JR Ball: Want technology jobs? Invest in people

    Should Louisiana and Baton Rouge be doling out location-based tax breaks, fancy office buildings and other public-dollar inducements to technology companies and anyone else doing business in the knowledge economy?

    That, essentially, is the question a March 19 editorial by The Advocate set out to answer, writes Business Report Executive Editor J.R. Ball in his new column inspired by the editorial. The Advocate’s editorial board opts not to provide a definitive answer, stating that while the incentives given to IBM here, CGI in Lafayette and DXC in New Orleans are “probably” worth it, all should be on high alert that these companies could bolt at any time for some techier, more smart-people-filled pasture.

    In other words: Be careful investing the taxpayers’ economic development dollars in companies where high-speed internet and the easy ability to find folks who can string together ones and zeros in rather innovative configurations is way more important than river-view office buildings and straight cash homey.

    That might be true, but unclear is why this concern should be reserved exclusively for the tech sector, Ball writes. The real value is in the people, and Baton Rouge needs to compete by providing people from multiple industries.

    While acknowledging Baton Rouge and Louisiana will pretty much continue to offer location-based incentives as long as other cities and states do so, Ball argues the wiser move is to significantly increase targeted investments in higher education technology programs and workforce training centers. In short, invest in people, not buildings. Read the full column. Send comments to editor@busienssreport.com.  

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