We hear a lot about Lafayette’s potential for economic development in a high-tech world. We are fortunate. The stars aligned long ago for us — some happenstance, others the result of leadership and vision. Here’s a quick summary of why we’re well-positioned for growth in one of the most desirable business sectors in the new century.
Lafayette is located smack-dab in the middle of Louisiana’s giant reservoir of oil and natural gas, an industry that demands perpetual technological innovation. The early entrepreneurial wildcatters were perfect partners for inventive, can-do Cajuns, who created clever new tools for the oil patch. Soon after oil was found, city fathers embraced an opportunity to host a college that grew into a university that developed one of the first computer schools in America. It also turned out engineers, geologists and other professionals, while the local culture nurtured a creative class that came into its own decades later. Recognizing a tech-savvy community unique in the South, the chamber of commerce launched the Zydetech initiative and embraced the TechSouth trade show to support related businesses, while LUS turned to fiber optics to serve the exploding technology needs of its sophisticated customer base. At the dawn of this century, LITE came on-line, offering some of the most powerful, advanced technology applications on the planet. Lafayette is, in short, the perfect incubator for tech-related business development.
“They love our story,” says City-Parish President Joey Durel, who accepted The Broadband Hero of the Year Award on behalf of the city Sept. 18 from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors in Atlanta. The organization cited Durel for leading a successful fight to offer municipally-owned broadband communication services for Lafayette. Durel says Lafayette’s reputation is spreading globally and that during the conference, he was approached by people who plan to come here to see what the buzz is about — some to visit, others to move or retire. “The million-and-a-half dollars that we spent on legal fees are the most significant marketing dollars ever spent in Lafayette,” he says. “I didn’t support it just so our citizens would save 20 percent [on the services], although that’s a good deal. What put me over the top was the business development opportunity.”
Coincidentally, next year’s NATOA conference is slated for New Orleans, which makes it convenient for the curious to come here. But what is the tipping point — the breakthrough, new industry — that will signal Lafayette’s place in the high-tech heavens? Durel thinks video game production and the movie industry are ripe. Bullet Films and Maxim Entertainment are already producing successful movies in Lafayette, and they are talking to some big guys in the industry, he says.
The combination of broadband fiber and LITE are powerful, cost-saving tools for film producers. The fiber pipeline allows them to send digital files to Hollywood editors fast and cheap. LITE’s 3-D capabilities allow them to create virtual realities at a fraction of old techniques, which is especially important for small, independent filmmakers. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the Lafayette team was the only exhibitor promoting 3-D technologies. While there, LITE’s public affairs manager Erin Fitzgerald heard a speech by Oscar-winning director James Cameron of Titanic fame: “His new film Avatar was shot entirely in 3-D,” Fitzgerald says. “He called it ‘the future of cinema’ and vowed he will never make another movie in any other format, a pretty strong statement from one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood. It says a lot about the potential for LITE.”
Many voters supported the fiber initiative to bring stars to their home television screens for less money. Ironically, the real payoff may be that the stars themselves come to town to spend theirs.