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Full Q&A with Louisiana Economic Development’s Joshua Fleig

Joshua Fleig of Louisiana's Economic Development

Joshua Fleig of Louisiana’s Economic Development

Q1. What is the local video game industry like in Louisiana?

We’re seeing a lot of momentum in the video game industry in Louisiana. Electronic Arts (EA) in Baton Rouge was our first big interactive win a decade ago. We’ve also added High Voltage Software, inXile Entertainment and TurboSquid in New Orleans and the indie developer Pixel Dash Studios in Baton Rouge. We’re hoping to welcome a few more studios across the state later this year.

Q2. What do you think attracts these companies to Louisiana?

Our Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive is best-in-class and one of the only programs targeted to the video game industry. You won’t find a more valuable program in the US, so that’s a big pull for companies.

We’ve also just created a first-of-its-kind entertainment overhead incentive – the Qualified Entertainment Company (QEC) tax credit. Louisiana Economic Development, along with regional economic development organizations like Greater New Orleans Inc., the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, and the North Louisiana Economic Partnership, offer incredible support for companies during the expansion process. From finding locations, to workforce recruitment, to local tours acquainting employees and their families with the area, each organization offers invaluable service and support to help the expansion process run smoothly.

Our higher education partnerships help companies coming to Louisiana find exactly what they need in graduates. The University of New Orleans (UNO) now has a game development concentration in the undergraduate computer science program, and Louisiana State University (LSU) offers a master’s curriculum in digital media arts and engineering. All of these components are great motivators, but what really attracts companies is Louisiana’s culture. Nowhere else will you find as rich a culture coupled with a competitive cost-of-living.

Q3. Would you tell us more about Louisiana’s tax incentives for video game companies and what role they have played in the growth of the local industry?

Louisiana’s tax incentives are instrumental in drawing companies to the state. The interactive incentive offers a 25 percent tax credit on payroll, plus 18 percent on development-related expenses, including hardware, software, and rent. And there are no caps, limits, or sunsets.

Louisiana now offers a payroll tax credit of up to 20 percent for nonproduction back-office jobs in the entertainment industry. The QEC incentive, covers jobs in the fields of marketing, accounting, human resources, live ops, and customer support, just to name a few.

These incentives are the most valuable of their kind in the US. In North America, Louisiana’s interactive program is second only to Montreal, and nowhere else, nationally or internationally, will you find an incentive for nonproduction entertainment jobs like our QEC program. Basically, if you’ve got a job in the entertainment industry in Louisiana, there’s an incentive for you — film and TV production, digital game development and interactive software production, live musical and theatrical performance, and sound recording.

Q4. What is the local talent pool like from Louisiana colleges and universities?

As part of a recent wave of large tech-sector project wins, Louisiana has invested over $65 million in higher education computer science programs. This is helping to seed the game development industry, in addition to the broader IT industry. We’ve helped grow some great independents, such as Twin Engine Labs in Shreveport, and Waitr in Lake Charles and Lafayette, with Waitr enjoying explosive growth as a tech venture offering custom restaurant delivery and food services via digital apps.

Higher education partnerships are a key part of the interactive program. LSU, UNO, Louisiana Tech, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are able to bolster their computer science and digital media programs through these partnerships, some of which have included building facilities for students to expand their education. One example is the EA-LSU partnership, with the state building the Louisiana Digital Media Center. Located on LSU’s flagship campus, the 100,000-square-foot center houses LSU’s supercomputing assets in the Center for Computation & Technology while also serving as the home to EA’s Baton Rouge operations, student digital labs, and LSU’s Digital Media Arts & Engineering program. Companies coming to Louisiana are able to meet with higher education institutions to help develop curricula, thus ensuring graduates have the necessary skills to fill company employment needs. All of these pieces are building the pipeline for students to find jobs in Louisiana and for local companies to find the skills they need by hiring Louisiana graduates.

