International technology giant CGI recently announced a major expansion of its Lafayette IT Center of Excellence, the latest indication the region has grown into one of the Gulf Coast’s premier technology hubs.
In May 2018, Gov. John Bel Edwards and CGI executives said that the company would be launching a significant expansion of its thriving Lafayette operations, creating 400 new direct jobs and pushing CGI’s employee numbers to more than 800 in the coming years. Over the next decade, the CGI Lafayette center’s cumulative payroll will surpass $480 million.
The CGI expansion is one of several substantial additions to the Acadiana digital workforce, which continues to grow with the support of private, state and local partners into a powerful economic engine for the region and state. “Here in Acadiana, we are proving how powerful and game-changing our economy can be,” Edwards said at the announcement.
CGI, which is based in Montreal and employs 70,000 people worldwide, is solving complex business and IT challenges in Lafayette for clients, with a focus on application development and emerging digital technologies.
The company’s expansion announcement marked the completion of an amended Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) among the State of Louisiana, CGI Federal, UL Lafayette, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority (LEDA), Louisiana Economic Development (LED) and Ragin Cajun Facilities Inc., the university affiliate that owns and manages the 50,000-square-foot facility where CGI is located on the UL Lafayette Research Park campus.
CGI Vice President William LaBar, who oversees the company’s Lafayette operations, says the support of those stakeholders played an integral role in attracting the company to the region back in 2014. “When we were looking at Lafayette, we met a team of partners who seem committed to the success of the project, and that’s really important to us,” he says. “Having all of these partners — from LED to UL to LEDA to One Acadiana — who want to see us succeed is a critical element.”
The company announced plans to open its Lafayette operations center in 2014 and began hiring workers that year. In 2016, Edwards and CGI dedicated the $13.1 million information technology center, which serves as an anchor for UL Lafayette Research Park. CGI will explore plans for a second Lafayette facility as part of its expansion plans.
To support the expansion, the state offered the company a competitive incentive package that includes a performance-based grant of $5.3 million to offset the costs of personnel relocation, recruitment, training and operation and maintenance costs. The company also is expected to participate in Louisiana’s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive and Quality Jobs Program.
CGI will also continue to lease its state-funded original location from Ragin Cajun Facilities, while UL Lafayette will continue to lead a 10-year, $4.5 million, state-funded higher education initiative that will triple the number of undergraduate degrees awarded annually by the university’s School of Computing & Informatics.
Since its arrival, CGI has been expanding its partnerships and community ties in the Acadiana region, working with local schools on coding education and partnering with UL Lafayette on technology-curriculum development.
Three college graduates hired by CGI founded the STEM@CGI program, which partners with local schools for annual day camps focused on science, engineering, technology and mathematics. The company also works throughout the year to mentor students across multiple grades for future careers in the digital workforce.
“We think that’s critical, because we know that the quality of public education and the awareness of STEM fields and careers locally is critical to us in the long term,” LaBar says. “Increasing the diversity of the workforce of the future is a big part of this. Those types of partnerships are also great for our members because it makes this more than just a job — it’s about what we’re doing in the community.”
In addition to its works in area schools, CGI works closely with partners at the university level, as well. The company and UL Lafayette have created a new degree program, launching the state’s first Master of Science degree in informatics this spring. It is a way for the company to support the development of the type of skilled tech workforce that drew it to the region in the first place. “We look at the talent coming out of UL Lafayette — either the computer science programs, the informatics program, or some of their engineering programs or business degrees — and the students here can compete with students anywhere else,” LeBar says.
CGI is working hand in hand with the university to offer a capstone program featuring real-world experience for computer science students. The program splits students into teams, presents them with real-life business problems and asks them to build sample applications to solve them.
“We bring the students into our center, we do code walk-throughs with them, we teach them how to do agile software development,” LeBar says. “We’re engaged not just in the curriculum, but in training the students to industry standards. Even if they don’t come to work for us, they can go work anywhere — because now they have agile software-development skills with real-life examples.”
Since 2014, tech companies Enquero and Perficient have opened up operations in Lafayette alongside CGI, together creating some 1,000 new positions for digital workers. Lake Charles-based online food-delivery service Waitr also recently opened an operations center in Lafayette to support its fast-growing operation. LaBar says those moves show the Lafayette market is an attractive destination for technology firms.
“Those partners that attracted us here have been working to attract those other companies successfully, and I think that’s great,” he says. “The number of jobs created in the tech workforce just from those four companies alone is really strong.”
But LaBar says the region’s technology growth goes beyond traditional IT companies. He cites the fast-growing health care company LHC Group and locally based ambulance, health care and transportation firm Acadian Companies. Neither are marketed as tech companies, he says, but both have a robust tech workforce that continues to grow and evolve.
“The momentum we’re seeing in technology isn’t just going to be in IT companies,” he says. “It’s going to be inside those companies that are more health care-focused or energy-focused. They’re going to need those types of tech workers too, and we’re just diversifying it further.”
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