LSU can be the economic leader for La.

During his speech at the ribbon cutting of the new LSU E.J. Ourso College of Business Education Complex, Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media and former presidential candidate, said, “As never before, Louisiana is open to business. Louisiana can be at the forefront of global growth and innovation.”

Those are some strong words from a powerful national business leader—and ones that get me excited about the potential for LSU and Louisiana.

As I have said before, I believe entrepreneurship is the key to new jobs and economic growth for Louisiana. And education is a critical foundation for competing in a knowledge-based and global economy. That is why reforming our K-12 public school system and offering more school choice is critical in this legislative session. It is also why I believe Louisiana’s flagship university, LSU, and the E.J. Ourso College of Business, which develops entrepreneurs, must play an important leadership role in our state. But it is essential that citizens statewide better understand this urgent opportunity and the impact that LSU can have.

Another recent visitor to the LSU campus also understands. University of Kansas School of Engineering Dean Stuart Bell, a candidate for provost at LSU, acknowledged that LSU and many other universities nationwide are struggling with budgets. But he told The Advocate that higher education must do more to communicate its “relevancy and impact. There’s nothing this state does that adds more economic value than what we do. We just haven’t done a good job of communicating that.”

But like Forbes, Bell was optimistic about LSU and Louisiana, and described LSU’s future as “extremely bright.”

I agree, and I believe that our flagship university must sell itself statewide as a catalyst for jobs that will impact everyone’s future. It is a launching pad for entrepreneurs and a source of bright, young minds that can boost any business and help them grow and succeed. They win—and Louisiana wins.

As I walked through the new Business Education Complex, which is home to the Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute, I realized that this fall the next Steve Forbes, Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman, Michael Dell or Mark Zuckerberg could be in one of these classrooms. Or another Jim Bernhard, Huey Wilson, Norman Saurage, Richard Lipsey, Bert Turner, Lee Berg, John Folse, Lane Grigsby, Newton Thomas, Hans Sternberg, Brace Godfrey, Kevin Reilly, Bill Borne, Todd Graves, Art Favre … the list goes on. They could create the next great Louisiana or U.S. company, headquartered here in our state and creating thousands of jobs.

There could already be a future Fortune 500 entrepreneur at LSU right now at the Louisiana Business & Technology Center. There are currently 30 businesses operating in the LBTC, and another 31 LSU student startups in its new student incubator area. And some of the students, like Logan Leger and Kenny Nguyen, have recently received national attention.

That is the potential, and we—LSU faculty and staff, Board of Supervisors, alumni, business leaders and elected officials—all need to work as a team to make sure everyone else in Louisiana sees such a vision for the future.

Funding the vision is up to all of us as well. Alumni, corporations, federal grants, student tuition, donors and state government must all play a part. Times have changed in America and Louisiana, and the strong and innovative—as well as those who hustle and prove their value—will survive in the marketplace. That is LSU’s challenge—and its opportunity.

Would it be surprising to you to learn that two of the lowest ranking school systems in the Capital Region, East Baton Rouge and Baker, were closed last Wednesday so bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers could go protest at the Capitol—just one week before the LEAP testing begins? Of course, it was no surprise to learn that the No. 1 district, Zachary, had its teachers and children in class “where they belong,” according to Superintendent Warren Drake. Kudos to him and the superintendents of Central, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, West Feliciana, East Feliciana, Ascension and Livingston, which all had class as usual. I am sure their students and parents appreciated being made a priority.

Regarding the closing of EBR schools, BESE Vice President Chas Roemer said last week on WJBO that it was no wonder the EBR system was losing community support, because they don’t put children first just a week before testing starts.

I am proud to say that Children’s Charter School was open for class last week, too. They are celebrating their 15th anniversary this year and were around the last time the EBR system closed for employees to go protest. I dropped by the school that day to find the LSU business school visiting with a cart of laptops, which the children used to make a movie. So, while the EBR kids sat at home back then watching soap operas, the Children’s Charter kids were making a digital movie.

Sadly, in 2012 we are seeing a re-run. A good title for it would be Insanity, because the EBR system wants to do the same thing over and over and expects different results.

Children’s Charter is a Type 1 charter and part of the EBR district, but it operates independently and can do what is in the best interest of its children and parents. The school doesn’t take orders from the central office. It might be no surprise to you that it has a waiting list for admission.

Joseph Ledet from Westlake (near Lake Charles) was the star on American Idol last week with a soulful rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge (who is in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and Gerry Lane car commercials). The judges gave Ledet a standing ovation halfway through the song, and Jennifer Lopez said, “It was the best I have ever seen on American Idol.”

But also sharing the spotlight with Ledet were Louisiana boiled crawfish. Ryan Seacrest said he and former Idol judge Randy Jackson (who is from Baton Rouge) had been in New Orleans recently and arranged to have the crawfish brought in for Ledet. Seacrest rolled out a tub of boiled crawfish, and Ledet showed them how to peel and eat. It was after the tasting that Ledet hit it out of the park with his song.

Seacrest had them bring Ledet another plate of crawfish after he finished as a reward for his stellar performance. It was a good night for Ledet, crawfish and Louisiana. Maybe we discovered a new side benefit to eating crawfish and a possible national ad campaign if Ledet goes on to win. “Eat crawfish. Become an American Idol.”

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