Though the search for a new leader for the LITE center hasn’t officially launched, news of the departure of its interim CEO Paula Carson has sparked interest among local tech- and business-savvy leaders in the community.
Carson said she and her staff have fielded queries from locals who are interested in the position, making for a ready-made list of potential candidates.
“We’ve already received unsolicited interest in the job, and we haven’t even advertised it yet,” said Carson, who starts her new job as provost and academic affairs vice president at Missouri Southern State University on July 1.
Carson moved into the role of interim CEO as part of her duties as chairwoman of the center’s board of directors in August, following the resignation of Kam Ng, who had been the center’s CEO since June 2012.
Carson essentially served in the leadership role on loan from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she’s the assistant vice president of institutional planning and development.
Prior to accepting her new job in Missouri, Carson was set to resume her full-time assistant vice president duties at the university at the end of May. However, Carson’s new job means she’ll be able to stay in her role as CEO until July, allowing for more time for the center’s board to start a search, said Erin Marietta, chief operating officer at the LITE center.
Carson said the center’s board already has laid the groundwork to start its search. In the board’s past two meetings, members discussed job requirements and qualities they’d like in a leader, such as business and technology acumen.
“We’ve strategically realigned the organization to make it more self-sustaining, and the CEO will be coming into an organization that is independent in its day-to-day operations,” she said.
In the past year, Carson has worked with the center’s team on initiatives to make operations self-sustaining without the university’s financial support. Marietta said the team has focused on using entertainment technology for social good, such as virtual safety training and software programs that help those with speech impediments. The center is also working to outsource some of its operations.
The center’s financial independence from the university is paramount as state funding to higher education has waned in the past several years. The university has phased out its funding contributions, which this year was $755,000 of the center’s $2.1 million in expected expenses. In 2013-14, the university funded center operations with $1.8 million.
“Through this whole transitional process, each of the appointing authorities — UL, Lafayette Economic Development Authority and Louisiana Economic Development — have invested in us and understood the changing demands and capabilities of LITE with a reduced budget,” Carson said .
Marietta said the center is now in budget-planning mode.
“We are preparing the budget to be 100 percent independently funded,” Marietta said.
As a way to produce more revenue to work on tech development projects, the center has leased more office space to tenants, she said.
“We’re looking at leases and we’ve increased venue utilization to bring in revenue,” Marietta said. “With budget cuts that the university has taken, we understand that this is our new future. We are planning to receive no state funding.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.