Our Views: High-tech jobs hurt by cutbacks

When a national company, GE Capital, announced it would bring 300 high-tech jobs to New Orleans by the end of 2015, the news was greeted with appropriate celebration by both state and city officials.

Louisiana is helping to promote such jobs with a digital media tax credit, which subsidizes computer-related jobs across the state. The proliferation of these jobs is marked in New Orleans, where national attention has been gained for the city and the state because of young people seeking their fortunes there after the devastation of the 2005 storms.

Unfortunately, while Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature are eager to cut the ribbons for high-tech companies, they are simultaneously cutting the budgets of universities, which would provide the local graduates for these companies in the future.

This mismatch is, according to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, “the single biggest mistake in economic development in Louisiana.”

The mayor decried the cuts at both LSU medical facilities but also at the New Orleans universities in his budget message to the City Council and followed up with comments in a meeting with editors and reporters of The Advocate.

“We’re not shortchanging it,” he said bitterly of the impact on the city’s knowledge-industry potential. “We are destroying it.”

As lieutenant governor, Landrieu criticized Jindal and lawmakers for reduction of the income tax revenues in the landmark Stelly tax reform plan. State revenues foundered with the dual impact of tax cuts and the recession, and universities have endured round after round of budget cuts.

In his new job, Landrieu said the resulting cutbacks in both medical care and local universities would eat the “seed corn” of future economic progress.

In wooing GE Capital, among others, one of the company’s major concerns was the availability of a pipeline of educated employees, Landrieu said.

In February, among other inducements for the GE tech center, the state agreed to provide $500,000 annually for 10 years to fund software development programs in colleges. That does not nearly replace the millions that have been cut, and continue to be cut, from state colleges in the past four years.

This is shuffling the deck chairs on the voyage of higher-ed’s Titanic.

The mayor has a better grasp of what university cutbacks mean to economic development than do the supposed experts at the state level.

Landrieu said universities have had to cut bone in terms of programs and professors, even as they raise tuition to offset cuts in direct state support. “This (impact) goes way beyond the savings you could make with restructuring” of colleges, Landrieu said.

And, the mayor added, the timing of the cuts could hardly have been worse: If Louisiana colleges had the money, they could have attracted top talent from states hit harder by the national recession than Louisiana. “Instead of being in a buyer’s market for intellectual capital, we are going to be behind other cities as the economy recovers,” Landrieu said of the cutbacks.

The mayor’s comments are well-founded, and other leaders across the state should speak up about the impact of cuts to higher education.

Louisiana benefits from tax credits and business subsidies only so long as our state invests in the education that allows our sons and daughters to take advantage of those opportunities.