What makes Lafayette a cool town? Last week’s cover story in The Independent Weekly explored that question from many different angles. It included a timeline of events that were turning points in our city’s evolving cool vibe, many setting the course for Lafayette’s business development. For example, in 1836 local voters passed a bond issue to build roads to outlying towns in neighboring parishes, establishing Lafayette as the Hub City of Acadiana. In 1883, the railroad came to town, a seminal event for any community of that era but especially for Lafayette, where the Vermilion River was not navigable for major commerce. Voters again took the initiative in 1897, approving bonds to provide electricity and safe water for our growing city. Oil was discovered near Jennings in 1901, and Lafayette, having just landed the Southwest Louisiana Industrial Institute (later UL) and already connected to the world via highways and railroads, developed itself as a mecca for the burgeoning oil and gas industry. In 1947 black gold was successfully extracted offshore, and Lafayette was perfectly situated to maximize that opportunity too.
Looking back, we find some common themes that foreshadowed Lafayette’s development into the vibrant cool place we now call home. There is a spunk, a chutzpah, perhaps even a feistiness that is evident early on. Need to get from here to there? Pass a bond issue and build some roads. Think it’s high time Lafayette had electricity? Pass another one and make it so. You say Louisiana needs an institution of higher learning somewhere west of the Atchafalaya Basin? We say “build it in Lafayette.”
Energy. Ideas. Connectivity. Can do. It’s all part of the DNA of a business community that will soon have a powerful new tool for economic success: a fiber optic network that is peerless in the U.S. in terms of reach and capacity. When the network is completed in July, Lafayette will be, for a time, the most wired city in the world. But how well do we understand what this means for our future?
Over three days in April, some of the world’s leading experts on what “wired” means will gather in Lafayette to help answer that question. Organizers have selected 150 global and local doers, dreamers and drivers who will explore the potential of our network. The event is called FiberFête, and the goal is to jump-start the conversations that will set the course for Lafayette’s future, showcase our commitment to information technology, and explore applications that will make new waves of digital productivity and economic growth.
The group for the first FiberFête was kept small for several reasons, in part because of venue limitations (capacity in the auditorium at LITE, for example). But there is also a benefit to keeping the atmosphere intimate for more effective networking and brainstorming. Registration is full, but all FiberFête events will be webcast, so anyone who is interested can tune in. The one ticketed event that will be open to the broader public is The Independent Weekly/Acadiana Business’ Technology Lecture on April 21. It will feature Seattle’s chief technology officer, Bill Schrier, and San Francisco’s chief information officer, Chris Vein. Luncheon information is available on our Web site: www.theind.com/INDevents. The complete FiberFête schedule can be found at www.fiberfete.com.
As LUS nears completion of its network build-out, Cox Communications and AT&T, both great competitors, are introducing new products as well. Soon, we’ll have a dazzling array of tools and toys at our disposal. Sometimes I feel like Dave in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. After running the gauntlet of history from apes to intergalactic exploration, Dave still looks ahead and says simply: “Something’s going to happen. Something wonderful.” We just happen to live in a very cool place on the planet that will be among the first not only to explore but also define what that future could be.