Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Cherry Fisher May

Training workers for Louisiana’s emerging digital economy

This issue of ABiz is our annual focus piece on the local technology scene, and just as we were sending it to the printer, The Academy of Interactive Entertainment held a press conference to introduce its new training facility at LITE. AIE is setting up shop for what is essentially a two-year vocational school offering courses in video game art, design and programming along with film and TV 3D design and visualization effects. Your father’s trade school? Not by a long shot. And it could play a critical role in the state’s emerging digital economy. Here’s why.

Across Louisiana from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette in the south to Shreveport in the northwest corner of the state, digital media production hubs are taking root. Part of a strategic job creation initiative articulated by Louisiana’s Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, the state Legislature has done its part by approving tax incentives for businesses that invest in digital media. Companies earning over $300,000 per year can qualify for up to 35 percent in tax credits if they use Louisiana workers, according to Julie Calzone, whose local ad agency has been retained to help get AIE off the ground in Louisiana.

Although the tax incentives are certainly a lure for these new tech companies looking for opportunities, Shreveport can boast a unique asset of its own: homegrown industry superstar William Joyce, whose Moonbot Studios opened there late last year. Perhaps best known as the Emmy Award-winning creator of Disney’s “Rolie Polie Olie,” Bill’s creative credits are impressive as a respected author, illustrator and filmmaker.

His presence in the state is a boon for Louisiana’s profile in the digital marketplace. Newsweek has called him one of the top 100 people to watch in the new millennium, and after spending much of his early career in Hollywood, he brought his family back to his home town several years ago.

Many digital animators he once worked with in California opted to come with him. Moonbot is on the move, as are other studios around the state, and they will need employees with a unique skill set. A well-trained indigenous work force is necessary for them all to succeed.

Not all of these jobs will require undergraduate or graduate degrees. That’s where AIE comes in. Offering a two-year program at a total tuition of $30,000, AIE graduates can enter the workforce at starting annual salaries ranging from $30,000 to $60,000 in an industry that is certain to grow as the global appetite explodes for digital content across multiple media platforms. Founded in Australia in 1996 with campuses in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, AIE was one of the world’s first video gaming and 3D animation schools.

This year the company opened two campuses in the U.S., first in Seattle in June and now here in Lafayette. Recruitment has begun for the inaugural class of 20 students, which commences in January 2012, and the school touts its commitment to helping its graduates find jobs. Calzone cites a 100 percent success rate in placement upon completion of the program.

AIE shopped markets across the southeastern quadrant of the U.S. and chose Lafayette because of the unified reception it received from LITE, LEDA, LCG and the local business and tech communities. Its campus here represents another key asset for Lafayette’s burgeoning digital economy and a new option that could help keep Louisiana’s next generation of workers closer to home. Welcome to Acadiana, AIE. Let the games begin.

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