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Shreveport-Bossier works to create a knowledge-based economy - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Shreveport-Bossier works to create a knowledge-based economy

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yCould Shreveport-Bossier be the next Silicon Valley?  While some might smirk at the thought - there are many minds hard at work here trying to bring high-tech business to the area and they say the potential is tremendous.

This year's announcement that Computer Sciences Corporation, or CSC, is coming to town has brought a wave of excitement , and validation to a community in northwest Louisiana that says the area is ripe for the picking when it comes to establishing high tech business.

"That moves the needle significantly in terms of where we were with the technology industry in one event," says Executive Director/CEO Craig Spohn of the Cyber Innovation Center.  "If you think of the economy in the local area as a pie chart, that wedge was not there, and now it is in a substantial way."        

Spohn says not only is this vital in putting people to work and educating the next generation, but proving to other companies that this is a prime place to do business.  He says we already have the large scale infrastructure any company could need.

"We enjoy low cost and available power, available water, a tremendous amount of lit and dark fiber optic cable, all within this very area."

Fiber optic cable provides extreme high speed internet needed to push large amounts of data. Several of our research and medical institutions are already connected through the state owned fiber optics network called "LONI" - or Louisiana Optical Network Initiative.  Purchasing fiber optic cable for a business is costly, and not as easily accessible as in other cities, but for any other company needing that level of internet connectivity, we have it here.

"What we have to do is create the second tier of what's necessary behind those large scale infrastructures," says Craig, "where they put switches for bandwidth, and how they deliver broadband is something they can respond to quickly. The basic infrastructure to connect to that is already here.  The power here is already robust enough that we just need to put in additional substations on the grid, in order for the power to be located where we want it to be."

But there's so much more to creating a knowledge-based economy than bandwidth and fiber optics.

"This is a place where you can start up safely, quietly, you can test your products, you can iterate, you have a supportive community behind you, I don't know a lot of businesses that wouldn't want that type of environment."

Keith Hanson is the CEO of Twin Engine Labs - a mobile app developer - that started with just a few desks at Cohab in downtown Shreveport.

"Everybody in this space is doing it smarter and cheaper, not harder and more expensive," says John Gridley, Executive Director of Cohab.  "So many things are free, with plug-ins, and there's so many ways to do cloud computing, and you don't need server space, everything's virtual, the cost of starting a business has never been cheaper. You can start a company for $100 if you're smart."

Combine that with a Louisiana tax credit for software and digital media developers and a reasonable cost of living—Spohn, Grindley, and Hanson all agree Shreveport-Bossier is open for this kind of business.  But there are some aspects we need to improve on to fully support a knowledge-based economy.

"We need to connect better to the investor community, and fund good ideas, and foster good ideas.  I'd also say that we need to stop the brain drain," says Grindley.

Hanson says we need to focus on the younger generations.  "I would like to see more programs pushed down into middle school, high school, to prepare our kids for the technological age."  To help its own mission, and the community, Twin Engine Labs has partnered with Bossier Parish Community College to offer a class that trains students to become entry-level web developers.  Every three months, the class will take on 15 students, and they'll leave the course having created their own mobile app.

"The only thing we have yet to prove is the availability of a viable workforce, and given the opportunity, that's going to be very successful as well," says Spohn.  "CSC is the initial indicator that they will find the workforce is hard-working, capable, middle-class American, [with] great values, I believe we have that here in this area."

KTBS also spoke with Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, who worked to bring high speed internet to rural communities.  He said Louisiana lost an opportunity for an $80 million federal grant back in 2011 that would've brought internet connection to rural parts of Louisiana that still don't have it.

"Everywhere we go, when we have these meetings all over the state, the number one request is, can we get high speed internet, I have children in schools, we can't do it," says Campbell.  "Teachers assign assignments, you live in the rural parts of the state, you need to be able to get online quickly, and do your work. A lot of times you can't do that because you don't have high speed internet service."

The US Department of Commerce rescinded that $80 million grant citing deficiencies in Louisiana's presented project plan, saying it was behind schedule and incomplete, and, the state was unresponsive in providing information needed to the federal government.

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