As announced by The Advocate last month, IBM is going to build a software center in downtown Baton Rouge. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the largest, wealthiest corporations on the planet is going to locate in little old Baton Rouge. Why would a very competitive industry giant install a major center in this out-of-the-way location, one of the sleepiest places in the world for computationally-fast, very expensive computers and leading-edge software applications?
Perhaps an explanation for this begins with the actual location — downtown Baton Rouge. We’ve seen repeated attempts of several downtown agencies to shore up their “holdings” over the past several years, the most expensive of which have been taxpayer-funded (the Alive fiasco which finally met its demise after the Metro Council said No! for the third and final time, and the destruction and remake of the downtown branch library, which only puts a new face on what will remain a branch with no parking). The majority of the businesses that bud out to great fanfare downtown, then die on the vine, are the many restaurants and bars that come and go.
It’s very apparent that there’s not much more that can be done with the downtown scene other than throw more money at it in the hope that it will somehow turn into New York City or Los Angeles (aka “America’s Next Great City”).
In my decades of computer work, much of which has been with IBM computers, I’ve been impressed with its products, but moreso with its ability to maintain viability with customers. There is plenty of competition for the software/hardware buck out there, but IBM seems to have a particular penchant for pleasing the customer while banking those big bucks. (Notice, if you would, the ear-to-ear smiles on IBM salespersons at the announcing release — they are almost knocking Boo Thomas of CPEX over with their enthusiastic sales charm.)
Back to the original question. Why would IBM locate such a “supercenter” in downtown Baton Rouge? The answer is apparent — the $74 million that the city-parish and state are offering Big Blue in tax credits to build a “dormitory” downtown is easily appealing to IBM’s financial wizards, and they are doubtlessly ecstatic over the favorable terms in this lopsided agreement.
To think this will hugely increase the number of local information technology college students and put Baton Rouge on the computational map is a dream no computer could come up with. Once again the state of Louisiana and the city-parish of East Baton Rouge will be misusing our tax money (and tax credits) to throw at a self-serving goal with a negative return on investment.