When IBM Senior Vice President Colleen Arnold stepped to the microphone at CenturyLink headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana, she did so with full knowledge of what a business partnership in the state can mean. The Fortune 500 companies already did significant business together in advancing IT solutions and internet Protocol-based applications in the telecommunications sector. In February 2015, they cemented their relationship further by announcing a new 400-job application development and innovation center in Monroe.
“We’re proud to be part of this innovative public-private partnership with the State of Louisiana and CenturyLink to further develop highly-valued skills and solutions expertise in security, analytics and mobility applications,” said Arnold, whose management of sales and distribution includes responsibility for IBM’s worldwide results. “Louisiana is the right place for high-tech job growth with an exceptional education system, business environment and workforce to serve the needs of our clients.”
With State of Louisiana support, IBM will anchor an 88-acre technology park and mixed-use development across the highway from CenturyLink’s corporate headquarters in Monroe, a Northeast Louisiana city. Just two years earlier in South Louisiana, IBM announced a major 800-job technology center in the capital city of Baton Rouge, where IBM will move from temporary offices into a new downtown tower on the Mississippi River in May.
That project sparked the revitalization of an urban block while accelerating Baton Rouge’s downtown revival. With the State of Louisiana funding a 10-year, $14 million higher education initiative for technology talent at nearby LSU, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, or BRAF, contributed its resources to build and manage the IBM office and adjacent residential and parking developments.
“We are beyond the tipping point for revival of our downtown, and now we are beginning the next chapter, returning to the river where our city was born more than 200 years ago,” said BRAF’s CEO John Davies.
The same might be said of Louisiana’s economic revival in recent years. A host of top-flight technology companies have flocked to the state, with IBM, GE Capital (New Orleans), EA (Baton Rouge), CSC (Bossier City), CGI (Lafayette) all creating 300 or more jobs in new technology centers across Louisiana. Software application and data consultants (Geocent in New Orleans, Stixis in Baton Rouge, Enquero and Perficient in Lafayette) and digital media game developers (Gameloft and High Voltage Software in New Orleans, Pixel Dash in Baton Rouge) have grown significant presences in Louisiana as well.
Mike De Boer is the chief information officer for GE Capital’s new 70,000-square-foot Center of IT Excellence in New Orleans, where the company is providing vital services nationwide to customers seeking security, storage, cloud computing, software development and software engineering services.
“What was most important was the state’s flexibility in putting together a program that matched our needs,” De Boer said. “Louisiana’s incentives are important, but the thing that really came to bear in our decision was the state’s flexibility in understanding and then designing what we needed for the center to succeed.”
A critical part of that design – a 10-year, software engineering training partnership with the University of New Orleans – has been replicated statewide, with similar partnerships linking LSU and IBM in Baton Rouge, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and IBM in Monroe, CSC and Louisiana Tech in Northwest Louisiana, and CGI and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in South Louisiana. Those technology-training partnerships are helping provide a pipeline of talent for the companies far into the future.
“We’re excited when we see announcements like CSC in North Louisiana and IBM in Baton Rouge,” GE Capital’s De Boer said. “Having more technology employers in the area means more skills and more talent. Everybody benefits. Growth helps everybody.”
Strategy + Performance = Results
Louisiana’s Digital Media and Software Development tax credit – yielding a 35 percent refund on in-state payroll and 25 percent on other expenditures – represents the strongest incentive of its kind in the nation. But it’s far from the only reason tech companies and other employers are investing in Louisiana.
New or existing Louisiana employers that expand in manufacturing, energy, agribusiness, automotive, aerospace and other key sectors can tap into the nation’s No. 1 state workforce program in LED FastStart®, a less than seven-year-old initiative that has ranked best in the U.S. for five consecutive years.
Part of a major overhaul of state government programs ushered in by Governor Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature beginning in 2008, FastStart dives deeply into the culture of its clients, understanding the corporate culture and unique training and qualification needs of employers, then customizing a unique blueprint to recruit, screen, train and orient job candidates so that a company’s new workplace is poised to perform at high efficiency the day it opens its doors.
The Economist magazine called LED FastStart “the most notable statewide workforce development initiative” in the U.S. while Business Facilities editor in chief Jack Rogers calls the program “the gold standard” in workforce development.
“FastStart enabled us to move quickly and bring in the right talent,” said Branden Oldenburg, the co-founder and creative partner for Moonbot Studios, a Shreveport, Louisiana, multimedia entertainment firm. “They have been hands-on where it was needed and hands-off where it was needed.”
Such strategic tools – from technology tax credits to turbocharged workforce programs to modernization incentives for mature industrial sites – have transformed Louisiana’s business climate. After never appearing in a Top 10 business climate ranking prior to 2008, Louisiana is a mainstay of such rankings today: In 2014, Louisiana climbed to No. 1 in the Business Facilities Top 10 and reached its highest position ever in Site Selection’s business climate rankings at No. 2.
As American Specialty Alloys Inc. announced plans in February 2015 for a new 1,450-employee, $2.4 billion aluminum mill complex in Central Louisiana, the company’s founder touched on why Louisiana’s success has spelled more than 91,000 new jobs and $62 billion in new capital investment associated just with new projects attracted since 2008.
“Our needs were specific, based on our project budget, requirements and constraints,” said ASA Chairman and CEO Roger Boggs. “We spent considerable time and resources looking at potential candidates across the Southern states – a strategic area for our operations, suppliers and customers. In Louisiana, we found a high level of coordination and cooperation among state agencies and with local site-service providers (and) we found the site – actually the home – for ASA’s first ultra-clean, advanced, automated, fully integrated flex mill and mega-site campus.”
State and local partnerships explain in large part why Fortune 500 CenturyLink resisted the lure of other U.S. metros after major mergers in 2009 and 2011. Twice, the company decided to maintain its corporate headquarters in Monroe and expand in Louisiana, where it will have 2,600 employees by next year, including 800 employees in a new 300,000-square-foot CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence dedicated in March 2015.
“Our growth opportunities across the nation and here in Louisiana represent an exciting future for our company and our employees,” CenturyLink CEO Glen Post said as the company announced a headquarters expansion. “The state has stepped up to make Louisiana more business friendly, and we appreciate their efforts and the incentives being put forth today and in the years to come. Our people are the engine that drives our success, and we will continue to add jobs and training to enhance the quality of our workforce.”