By: G.B. Cazes

In just six years, North Louisiana has created a fast-growing cyber cluster in a region historically dominated by manufacturing, oil and gas, and agricultural sectors. The catalyst for this rapid progress stems from the combined vision of local and state leaders to diversify the region’s economic base and develop a knowledge-based workforce for the expanding cyber sector.

In 2007, the local governments of Bossier Parish and the City of Bossier invested $50 million, matched by another $50 million from the state of Louisiana, to establish a 3,000-acre National Cyber Research Park (NCRP) in Bossier City, LA. The NCRP is modeled after the Cummings Research Park in Alabama and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The anchor of the research park is the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), which serves as a gravitational force for cyber and technology companies.

The CIC headquarters, a 135,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, welcomed its first occupants in April 2010. Since then, the list of tenant companies has grown to include defense contractors Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman, and Computer Science Corporation, a commercial data center known as Venyu, and information technology companies including Riverside Research Institute, WaLa! and Ingalls Information Security LLC.

Other facilities within the North Louisiana Cyber Corridor, which runs along I-20 from Shreveport to Monroe, have gained cyber sector tenants as well. For instance, digital media companies have set up shop at CoHabitat, a co-working space which appeals to young technology entrepreneurs. Additionally, Oscar award winning Moonbot Studios, a digital media company founded by animator William Joyce, is located in BioSpace 1 at the InterTech Science Park in Shreveport, LA.

Technology start-ups focused on commercializing the nanotechnology and cyber security R&D coming out of Louisiana Tech University have migrated to the university’s new Enterprise Campus in Ruston, LA.

Workforce development is key

The cornerstone of the region’s strategy to grow the cyber sector is workforce development. North Louisiana boasts two institutes of higher education that have been designated as Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency: Louisiana Tech University and Bossier Parish Community College. In addition, Louisiana Tech University established the nation’s first undergraduate degree in cyber engineering in 2012. Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) has also launched new technology degrees geared toward cultivating a knowledge-based workforce in cyber.

In order to further address the need for a skilled workforce, the CIC has developed a robust network of education partners consisting of K-12 school districts, community colleges, universities and education non-profits in the region. These partnerships have produced new, innovative academic outreach and workforce development programs that provide opportunities for students to gain the knowledge and skills they need to be part of the technology workforce.

Forging partnerships to engage students

The CIC and Louisiana Tech University have collaborated on the Cyber Discovery Model, a catalytic program that provides high school teachers with professional development and mentoring from university faculty, while their students are engaged in hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning. The success of the Cyber Discovery Model attracted the attention of DHS. As a result, the CIC has been awarded grants from DHS to expand its cyber education programs and roll-out the Cyber Discovery Model across the nation.  Over the next 10 years, the CIC expects to reach more than 1.7 million students and 12,000 teachers through 700 high schools and 65 university partnerships.

Strong partnerships are the foundation of North Louisiana’s success as a cyber cluster. The CIC not only fosters collaboration among government, industry and academia, but also cultivates strong partnerships with state and local agencies, such as Louisiana Economic Development, North Louisiana Economic Partnership, Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation, and the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.

Equally as important, the North Louisiana community has also come together to embrace and support this new industry and organizations such as the CIC which drive the growth of this cyber sector.

GB Cazes is vice president of the Cyber Innovation Center and director of the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center.