It was quite frustrating.
By comparison, all major cities in the West and East coasts had thriving hubs, of course, especially Silicon Valley and Redmond Washington. By comparison, while they were receiving billions in venture capital, we were bringing in millions.
Something had to change.
The technology industry in Louisiana, that existed, was small, fragmented, yet competitive. Much of the existing industry depended on upon government contracts.
A growing field of web developers was cropping up and building their portfolios. Various organizations promoting technology growth sprouted up to promote technologies to their members and to others outside of the respective organizations.
Social media had not yet been born.
There was some promise, but our universities were competing with the likes of Harvard’s and Stanford’s and our tech communities were no match for the California’s, Washington’s, Massachusetts’s, Georgia’s and Washington’s and so many other localities nationally and worldwide.
After watching Louisiana film industry begin to build some infrastructure, I felt that the technology industry also had to deploy tax incentives to build a competitive industry. For a couple of years, I pushed the idea to business and governmental leaders. Finally, in 2005 legislative session, the notion of using tax credits to help grow an industry, gained traction.
Dan Henderson, who at the time had been head of the technology sector of the Louisiana Economic Development agency also was helping to lead the charge. With the help of Governor Blanco, the City of New Orleans, led by economic development organizations around the state, the digital media legislation took shape and became law.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the founder of Yahoo came into New Orleans. He smelled an opportunity to connect Yahoo to small business.
I asked for a meeting with him and included the Don Hutchinson, who at the time was head of Economic Development for New Orleans and his counterpart for the State of Louisiana. At the time, New Orleans was like bombed out Berlin. Structures all over were devastated. Opportunities were ripe for a growing industry. I pitched the digital media law to the Yahoo founder, who went to school in New Orleans. He was upset that Tulane University had shuttered its engineering department after Katrina. He had given money to the school. He also saw more opportunities offshore and said why to invest in New Orleans and in the US. It was cheaper to do business in Asia.
Roughly four years later, after Katrina, many people in the same coalition who helped initiate the initial legislation, with the help of the Jindal administration and Michael Hecht of GNO Inc, were successful in expanding the law to include a growing application of technologies. Now, we have a growing industry of digital media companies, some large, others small, but promising, that populate our Downtown and Warehouse Districts, in New Orleans and in other similar locations throughout the State.
Now, the digital media or Interactive media tax credits is in full force, headed by Chris Stelly, the Director of Entertainment for Louisiana Economic Development, who held the same position during the Jindal administration.
In my interview with Stelly on Friday, after discussing the film industry and recording industries, we focused on the growth in that industry.
According to Stelly, that law industry is growing and thriving and having a statewide impact with that particular program we we've got you know anywhere from video game companies like Electronic Arts who has a facility down here in Baton Rouge to TurboSquid to GameLoft down in New Orleans to other video game companies scattered throughout the state. Also, true traditional software development companies like CSCR in Lafayette and in Shreveport are doing really amazing work.
According to Stelly, the program has been “a catalyst to help drive companies like IBM to locate not one facility in Baton Rouge but two”. It has also encouraged our educational institutions to create courses workforce to help man the industry.
Stelly said, “Colleges, throughout the state community and technical and even some high schools are getting on the bandwagon to start training young people “, who are attracted to the industry.
“We've done some really really good things to move that needle along to provide 21st-century opportunities for our young people”, Stelly said
He said that as a father of three, he can look his son in the eye and say he can be a video game developer in the State of Louisiana.
Also, Stelly said that as a result, Louisiana residents that have left the state, are starting to see the opportunities and returning home and seeing what we’re doing here in entertainment giving them opportunities that once didn't exist.
The law has also opened up opportunities in the medical technology and software being developed in the Louisiana, being used to develop military software, products in human resources so, according to Stelly, “you've got the multitude of different things” from Gameloft developing video games”.
Stelly also said, “Moonbot up in Shreveport that is transmedia”, is developing products for multiple platforms and are deeply rooted in the film world with their animation projects for Netflix and Amazon Prime for the theater. They and others are developing “IPAD applications and applications for multiple devices with the iOS or Android-has driven”, said Stelly.
The agency director said, Louisiana has a unique opportunity for cross-pollination within these industries under the entertainment umbrella.