Business News

MEET THE NEW HOME TEAM Lafayette began seeding a high-tech playing field more than a century ago, and it’s now paying off with a growing roster of major-league companies.

by Douglas Menefee

LEDA's Gregg Gothreaux often uses the word “wildcatter” to describe Acadiana’s entrepreneurial spirit. No one can deny Lafayette’s pursuit of establishing a world-class technology-enabled community has seen various versions of short- and long-term successes, along with what some might consider failures.

Fail fast and fail often is accepted as a path to success. We learn from the experience and improve on the next iteration.

Two critical decisions in Lafayette’s history essentially planted the initial seeds for many generations of wildcatters to nurture.

The first was planted in 1897 when a majority of Lafayette’s population petitioned elected leadership to create the Lafayette Utilities System; 65 years later, UL Lafayette planted the second seed by offering the first computer science master’s degree program in the country.

The fruit of these initial seeds was used to spawn initiatives that have directly and indirectly reinforced the foundation of our digital economy.

Early dot com and infrastructure companies like Planet Symphony, Golfballs.

com, Global Data Systems and Firefly Digital often combined their voice with other community leaders to create a vision. Everyone knew the path to success included attracting leading technology companies to the area.

While we had a growing number of homegrown entities, we lacked the presence of large technology companies with a global customer base. This often resulted in UL graduates leaving the area for employment opportunities. Referred to as “brain drain,” generations of highly educated young professionals were lost to areas offering immediate career opportunities.

The vision has never been to become Austin or Palo Alto; it has always been to be the best Lafayette we can be.

For the past two decades, LEDA, OneAcadiana, UL and various elected officials have embraced community thought leaders who often speak a unique and sometimes bizarre language. This resulted in the creation and/or support of technologyfocused initiatives such as Silicon Bayou, Zydetech, Netdays, Internet Workshops, TechSouth, LITE, LUS Fiber-to-the- Premise, FiberCorp and CajunCode Fest.

Each of these actions was a critical piece of a puzzle still being put together. And while the energy sector remains in a slump, the tech sector of Lafayette has never been stronger.

In 2014 companies began to discover what those living in Lafayette already knew. Lafayette is a fantastic place to live and develop a business.

Exposure to Louisiana’s Digital Media Tax incentive program administered by Louisiana Economic Development and the national media highlighting LUS Fiber’s robust infrastructure prompted companies to give us a look.

In less than a year’s time, CGI, Perficient and Enquero all announced expansion plans that combined are creating more than 1,000 jobs. In the Q&A below, we asked the top local execs from these software development firms — CGI’s Will LaBar, Perficient’s Mary Beth Ostasz and Enquero’s Nishant Puri — about the locals they are hiring and others they are attracting others from all over the globe, why they chose to expand in Lafayette and much more.

Tech companies are notorious for having employees leave to develop new businesses. Many companies even have competitive funding opportunities or sabbatical programs available to assist with the development of innovative startups.

Parallel to attracting companies from outside to Lafayette, there has been no shortage of putting in place resources to help start, grow and accelerate the expansion of Lafayette-based businesses: Opportunity Machine, Innov8 Acadiana, Louisiana Small Business Development Center, Procurement and Technical Assistance Center, Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana and AcceleRagin’.

By having all of these organizations under the same roof in the University Research Park, entrepreneurs now have a one-stop shop for resources.

Despite the recessed economy, it is amazing to see our tech-savvy ecosystem continue to mature while establishing new stakeholders and contributors to the Lafayette economy.

Douglas Menefee has been developing and advocating innovative technology solutions since 1994. He was an early adopter of cloud computing technology and has provided consulting services to Amazon Web Services, Dropbox and Oracle.

Nishant Puri
Photo by Robin May

Having been in the Lafayette market for over a year now, what are you seeing as your greatest challenge when it comes to recruiting talent?

Will LaBar, CGI: I am happy to say that we have had a great deal of success launching our business here in Lafayette. CGI announced the creation of our newest onshore delivery center in April 2014, and we immediately hit the ground running. At our current pace, we are approximately one year ahead of schedule to meet our hiring targets in Lafayette, with over 300 CGI members now working in our Lafayette center.

