State hopes to lure former residents

The state’s top higher education panel, the Board of Regents, is hoping to entice thousands of Louisiana college graduates who left the state to return home and fill what is expected to be a wave of new high-technology jobs.

The initiative, called Operation Recall, will target more than 40,000 people, many of whom have degrees in computer science and engineering.

The effort is part of an overall push by the regents and a number of other state agencies who are predicting the state’s job market to grow significantly faster than the national job market over the next year and several years into the future.

The consensus is that the cheap price of natural gas will spark continued plant construction and expansion in the manufacturing industry, likely resulting in jobs ranging from $12-an-hour construction positions to six-figure engineering careers over the next several years.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission estimates the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro areas will grow by 20,000 and 17,000 jobs in the next three years.

Operation Recall will be a partnership with information-gathering USADATA company to identify graduates who could be persuaded to return to Louisiana. The company will use public information including driver’s license files, telephone directories and tax records to find graduates who have married, changed their names and who have moved several times since they graduated.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell, said the project will entail tracking graduates and analyzing their spending habits, what they like to do for recreation and identifying whether they live in urban or rural communities.

He said that type of data will give the state an idea where each graduate is in their career.

“Our most recent graduates grew up in a wired world, a lot of them don’t have children, those are the ones who are probably more migratable,” Purcell said. “Some of the older graduates may have established roots where they are.”

State Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said he is very interested in the data that will be compiled for the project in hopes of using it later to fill job openings that spring up in the different corners of the state.

“There are now and increasingly will be opportunities for Louisiana natives with these degrees who are currently living and working in other states to move back to Louisiana for professional jobs here,” Moret said in an email.

Purcell said the data collection will give state workforce agencies opportunities to target job fairs in cities that have significant numbers of Louisiana natives.

Purcell said the major Texas cities — Houston, Dallas and Austin — could be some of the most fertile ground to find former Louisiana students interested in returning to the state.

He said he doesn’t think it will a hard sell for many of the people identified.

“The greatest incentive to me is just coming home,” Purcell said. “Louisianans love Louisiana. They love culture; they love the state.”