassed by any program in the nation, said Mike De Boer, GE Capital’s chief information officer at its Technology Center in New Orleans.
“That, I think, is unique,” De Boer told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.
The game-changing trend continued in Baton Rouge — with IBM’s 2013 announcement that it will operate an 800-job technology center downtown — and in Lafayette, where CGI will develop a 400-job technology center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette).
Louisiana’s highly customized recruitment of technology firms takes existing assets — downtown infrastructure, campus-based research parks, award-winning workforce programs — and amplifies them to woo employers unaccustomed to such powerful site solutions.
After Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Louisiana Economic Development leadership took office in 2008, they quickly identified software development and digital media as a top industry target for the state. Within months, the first major coup emerged with Electronic Arts (EA) selecting a campus of Baton Rouge-based Louisiana State University (LSU) to open its North American Test Center for video games.
Originally slated for 220 jobs, EA grew the center to 400 positions as it occupied the newly built 94,000-square-foot Louisiana Digital Media Center on LSU main campus in early 2013. The company anticipates growth to as many as 600 jobs at peak seasons in its business cycle. Joining EA at the facility are LSU’s Center for Computation & Technology and the university’s AVATAR curriculum (Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies And Research), which provide faculty and students an immersive experience in high-speed computing and digital media applications.
In April 2014, Louisiana again leveraged higher education assets by recruiting CGI’s 400-job technology center to the 143-acre UL Lafayette Research Park. The university’s School of Computing and Informatics initiated the nation’s first master’s degree in computer science in 1962, and a year earlier the first student chapter of the world’s largest computing society — the Association for Computing Machinery — was established at UL Lafayette.
Today, UL Lafayette’s computer science programs, faculty and students engage in advanced research to support private sector solutions for big data and cybersecurity challenges, the same kind of work CGI will pursue at its Lafayette technology center.
CGI and the university will partner in a 10-year, $4.5 million higher education initiative that will triple the number of undergraduate degrees awarded yearly by the School of Computing and Informatics. By the end of 2015, CGI will move into a new 50,000-square-foot, $13.1 million technology facility at the UL Lafayette Research Park.
“Our partnership with Lafayette represents a groundbreaking model for CGI, bringing together the local community to identify opportunities for innovation that can be applied globally while tapping the talent and resources of Louisiana,” said Dr. James Peake, president of the company’s CGI Federal business unit.
Since 2008, employment in Louisiana’s software development and digital media sector has grown 24 percent — based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data — and recent project wins such as CenturyLink, CGI, CSC, EA, Gameloft, GE Capital, IBM and others are contributing more than 4,500 new professional jobs in technology across the state.
Louisiana, however, isn’t standing pat on its recent technology success. A new program approved by the Louisiana Legislature in 2014 called Workforce Innovation for a Stronger Economy will supply $40 million a year on a performance basis to colleges that produce more graduates in high-demand fields and attract private investment from employers in those fields. The focus will be on jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“UL Lafayette has been establishing public-private partnerships, we’ve been committed to economic development, and our university is among the Top 10 in the U.S. for the percentage of National Science Foundation research expenditures funded by business,” UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie said. “This new $40 million investment by the state is a positive step to foster further innovation by higher education.”