If you missed the State of the Economy Luncheon on June 16, you may not know that I gave a frank update on the current state of the economy and what we can expect in the next couple of years. While LEDA always strives to be the community cheerleader, it would have been a disservice to gloss over the impact that low oil prices have had on the community while the effects can clearly be seen and felt by residents and businesses.
Since last year, we’ve continued to lose jobs in the community, families have lost their livelihood, and we’ve experienced economic loss as a community. But we are fighting back.
Our resiliency as a community is our greatest asset. We’ve learned from our past and made the community stronger and better than before. We’ve learned the success of Lafayette relies on more than one industry. Diversification has it benefits, and it has softened the blow during this downturn. Retail sales, home prices, job losses and our overall economic dependence on the energy sector are all in a better position now than in the 1980s.
When it comes to diversification, here’s the question many of you are thinking: Will technology save us?
The idea that Lafayette could be a technology hub has long historical roots in the region. UL Lafayette was among early national leaders in the field of computer science, offering the nation’s first master’s of science program and the first doctoral program in the state in the 1960s. Silicon Bayou was launched in the 1980s as an initiative to recruit technology companies to Lafayette. In the late 1990s, Zydetech was formed to advocate for growing the local economy through technology. And the LUS fiber-to-the-premise initiative took hold in the early 2000s.
For more than 50 years, Lafayette has been building a reputation as a tech-savvy community; however, it was not until recently that the number of people employed in “high technology” jobs swelled, in part due to action by local and state leadership and the approval of the Louisiana Digital Interactive Media and Software Act.
This program was critical in recruiting CGI, Perficient and Enquero to Lafayette. Officials from each company stated the program was one of the key factors in bringing their respective companies to Lafayette. The announcement of these companies’ decision to locate in Louisiana has created a monumental boost to the entire technology sector in Lafayette Parish and Acadiana.
In 2010, the Blue Ocean Study identified digital media/ software development as a target market for the state over the next 20 years. With Lafayette’s historic focus on technology, we are poised to create a stronger, more diverse technology-driven economy as outlined in the report. The Louisiana Digital Interactive Media and Software program delivers the companies and jobs needed in Acadiana to preserve our community’s prosperity and success in the future.
True to our heritage, technology has become Lafayette’s single most important diversification factor in the 21st century, building on the diversification created by the medical industry over the previous 30 years. The growth of the technology sector in Lafayette is a hallmark of the community’s ability to come together and succeed.
At my presentation last month, I reissued a challenge from two years ago. We have to do better for our community. Our volunteerism rate has declined from 18.4 percent in 2014 to 16.7 percent in 2015. This flies in the face of the success of community initiatives like Project Front Yard and efforts to nurture and grow the beauty of our community, but it demonstrates that we still have much to do.
I’ve shared with you before Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s quote that everything that rises must converge. Now is the time to rise up as a community. In the words of Robert Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” When I came to Lafayette 30 years ago this August, I hoped the community was one I would live in for the rest of my life; and I came here in 1986, during our toughest time. I want to reiterate that there is no place else I’d rather be than right here, right now.
We are at a crossroads. But there is no doubt — not a shadow of a doubt— that we will emerge stronger, wiser and more resilient. There is no doubt — not a shadow of a doubt— that our economy has diversified and will continue to diversify. And there is no doubt — not a shadow of a doubt— that our people will remain the happiest in the nation.
Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.