Baton Rouge area students eligible to compete in Congressional App Challenge

Baton Rouge-area Congressman Garret Graves is bringing the Congressional App Challenge, a program where K-12 students compete to code the best original app, to the Capital Region in the latest effort among officials to spur interest in the tech industry.

“When you look five years, 10 years down the road, and longer, there is definitely going to be a more pronounced demand and you’re going to see a larger sector of our economy that’s revolving around the IT and technology space,” Graves says. “We’ve got to prepare for that economy.”

Graves and his staff members have visited with students at Lee and Tara high schools, among others, to promote the challenge, which is open to all students in the Graves’ district who register online through Nov. 1. Congressmen Clay Higgins and Ralph Abraham are also participating in Louisiana, and students in their districts are also eligible to participate. A local panel of industry experts will review and judge student entries.

Underlying the app challenge is a series of struggles among the tech industry and state officials in growing a sustainable tech workforce here. IBM, which opened a center in Baton Rouge to much fanfare several years ago and recently failed to meet its job promise, is the latest example of a tech company struggling in the nascent local industry.

The workforce challenge is a nationwide problem and is probably even more pronounced in Louisiana, Graves says. But in recent years, community colleges, universities and high schools have launched programs in partnership with local businesses and experts to train more tech workers.

“Are we still racing to catch up? Yes,” Graves says. “But I have seen a very deliberate and significant change.”

—Sam Karlin

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