Our Views: Broadening a tech base

In Louisiana, the Holy Grail of state policy is the diversification of the state’s economy.

Our state has long been wedded to oil and gas, for good and for ill. As in most marriages, the good and bad is all mixed in it. So state leaders of all political stripes have sought to extend the family into manufacturing.

Some of those major employers, from Shreveport’s telephone plant to Avondale’s shipyard, have fallen victim to a wave of cutbacks in the manufacturing sector over the past several decades.

The expansion of petrochemical manufacturing in Louisiana continues to dominate much of the news of new construction and jobs.

Yet there have been some notable instances of new technology companies coming to the state in recent years, along with digital media and moviemaking.

A state Innovation Council appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal met recently under a large screen adorned with instantly recognizable logos of nationally and internationally known companies with new technology operations in Louisiana.

Stephen Moret, head of the state Department of Economic Development, noted that the site of a new building to house IBM’s office is just down the street from where the council met near the State Capitol. The decisions of such prominent companies as IBM and GE Capital to locate in Louisiana has been followed with more inquiries from software companies and research enterprises, Moret said.

“We can build on this,” Moret said.

The importance of links between business and universities is underlined by the technology companies. Whether the University of New Orleans for GE Capital, LSU and University of Louisiana at Lafayette for IBM, or Louisiana Tech University for CenturyLink in Monroe, Moret said the involvement of universities as sources of talent has been key to the deals — and these kinds of partnerships will continue to be cultivated.

In terms of total investment, the petrochemical sector continues to be the big investor in Louisiana’s economic base. But more is better, in terms of broadening the state’s base of jobs and futures for future graduates of its universities.