Our Views: A new field, if supported

Most of the biggest numbers on the economic development scoreboard in 2012 were posted by industrial and petrochemical projects in the greater Baton Rouge area and included big new facilities in the petrochemical complex in the Lake Charles area.

But for the long-sought goal of diversification from today’s petrochemical economic base, some of the biggest news has been in digital media, from movies and film to video game production.

That is an area, said Adam Knapp of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, that “has the potential to continue to diversify our economy.”

Knapp told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that companies are looking for talent, and the “pipeline” of graduates in computer and graphics classes from universities and community colleges is a vital component of building on success.

“The number of (digital media) prospects has accelerated,” Knapp said. “We expect that trend to continue.”

This is yet another example of the impact of Louisiana’s efforts to broaden its economic base, and there is promising growth in digital media companies in New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport.

But if companies move in, do they hire locals, or bring in new people? From an economic standpoint, a new arrival is about as good as a local programmer or other employee. Each qualifies for the state tax credits offered to those companies, and lives and works here.

Obviously, though, leaders want local graduates to be able to work.

Knapp acknowledged that budget cuts at local universities hamper the full development of digital media companies.

LSU needs to increase its output of computer science majors, Knapp said, praising the efforts under way to create a master’s degree program in digital media. But that’s difficult in a tough budget environment for universities, he noted.

“If they can see that there is a pipeline of programmers, graphics professionals and artists, then they (companies) can see the opportunities to launch more, especially more digital game companies,” Knapp said.

Diversifying Louisiana’s economic base depends on strong universities. Hobbling them with budget cuts isn’t the way to build a better future for this state.