We’ve been able to grow at this rate through the partnerships we have formed with UL, SLCC, LEDA, LED and One Acadiana. Our members represent a diverse group of college and experienced hires both from in state and out of state and come from more than 40 different college degree

fields and backgrounds. We couldn’t be more pleased with the workforce development success we have had to date. I think our biggest challenge is the pace at which we have needed to hire to meet our client demand.

Mary Beth Ostasz, Perficient: We experience the same challenges we do in all our locations: finding people that not only fit the competency skills that we are looking for, but also want a consulting career, fit into our culture and are flexible in reference to learning new technologies and playing a multitude of roles.

Nishant Puri, Enquero: The greatest challenge we face is when we are looking for seasoned professionals with three or more years of experience. We do not find many candidates in and around Lafayette. It is also difficult to bring in the talent from outside due to many factors.

How many people do you employ in your Lafayette office?

LaBar: We currently have more than 300 members working out of our Lafayette delivery center.

Ostasz: We currently have about 50 people working out of our Lafayette office.

Will LaBar
Photo by Robin May

Puri: We are now 40, of which 15 are vendor partner employees and three are consultants.

How many do you anticipate employing in the next five to 10 years?

LaBar: When we announced the creation of our Lafayette delivery center, we made a commitment to create 400 new jobs in the community in our first four years.

Ostasz: Our plans remain on course to grow the office to over 200 over the next five years adjusting as needed to our business needs.

Puri: We plan to grow up to 200 in next five to 10 years.

How many employees have you hired who have relocated to Lafayette?

LaBar: More than 50 percent of the members in our delivery center have relocated to Lafayette. This includes both college hires from other Louisiana cities, college hires from out of state and of course, experienced hires that have relocated to Lafayette from both in and out of state locations.

Ostasz: About 35 percent of our recruits have relocated to Lafayette — some from other parts of Louisiana, but many from other parts of the country.

Puri: 18 out of 37 have relocated.

Do you find it difficult to recruit talent to Lafayette? If so, what are the reasons individuals are resistant or opt not to relocate to Lafayette?

LaBar: In general, as soon as we share everything that Lafayette has to offer to a candidate — the culture, entertainment, amazing food and overall quality of life, we haven’t encountered many concerns around relocation. Our partnerships with UL, LEDA, LED and One Acadiana have really helped us explain the overall Acadiana community to our candidates. Each has stepped in to help in different ways to share information.

Mary Beth Ostasz
Photo by Robin May

Ostasz: Software development is tight across all locations in the U.S. and worldwide for that matter. People have many options and everyone is looking for something different. It’s understanding what is important to each recruit and seeing how we as an organization and Lafayette as a city fit into those needs and desires and making sure we are highlighting those items effectively.

There are many assets we like to highlight about Lafayette such as quality of life, standard of living, growing technology market and strong community culture. These location attributes coupled with our internal culture, career growth potential and working with colleagues that are smart, passionate and friendly have helped in our recruiting efforts outside the immediate location.

Puri: Yes, we find it difficult to recruit talent to Lafayette. The IT industry is still taking shape in this town. Anyone moving in looks from a perspective of market outlook and options. Also, it’s evident that IT industry is heavily influenced by folks from the Indian subcontinent. These come from a tightly knit society and look for their community and culture.

Why Lafayette? What made the difference?

LaBar: Lafayette stands out because of the unique spirit of partnership we found between the local government, economic development, business community and higher education organizations. When you combine this spirit of partnership with the LUS Fiber infrastructure, Digital Media incentive programs at the state level and a unique and vibrant culture, Lafayette was the obvious choice for CGI as we explored other options across the state and country.

Puri: UL and its relevant programs; LED, LEDA and state-of-the-art infrastructure; close proximity to Houston and New Orleans; Central Time Zone; and lower cost of living.

Do you feel that Lafayette is delivering the value that you expected?

LaBar: Yes, without a doubt. We couldn’t be more pleased with the success we have had in Lafayette. Our workforce is top-notch and the spirit of community in Lafayette is infectious. Importantly, CGI is deeply committed to giving back to the community. Corporate Social Responsibility is a big part of CGI’s DNA, and the culture of Lafayette has been a force multiplier for this aspect of our values. Our members love to participate in community activities, and this spirit catches on like wildfire. Everyone benefits from being a part of CGI in Lafayette.

Puri: Yes

We’ve heard that CGI, Perficient, and Enquero employees frequent services like Uber and Lyft. What percentage of your employees have opted not to own a car or drive in Lafayette?

