Business News

UL taking over LITE

by Leslie Turk

University will assume all oversight for the technology center’s facilities and operations.

The 70,000-square-foot Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise on Cajundome Boulevard in UL’s Research Park is being taken over by UL Lafayette, The Advocate was the first to report Thursday. The university is assuming control of the state-funded facility and its operations.

In 2006 the state Legislature passed a law creating the $27 million, 3-D visualization center and technology incubator, and LITE opened in 2007. It has since been run by a board of commissioners, which will be dissolved pending Legislative approval as part of the cooperative endeavor agreement with the university, a plan approved by the UL System Board of Supervisors Thursday.

The center, which has long struggled to find its footing while also suffering high management turnover, lost its state funding last year. The entity itself was unable to generate enough revenue to sustain its operations while also tackling new expenditures to maintain and upgrade a now decade-old facility, says Doug Menefee, who chairs the board of commissioners. The university has the existing resources to better maintain the physical plant, especially when it comes to preventative maintenance, Menefee says, adding that LITE itself generates enough revenue to not burden the university's limited resources.

“This isn’t a failing as much as it is an evolution,” Menefee tells ABiz, in large part because it will foster more involvement with UL researchers.

With the exception of Chief Operating Officer Erin Marietta, who will leave LITE at the end of the year (she relocated to Texas in July 2015 and has been commuting and working remotely since), the staff will be retained on the university’s payroll, Menefee says.

Marietta cites as LITE’s biggest accomplishments its role as a strategic economic development partner in the region, assisting in the recruitment of major technology firms to the Lafayette area — including CGI, Enquero and Perficient. She also points out how well it has worked in partnership with Opportunity Machine and tenants in its building, saying that it has been a “leader in virtual reality technologies and product development by working with clients [both big and small] to generate software applications that help businesses work smarter and safer.”

Read the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between LITE and UL Lafayette here.

“It’s accomplishing great things in the community, even though those may not have been what was envisioned in its original mission,” Menefee says. “What we’re doing now is taking what did work and making it work better, including showcasing Lafayette’s innovation and innovative thinking, delivery of 3-D environments for safety training, and providing an environment for business, economic development and research to collaborate.”

Menefee says the seeds for a closer collaboration with the university were planted about a year ago, and in May the board began to gauge the university’s interest in assuming control of the building. Out of those discussions emerged a complete takeover of the LITE operations by the university, with Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Development Ramesh Kolluru, who is also a LITE commissioner, assuming a lead role going forward.

“The mission is not changing,” Kolluru told The Advocate. “The university is committed to economic development, and the university knows how to do economic development.”