As noted by the 2008 Milken Institute Ranking, Lafayette is the 14th Best Performing City in the nation. The growth of our technology workforce is a major contributor to this success and indicates that we as a region can achieve great things through a cohesive approach to utilizing our local technology infrastructure to create and sustain jobs. Local infrastructure like our university, fiber-optic ring and LITE exist together in a way that fosters growth not only in our workforce but in our position as a major player in the business world.
While most of the nation was becoming acclimated to the notion of computers, Acadiana’s forward thinkers were coming up with ways to stay ahead of the curve through the use of technology. In 1962, the year Purdue established the first university computer science department, a master of science program was initiated at UL Lafayette. Six years later the Ph.D. program in computer science was established as the first such program in Louisiana. Since then prospective computer scientists from around the globe have flocked to our region to receive an education of the highest caliber. Today, the National Science Foundation ranks the program as one of the top 100 of its kind in the nation.
Our commitment to technology, coupled with the ingenuity of our local government and business leaders, has allowed Acadiana to take a driver’s seat in the technology world, becoming the first, the best, and the most resourceful players in a variety of tech sectors. But, there is more to today’s technology workers than the idea of “tech guys” writing programs or confined to cubicles waiting for a distress call from a co-worker. Today’s technology workers, especially here in Acadiana, are at the forefront of their industries, developing new innovations and processes to make everyday dealings easier for both business and customer. In Lafayette, technology jobs aren’t limited to IT companies. Nearly every business regardless of size uses some kind of technology — whether it’s just one PC to check e-mails or a network of hundreds of computers in multiple locations. And technology jobs can be found in just about every industry. Wireless technology was pioneered right here, as a way for the oil and gas industry to communicate with production rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and the industry is still very tech-intensive. And since that time entrepreneurs in all industries have been embracing technology and what it can do for their business. Local companies like C&C Technologies, Acadian Ambulance, and Composite Acoustics have revolutionized their respective industries using cutting-edge technology to enhance their products and services.
To gauge the technology workforce in an nontraditional manner, not just by counting those “tech guys” we mentioned above, we need data that is captured across a variety of industries but manages to evaluate the workplace occupation by occupation. Every two years the Louisiana Workforce Commission (formerly the Louisiana Department of Labor) releases its 10-year Occupational Projection. The commission, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surveys a sample of Louisiana firms on the occupational composition of their workforce and the wages for those occupations. This data is used to develop staffing patterns for each industry, which are then used to develop specific occupational projections.
In the Acadiana region, four of the 25 fastest growing occupations (based on percent growth) are specifically IT-related, though you’d be hard-pressed to find any job in the top 25 that doesn’t use some kind of technology on a daily basis. It’s no secret that Lafayette is on the leading edge of some great technology — digital media, fiber optic connectivity, Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, Louisiana Optical Network Initiative — and the growth in technology jobs reflects that. When compared to the state, the projected growth in Lafayette outpaces statewide projections in these same jobs, in some cases 2-to-1. While these projections offer valuable insight to our ever-changing workforce, it does have its limitations. The projections only reflect growth of the kinds of jobs that existed at the time of the survey. It doesn’t take into account the types of jobs that are yet to be created because of new technologies and innovation. For instance, virtual reality jobs at LITE are not reflected in the 2004-2014 projections because they did not exist at the time the base survey was conducted.
LEDA strives to keep the region one of the most tech-savvy areas in the nation through efforts like the recruitment of FlightSafety International and the pursuit of digital media opportunities, along with the construction of LITE and support of increased technology use among local businesses. FlightSafety’s new $120 million, 70,000-square-foot aviation facility in LEDA’s Northpark Technology Center features eight technologically advanced flight simulators and offers interactive and immersive first-class training. Training is complementary to other high-tech, digitally advanced training programs that are currently being used in Acadiana, such as the Commercial Vehicle Operations Simulator and the Virtual Welding Program offered by the Louisiana Technical College System. The investment of FlightSafety International creates a huge impact on our community today, but its presence exemplifies and secures Lafayette’s position in digital media and technology-driven industries in the future.
With targeted recruitment, workforce development and utilization of state and federal incentives, LEDA continues to accelerate growth of the technology sector in Lafayette Parish.
Gregg Gothreaux is president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.