When Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in August that a new Louisiana Cyber Coordination Center would be established on the Water Campus, near downtown Baton Rouge, he touted it as a step towards establishing the state as a global leader in cybersecurity.
But what kind of work will the center—to be shared by the Louisiana National Guard and two other tenants—accomplish? And why is it being located at Commercial Properties Realty Trust’s Water Campus, which boasts some of the most expensive lease rates in the city, when the Guard has several acres of undeveloped property adjacent to LSU’s Innovation Park?
The Cybersecurity Coordination Center will be a collaborative space, housing workers with the Guard alongside employees of LSU’s Stephenson Technologies Corporation and Alabama-based Radiance Technologies. Jeff Moulton, executive director of Stephenson, says most of the work completed collaboratively by the three partners will be for federal clients, such as the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We’re going to be doing very highly sensitive work for customers who don’t want to be known,” Moulton says. “We can’t do classified work in any old building.”
An important selling point for the center is that it will be uniquely outfitted and certified as a Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility, or SCIF. The facility will be certified as secure to handle projects that require a high security clearance with the government. Until now, Moulton’s employees have had to travel north to Shreveport, or more often to Washington D.C., to use facilities with the needed security clearance.
“Without this center, we can’t do the work here and we can’t keep the jobs here,” Moulton says. “Now, we can perform the work here and we don’t have to travel back and forth to D.C. each week.”
The center will be located at 1200 Brickyard Lane, the Water Campus’ first commercial building. The other announced tenant is the engineering firm Stantec.
Moulton emphasizes that the center, even located in a building that will be shared with other tenants, will be secure and that “John and Jane Six-Pack” won’t be able to walk in. The cost of readying the 11,000-square-foot space for use by the Guard, Stephenson and Radiance Technologies is $1.5 million, with Louisiana Economic Development picking up the tab.
LED is also putting up another $500,000 to support lease payments on behalf of the Guard for up to five years. The expectation is that the Guard will make budgetary adjustments down the road to shoulder its share of future rent payments. Stephenson and Radiance will each provide $100,000 for rent, says LED Secretary Don Pierson, subleasing 3,000 square feet each from the National Guard. As of February, rent in the building was reportedly $30 per square foot—a steep price considering downtown Baton Rouge’s oversupply of Class A office space.
Pierson defends the lease, saying it was the most effective option to getting the project off the ground so quickly. Rather than retrofitting an existing building or building a new facility at the Guard’s property near LSU’s Innovation Park, utilizing an under-construction property, says Pierson, was the quickest and most cost-efficient option to making a certified secure space for cybersecurity work.
Why is LED involved?
Pierson says by consulting with in-state cybersecurity organizations, including the three cohabiting the Cybersecurity Coordination Center, the state knew of the need for a large, secure space for workers to compete for secure projects.
Prior to the announcement, the Guard had considered building a similar center, though not as secure, at its property near Innovation Park. Last October, LSU and the Guard agreed to a land swap at the park. A cyber coordination center was one idea being considered for the newly acquired 15 acres, according to retired Col. Kenneth Donnelly, who’s heading the guard’s cybersecurity programs.
The Guard hadn’t contemplated a possible timeline or price tag for the proposed center before plans stalled. Last year, a Guard spokesman told Business Report that the center moving forward was contingent upon approval from Congress. Donnelly isn’t sure why the project stalled, but he says it isn’t happening.
For all intents and purposes, the new center being developed at the Water Campus fills the need the Guard had, Donnelly says, and pushes the bar to the next level. The state’s need for such a facility, which Pierson calls “the next generation of cybersecurity work happening in the state,” was a priority because of the economic benefits from investing in cybersecurity.
The building under construction at the Water Campus—and being able to find two additional civilian tenants—was a well-timed opportunity, he says, for the state to serve as a catalyst to bring the center online far quicker than a developer could have done with a center designed from scratch.
The Guard isn’t set to move into the downtown Baton Rouge digs until next year once substantial work has been completed, but Stephenson and Radiance will move into the facility later this month. Fifteen Stephenson workers will join the center, with another five to 10 positions planned to be added before the end of the year.
Moulton is optimistic about the center’s impact on Baton Rouge and the state, calling the center “one more ingredient in the gumbo” to helping the nonprofit work towards its goal of stopping the brain drain out of Louisiana. There are two multimillion-
dollar government contracts he’s expecting Stephenson to bag before the year’s end because of their access to the new center.
The final tenant, Radiance Technologies, will retain 22 existing Baton Rouge jobs at the new center and add another 10 before next year. The company did not respond to requests for comment from CEO Bill Bailey for this story.
“This is the beginning of an era,” Pierson says. “These (cybersecurity) attacks are going to increasingly manifest. Ports, petroleum services, refineries—we have an extraordinary amount of assets in the state. It’s our obligation to the state and nation to work in this sector.”