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Job seekers meet with recruiters, attend seminars, fill out applications and participate in employment interviews Tuesday, May 9, 2017, during the 22nd annual Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA) Job Fair at the Cajundome Convention Center in Lafayette, La. Dozens of companies representing industries that offer insurance, law enforcement, healthcare, retail, banking, media and oil field jobs particpated in the event.

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

Lafayette’s burgeoning high-tech sector, if properly nurtured and supported, could become an economic powerhouse in the 21st century. Tech companies new to Louisiana are now adding jobs by the hundreds. They’re high-paying positions in an intellectually rigorous field that are being filled by some of the world’s best and brightest, including young Louisianans who probably would have sought employment elsewhere if not for the opportunity at home.

Lafayette has always been tech-savvy — the energy sector is as technology reliant as any in the world — but we’ve never had the Silicon Valley-type industry that is taking root. Lafayette is now home to industry food app and delivery company Waitr, IT solutions firm CGI, and other companies that are adding employees each week.

The tech firms, led by CGI and Waitr, have so far hired over 500 employees, and in a few years, the hires should number in the thousands.

Calculations show the 10-year economic impact in Lafayette Parish from just three firms could approach $2 billion, or about $200 million per year. Indirect jobs by themselves should number more than 600.

Those economic calculations do not include what could happen if the companies expand further, such as CGI, which is filling its state-of-the-art facility in the UL-Lafayette Research Park.

Or there could be others like Waitr, which started with a few people and grew exponentially in a short time. Waitr tech employees now fill 8,600 feet of office space in Lafayette. Its food delivery services, which Waitr’s smartphone app made possible, are now in 20 markets across the southern U.S. and California.

Perficient, another of the firms, now fills a building in downtown Lafayette and is helping drive up the economy in the city’s oldest merchant sector.

The bright potential of high technology didn’t occur overnight or in a vacuum. It took help and support from elected officials to economic development agencies, from businesses and everyday taxpayers to the state’s colleges and universities.

Looking back, it feels like serendipity played a role. Nobody knew in mid-2014 that the price of oil would drop and lead to thousands of layoffs in Lafayette. That same year, before the full weight of falling oil would be felt, Lafayette and Louisiana reeled in three technology firms, including CGI, from outside the state.

Nobody at the time knew how bright a beacon high technology would become to Lafayette: The companies forged relationships with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the South Louisiana Community College, and they gave Louisiana’s brightest a place at home to earn a good living and raise a family.

Let’s continue to support, however we can, an industry that holds so much promise.

Gregg Gothreaux

president and CEO, Lafayette Economic Development Authority

Lafayette