In Northwest Louisiana, Venyu recently opened a Tier III data center in downtown Shreveport, while the 3,000-acre National Cyber Research Park next door in Bossier City features an 800-job General Dynamics IT Integrated Technology Center, a Cyber Innovation Center that leads a national classroom initiative in cyber education, and a new STEM Building to train students in digital curricula.

Q5. What’s enticing about Louisiana for students studying video games and individual industry employees taking positions there?

Louisiana has an amazing culture all across the state. Whether its food, festivals, music, or recreation, there’s something for everyone. Couple that with a competitive cost-of-living and affordable college tuition, and it’s hard to beat Louisiana for living, learning, and working. The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, known as TOPS, offers Louisiana residents who meet certain criteria a scholarship award to attend college in Louisiana. It’s an unparalleled state program that’s a major incentive for Louisiana residents to continue education in the state. What’s more is our universities— from LSU in Baton Rouge, to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to Louisiana Tech in Ruston— all offer competitive scholarships for computer science students. I think the common theme is, all across Louisiana, we have truly compelling cultural, educational, and professional experiences for everyone in the digital economy.

Q6. Do you think Louisiana’s culture and history have influenced your local game makers?

Absolutely, New Orleans oozes culture – it’s hard not to be creative in one of the nation’s unique, culturally rich and eclectic cities. We are even seeing the influence of New Orleans woven into the fabric of games developed outside of Louisiana, like the Mafia, Left 4 Dead, and Assassin’s Creed franchises. A little over two hours away, Lafayette is the capital of Cajun Country — or Acadiana, as it’s known there. We’ve had great successes with applied technology there. CGI is approaching 500 employees and growing in a technology center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Research Park. Waitr is creating 100 jobs at its operations center in Lafayette. Enquero and Perficient are two more software and IT solutions providers who’ve established operations in Lafayette. The music, food, and outdoors experiences in Acadiana are amazing, and beyond anything you’ll experience anywhere in the world. Our entire state boasts a wealth of history, culture and lifestyle experiences. Monroe is home to our largest Fortune 500 company, CenturyLink, which recently merged with Level 3 and is the second-largest communications provider to global enterprise customers.

CenturyLink is partnering with developers to create Century Village, a new work-lifestyle community across from its headquarters that is anchored by a 400-job IBM Application Development and Innovation Center. Monroe is where the first commercial air flight service began, and that region in Northeast Louisiana is making history again through CenturyLink.

Q7. What opportunities are available for youth in Louisiana to learn more about video game design and the industry?

Louisiana has lots of programs that kids can get involved in to jump-start a career in video game development. Tech Talent South and Operation Spark are two initiatives out of New Orleans that teach kids to code. New Orleans also hosts interactive industry meetups that offer great networking and learning opportunities. Over in the capital city, Baton Rouge has its own chapter of the International Game Developers Association. The city also hosts LSU Digital Media Arts & Engineering’s Red Stick International Digital Festival. This festival gives an overview of happenings in the interactive industry, showcases LSU student work, and offers development programs for kids.

Q8. What is Game Fête? What’s new this year?

Over the past few years, Greater New Orleans has developed the fastest-growing interactive gaming cluster in the South. Game Fête is an annual event that offers an exclusive look at this growing industry in Louisiana. Game professionals from across the country come to New Orleans to experience the growing interactive cluster, to participate in industry-focused panels, and to network with others in the video game industry.

This year, attendees experienced New Orleans like a local. Our tours and discussions took guests all across the city — from the historic Bywater neighborhood all the way to the busy downtown Central Business District and culminating in beautiful Mid-City for Jazz Fest. Game Fête gives video game professionals an enticing taste of what it’s like to both work and live in New Orleans.

Q9. What advice would you give video game companies considering Louisiana for a location?

Come visit us! All it takes is one day in Louisiana, and you’ll be convinced that it’s the perfect place to live, and a great location to grow a video game company. Also, contact us as soon as possible. We’re planning another special event this fall, and we love having both new and old faces in our state!

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