LaBar: I would estimate about 15 percent of our members do not own a car and are utilizing ride sharing, public transportation or other forms of transportation.

Ostasz: This is not a metric that we track as it is not core to our business. Our employees vary on their transportation needs based on their personal situations and values. It is nice that they have options to leverage. I personally leverage Uber in Lafayette more than I have in any other city as I find it easy, convenient, cost effective in many situations, and the drivers are always very friendly.

Puri: None. Most of them now have their own vehicle. Uber and Lyft were very helpful during the initial days.

What does Lafayette need to do to better help new residents with their transportation and quality of life needs?

LaBar: Given the diverse transportation needs of our members, we support the need for alternative forms of transportation to make Lafayette more accessible for all. Options might include increasing the number of bike lanes and sidewalks, adding additional rideshare businesses, decreasing congestion and increasing the frequency of bus transit.

One additional piece of interesting feedback we have received is that sometimes it can be hard for an outsider who relocates to Lafayette to discover and learn all that the community has to offer. Our local partners are helping us here; however, I think the community can continue to work together on new and creative ways to bring the culture of Lafayette to life for new residents.

Ostasz: This is a broad question and probably best answered by the residents of Lafayette directly. Within our office, some of the items I have heard people say are important to them are good quality, reasonably priced eating establishments close by, commuting options, convenient shopping (food and retail) and established cultures within the city to help people from different ethnic backgrounds feel comfortable (including restaurants and shopping).

Are you working closely with Louisiana universities and community colleges on curricula recommendations to better prepare graduates with the skills necessary to be hired by your company?

LaBar: Yes, absolutely, and we are doing so in innovative and creative ways. One example that we are very excited about is our capstone and internship programs that we have launched with UL. For capstone projects, we ask CGI client teams across the U.S. to identify real business challenges that our clients are experiencing. We then present these to the seniors in the School of Informatics to help us develop solutions to meet these needs as a part of their semester course work. Through the course of these projects, we are actively engaging Informatics students in our client work, helping them understand our approach to software development, the importance of truly understanding our clients’ business problems, and introducing them to new technologies such as Geospatial, mobile and data visualization. We have a similar program for internships that runs over the summer as well.

Ostasz: Absolutely. We see the relationship between universities and our business as being a twoway street. In all communities, especially where we recruit recent graduates, it is in the best mutual interests of both us and the universities to have an ongoing dialogue about what we see as the current and evolving needs of the industry and specifically the types of skills we think future graduates will need to possess to give them the best chance of finding a rewarding career path after graduation.

Puri: Yes, we are. We work very closely with the Department of Computer Science and Informatics to recommend and influence the programs. Recently we also joined the SLCC technology board as an industry partner.

What percentage of the work being done by your employees is work for companies outside of Louisiana?

Ostasz: Perficient’s clients are located nationwide, and our employees get an opportunity to work across many different industries and with companies ranging in size from top Fortune 500 to smaller specialized boutique firms.

Puri: 80 percent

How has the decline in the energy sector affected your ability to grow operations in Lafayette?

Ostasz: Given that Perficient focuses across many industries, the decline in the energy sector has not had a significant effect on our growth within Lafayette.

What do you feel will be the hottest areas of outsourced technology over the next five years?

LaBar: I believe digital transformation and the nexus of what is referred to as the Internet of Things with solutions that are focused on data visualization and the creation of augmented or virtual reality environments will change our daily lives over the next five years. The explosion of mobile technology, wearable devices, interconnected home, entertainment and transportation solutions, along with advanced environmental devices and sensors is well documented.

I think we are going to see more of this technology interconnect across domains, and then be paired with augmented and virtual reality capabilities to create immersive environments that transform education, health care, manufacturing, government services, citizen engagement and more — this is where digital transformation in our industry is headed.

I also have a personal interest in seeing how we can bring many of the advances that local governments have adopted around digital services and two-way communication channels with citizens to the Lafayette community. I think that Lafayette has a great opportunity to build “killer apps” on LUS Fiber, reenvision how government, citizens and other organizations interact in the community using digital services, and harness a growing ecosystem of technology workers to continue to position Lafayette as a leader in the technology sector. I think we are on the cusp of something truly great here in Lafayette and am excited to see what the next five years bring to the community.