Q&A session gives an update on our burgeoning tech industry
As the oil and gas industry took a huge hit last year and the economy in Louisiana stutters, slowing tax collections and revenue income, creating massive budget holes, the need for a new industry is never more apparent than right now. For more than eight years, the Cyber Innovation Center has been steadily working to make that a reality in Louisiana, and more specifically, make Bossier Parish renowned as an innovator when it comes to a knowledge-based, technology workforce.
BIZ. Magazine Publisher Sean Green recently spoke with Vice President of the CIC G.B. Cazes to get a report on the health of the CIC & National Cyber Research Park and the efforts to build a new workforce from the ground up.
Q: With stark budget challenges facing our state, is there any trickle down expected to affect the CIC and the Park?
A: If you look at the national landscape, since the CIC was established we have been operating in one of the worst economic cycles the country has ever seen. During this time we have not only survived but succeeded. As it relates to the state, the current budget challenges will most likely have an indirect impact on the CIC. For example, the biggest impact could be on economic development – the state’s ability to aggressively recruit and attract new businesses in a highly competitive sector and any changes to the business climate.
Q: At the same time, because we have a very limited base from which we can collect funds, having a diverse economy is more important than ever. What is going to be the CIC’s focus moving forward?
A: The goal of the CIC from the very beginning was to diversify the region’s economic base with the addition of a knowledge-based workforce. Our goal remains the same and we are committed to attracting new jobs and new opportunities the community. The addition of 800 new IT jobs by CSRA (formerly CSC), is just one example of success. We created a previously non-existent technology sector in our region as well as demonstrated the ability to take advantage of the efforts we began several years ago by organically creating a workforce supply unlike any other place in the country. We plan to continue to grow the cyber workforce so that we have competitive advantage over other communities and are able to continue to attract new companies and programs to the area.
Q: The National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC) cyber education program is now 100% nation-wide. How pleased are you with its growth and impact? We are also supporting the growth at Barksdale Air Force Base through Air Force Global Strike Command. Two of the biggest issues facing our nation are cyber and nuclear, both of which we have core competencies and both of which are part of our strategic growth plan.
A: The CIC is extremely pleased with the growth of NICERC. NICERC programs are now being implemented in 48 different states and 2 US territories. The impact of these programs has been tremendous. In our region, we have seen increased enrollments in STEM and Cyber degrees programs at BPCC and Louisiana Tech University as well as increased female and minority participation rates. The real value in NICERC for our community is that we’re organically and sustainably growing our own STEM/cyber workforce. A workforce that is not readily available in any other community, which means we’re building our own competitive advantage.
Nationally, we continue to see great interest in our programs…at the teacher, school, district and state department of education levels. I’m so proud of the fact that we can travel around the country and tell such a positive story about a Louisiana based education program and showcase our local Bossier Parish Schools as the test-bed for innovation.
Q: With CSRA due to open their doors soon and expand to include a business integration center, how pleased are you with the research park’s anchor tenant and do you think it sets a precedent for what we can expect to see there?
A: We’re very excited that they will soon be moving into their new Integrated Technology Center which will allow them to continue to grow their presence in our community.
In addition to the 800 job announcement CSRA made two years ago, they are now opening a 300-plus person business integration center in Bossier City. While this business center may be located outside the research park, we’re very excited to have those additional jobs in our community. We believe this is only the beginning and that we can continue to expand the CSRA footprint in Bossier thus providing even more opportunities for our children and our community.
Q: Finally, we all know it’s been a slow game of turning the tide to bring a new, next-generation industry here. What stats would you like to tout that show your efforts are paying off?
A: I think the attraction of a top Fortune 500 company like CSRA and 1,100 jobs is a great win for the community. We beat out 133 other communities for this opportunity and speaks to the type of leadership, vision, and commitment we have in Bossier.
In addition to CSRA, we have multiple regional field offices located at the CIC to include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman; all major defense contractors and Top Fortune 500 companies. As Air Force Global Strike Command continues to grow its missions, these companies will have opportunities to expand their presence in our park.
We’re also seeing the growth of small IT businesses in our community and the location of new entrepreneurs here as well.