March 28, 2012 06:00 AM

Launched by the Lafayette chamber, INNOV8 is designed to expand our creative economy.

Launched by the Lafayette chamber, INNOV8 is designed to expand our creative economy.

I admit it. I'm a geek for public policy discussion and debates. The few TV channels I actually watch carry news and information (plus local programming and Comedy Central to get my nightly Stewart-Colbert News Hour fix). I even admit to being a C-Span regular (heart Book TV on the weekends!).

Little wonder that The Aspen Idea Festival is on my bucket list. Each summer I look forward to the exclusive live reports on CNBC, rebroadcast seminars on C-Span, and the insightful on-site interviews and analysis by Fareed Zakaria. Everyone's a mile-and-a-half high in the gorgeous Colorado Rockies, so the suits downgrade to sports coats, jeans or Patagonia, and the relaxed atmosphere facilitates dialogue impossible elsewhere. Big things happen there. The Aspen Institute launched this event in 2005, and it's a great model for forward-thinking institutions and communities everywhere, including ours.

Enter INNOV8 Lafayette, a locally scaled idea festival to be launched this spring by The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. This eight-day series of events is designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit that defines our business community and focus on accessible resources to help bring creative ideas to market. "This is about bringing talent together with resources and growing our region on a platform of strategic thinking and the exploration of opportunities," says Jerry Greig, 2012 chamber chairman. George Graham, CEO of the marketing firm Graham Group, and Gerd Weustemann, Acadiana Center for the Arts executive director, are the capable co-chairs of this first-time fete for Lafayette.

INNOV8 will feature a comprehensive program of resource-oriented activities, including interactive workshops, start-up seminars, networking socials, and venture-funding opportunities. An interesting cross section of governmental, corporate and individual sources are supporting the launch, including presenting partners Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, UL Lafayette, Lafayette Utilities System and LUS Fiber, AcA and Cox Communications. In addition, hundreds of volunteer hours and in-kind company donations have helped lay the foundation for the debut.

Events are slated at a variety of venues around Lafayette, including LITE, Abdalla Hall and the National Wetlands Research Center, as well as the Cajundome, AcA and a variety of other downtown locations such as Blue Moon Saloon. The event timing, April 22-29, is structured to lead up to and overlap Festival International. ABiz and The Independent Media Group will carry the INNOV8 schedule on the comprehensive community calendar we produce online at

INNOV8 comes at a critical time for Lafayette as we seek to maintain our economic competitive edge. Though we've been long envied as Louisiana's Cool Town, there are forces that threaten our city's venerable vibe (for more on that, read The Independent's March 28 "Cool Town" cover story), and other cities across the state are quickly getting game. Bill Joyce put Shreveport's Moonbot Studios on the grid when he brought his new pal Oscar home for Best Animated Short Feature Film last month. Baton Rouge is emerging as a leader in digital entertainment, and New Orleans continues to resurrect and re-create itself admirably. Lake Charles boasts a new generation of leaders who have a great vision for their city. Surely, we want the entire state to succeed, but to keep pace, we need to INNOV8.

Hope to see you at a seminar soon.

Read the Flipping Paper!