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Posted: Monday, 31 March 2014 6:13AM

New Orleans racing to catch up with local IT boom

Louisiana incentives to bring more information technology companies to the area have created a burgeoning demand for local workers in New Orleans.

Tulane Computer Science Professor, Dr. Rom Mettu, says local schools are trying to help meet that demand.

"The state incentives to spur that growth have worked. But I think, maybe, it's faster than anyone expected in New Orleans because, traditionally, we're known for tourism and not necessarily high tech."

"There are definitely incentives to start companies here," says Mettu. "It's a really easy place to start a company, so I think that's probably gone better than expected."

GE Capital plans to hire 300 workers for its New Orleans technology center, and a Phoenix-based software company expects to hire almost 60 workers for its new office in the area. A number of smaller start-up companies have also established a base here.

"A lot of these companies have come into New Orleans in the last three to four years because of the tax credits that were put in place after Katrina," Mettu says.

Tulane just one of the schools attempting to train the needed workforce.

Some of the larger companies have developed academic partnerships with the University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to train students so they are ready to work with the companies after graduation.

UNO has 14 students enrolled in its apprenticeship program with GE Capital, and 10 UNO computer science graduates have been hired by GE for its Baton Rouge center.

Mettu says a New Orleans-managed IT services provider hired its last four employees straight out of Tulane and LSU.

"We heard directly from lots of small, start-up companies in town, and also bigger ones, who were looking for Tulane students the year we started the program."

He says Tulane started its computer science program a couple of years ago and already has 100 students in the undergraduate degree program. He says that's relatively large for a new program. And, most of them want to work in New Orleans.

"Of course, they want to work locally. I hear that from students," says Mettu. "I would say a majority of the students that are in our courses have expressed an interest in working locally."

And, he sees a bright future for the area in a number of computer science related fields.
"We're optimistic here at Tulane, because we see a pretty strong enrollment in computer science."

"And, I think it's more general than IT," he says. "I think the IT area is something that we hear about a lot, but I think there's also the biotech area. I see the possibility of that area being really strong as all the medical stuff downtown comes on line." 

"I think there could be a significant sort of technological expertise in New Orleans over the next five or ten years. I think it's a real possibility."

Just last week, Governor Bobby Jindal told a gathering of business and civic leaders that Louisiana needs to do a better job preparing workers for the types of jobs coming to the area. Jindal says it's time to invest in Louisiana's renaissance.

The governor's budget proposal calls for increased spending on higher education and additional money for technical training for high school students. "The idea is to teach our high school kids even before they leave high school, give them the technical training they need," said Jindal. "We need to be training those IT techs, we need to be training those healthcare professionals. There are thousands of good paying jobs we could fill today if we had the trained people."

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Topics : EducationLabor
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Locations : LouisianaNew OrleansPhoenix
People : Bobby JindalRom Mettu
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