Official: LSU key to future tech jobs

Louisiana’s long-term financial outlook could hinge, in part, on LSU’s ability to produce the next generation of tech-savvy graduates, state Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret said Tuesday.

Moret said LSU will play a pivotal role as the state transitions from its roots in manufacturing to a new, knowledge-based economy.

Speaking to LSU’s Transition Advisory Team, Moret laid out a vision where the state could add more than 800,000 jobs, raise billions in new tax revenue and entice nearly a million people to come live and work in Louisiana.

The 10-member advisory team is in charge of coming up with recommendations for LSU’s current structural reorganization called LSU2015. The idea is to consolidate LSU’s separate and autonomous institutions under the main campus in Baton Rouge.

The group also heard from Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Isaacson, who has written several biographies, most recently about Apple Inc. founder Steven Jobs, advised LSU to be bold in its reorganization and to fully embrace the new online education platforms gaining traction around the country.

Moret’s presentation included a bleak outlook from the Moody’s Corporation predicting that Louisiana will underperform in job creation over the next 20 years, creating only 15,000 jobs per year.

But Moret said that prediction is based on Louisiana’s “bedrock industries” in agriculture and manufacturing. He argued that the state could plausibly create 40,000 jobs per year as newer industries including digital media, clean technology and advanced manufacturing come into their own.

“The central thing that keeps me up at night is how to grow not at 15,000 net new jobs per year, but how to grow at 40,000 net new jobs per year,” Moret said.

Those industries along with the life sciences, water management and the next generation of oil and gas production could lead to between 225,000 and 400,000 new jobs over the next two decades, he said.

Louisiana, however, should aspire to double that figure and create roughly 815,000 new jobs, which in turn would result in between $18 billion and $24 billion in new tax revenues, Moret said.

He pointed to LSU’s relationship with video game giant Electronic Arts and the more recent partnership with IBM as the type of collaborations that can spark far-reaching economic growth.

In recent years, LSU has added an academic minor in digital media that involves fields like video game and animation design as the university attempts to grow its Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies and Research Initiative in collaboration with EA. The state has also agreed to provide $14 million in funding over the next 10 years to expand higher education programs and increase the number of computer science graduates to ensure a steady pool of workers for IBM.

Of that funding, at least 65 percent will go to LSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in order to expand the computer science division.

“The ultimate frontier for economic development in Louisiana will be realized through the development of higher education,” Moret said.

On the purely academic side, Isaacson, who participated in the meeting via telephone, encouraged LSU to explore the world of massive open online courses, called MOOCs, and other platforms that are gaining in popularity.

One example, edX, created by the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, offers university-level courses in a wide range of subjects to a worldwide audience free of charge.

Isaacson counseled that a blended approach where students watch lectures online on their own time, but also participate in on-campus discussions could be a model that works for LSU.

He said students want the convenience offered by online courses but don’t want to miss out on the face-to-face interactions that make the college experience appealing.

On LSU’s reorganization, Isaacson told the transition team to shoot for a streamlined, coordinated management structure.

“Eliminate what you need to, to make one coherent system,” he said.