Quietly, almost drowned out by the loud, continuous crash that comes with losing 10,000 Louisiana oil and gas jobs over 18 months, Lafayette’s high-tech sector is evolving and growing.
Three new firms alone are hiring computer programmers as fast as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette can graduate them. In a few years, those companies — CGI, Perficient and Enquero, which located offices in Lafayette in 2014 — plan to reach their hiring goals of about 1,000 computer programmers and systems and business analysts.
“We’re happy. It’s opened a lot more options for our students,” said Azmy S. Ackleh, dean of the Ray Authement College of Sciences, which includes the university’s School of Computing and Informatics. “They’ve really been grabbing (the graduates) in large numbers.”
Ackleh said the three companies alone have hired 45 from UL-Lafayette’s computer programs and another 15 from the university’s other disciplines. Other companies also are dipping into the UL-Lafayette talent pool, he said, including Stuller, APEX Innovations and Fenstermaker in Lafayette and IBM in Baton Rouge.
Starting salaries for the grads has been in the low $50,000s to high $50,000s, he said.
Enrollment in Ackleh’s department is up too: There were 517 students with computer majors who began the fall semester in 2013. By the time the fall 2015 semester began last August, there were 563 enrolled, he said.
According to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, which helped the state’s Louisiana Economic Development division’s 2014 recruitment efforts, CGI, Perficient and Enquero will hire 920 employees. The extra business activity will lead to another 679 jobs in retail, management services, health care and other ancillary fields. “It’s not often that a community can witness the birth of a new industry sector. But that’s what happened with the technology and digital media sector in Lafayette,” said Gregg Grothreaux, president and CEO of LEDA. He said the addition of the employees at the three companies would double Lafayette’s high-tech population.
A menu of offerings enticed the firms to locate a division in Lafayette: Former Gov. Bobby Jindal pledged $4.5 million over 10 years to higher education, much of it going to UL-Lafayette to increase computer science graduates.
Louisiana gave other incentives such as employee relocation payments and commitments to fund state facilities at the UL-Lafayette Research Park, located across West Congress Street from Cajun Field.
One facility at Research Park, a $13.1 million, 50,000-square-foot facility with all the high-tech bells and whistles, will be the new home of CGI and its 160 current employees starting Monday. CGI, a publicly traded Montreal-based company with $10.5 billion in annual revenue, plans to have 400 employees on its Lafayette staff within a few years.
In downtown Lafayette, about 50 Perficient employees work in temporary digs on East Vermilion Street while workers complete renovations at 537 Jefferson St., former home of Jefferson Street Market.
“We’d love to double that number of employees in a year,” said Kevin Sheen, vice president of global delivery for the St. Louis-based firm.
He said that Perficient, ultimately, will have 250 employees at its Domestic Delivery Center on Jefferson Street. Perficient, too, is a publicly traded company that last year had $453 million in revenue.
At Enquero, a privately held company from California’s Silicone Valley, Lafayette manager Nishant Puri is hiring UL-Lafayette graduates every six months, in January and in June after graduations.
“We hire in waves,” said Puri, an associate partner in charge of the Agile Delivery Center in Lafayette.
Enquero is housed temporarily at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Center, called the LITE Center, in UL-Lafayette’s Research Park. Puri said the company currently has 45 employees, but in three to five years, they’ll employ 350.
Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad.