Last week, Henry Florsheim, the chief executive officer at Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, held a staff meeting to deliver some grave news.
Five employees were being laid off, the result of mid-year budget cuts coming down from the state totaling approximately $300,000 for the center. LITE employees being let go included three artists, an events coordinator and a staffer tasked with business development activities. (LITE is providing severance pay and assisting its former staffers in finding new work.) Other measures were also being taken, including surgical cuts to LITE’s economic development, travel, legal services, office supplies and building maintenance budgets. In addition, the center’s bright flashing lights, which illuminate its signature glass egg and light up the sky each night outside the center, were being extinguished. According to one source, Florsheim told the staff this last measure should serve as a memorial to those the center was having to let go.
The budget cut totaled just over $300,000, a major hit for a center whose 2009-2010 budget is $3.8 million. Just under 75 percent of LITE’s revenue comes from the state, via UL. The university is currently grappling with a mid-year $4.61 million budget reduction from the state. This comes on top of two other state funding cuts since January 2009, which all together total $16.45 million, approximately 17.5 percent of the university’s state funding. LITE took a slighter, 4.6 percent budget hit last January but then survived the fiscal year end cuts from UL.
“There’s not much wiggle room left in higher education,” says UL President Joe Savoie. “Our approach has been consistent from the first reduction last year. Our primary responsibility is to protect our core mission of providing a high quality academic experience for our students. In order to do that you have to protect those who are most responsible for providing it, which means faculty. Those areas become your priority and then everything else is secondary at that point.” Taking the brunt of this month’s mid-year budget cuts are the multiple economic development and research centers such as LITE, UL’s Small Business Development Center, the Center for Business and Information Technology and the Picard Center, among several others.
The immediate future doesn’t look any brighter. Officials are concerned higher ed may continue to bear the brunt of more year-end cuts to be decided this spring by the Legislature. A more serious concern is what will happen with higher ed funding once federal stimulus dollars run out in 2012. But despite the grim budget outlook from the state, LITE officials remain optimistic about the future.
This year, LITE will officially launch its technology business accelerator program. The Lafayette Economic Development Authority is picking up the majority of funding for the business incubator, designed to assist local startups as well as recruit established businesses to the area. Last year, LITE announced that visual effects company Pixel Magic, which has worked on Hollywood movies including Spiderman 2 and 300, and the upcoming Secretariat, would become the first tenant in the program. Pixel Magic chose to expand in Lafayette over several other potential locations, citing tax credit advantages as well as resources at LITE. The office should be up and running next month.
Three years after its launch, LITE is also preparing to adopt its first business plan. Bradd Clark, chairman of the LITE board of commissioners, has made the issue a priority since last year. The board formed a Strategic Planning Committee — made up of commissioners Bobby Vizier of Knight Oil Tools; Paula Carson, professor in UL’s College of Business Administration; and Mark Zappi, UL’s Engineering College dean — to oversee the process. They hope to have the business plan written and published by summer.
Clark explains it has taken time for LITE to find its identity and its proper place in the market. “You won’t find a center like this anywhere else,” he says. “And that affects you in all kinds of ways. The reality is you’re walking into a new environment where there’s all kinds of surprises.”
“There have been hiccups because of the fact that this is a brand spankin’ new idea,” he continues. “Soon, we’re going to see how this marriage will really start to push things forward for Lafayette.”
There are less than a dozen visualization centers, similar to LITE, in the world. LITE is unique in that it is publicly owned and operated through a partnership between local and state government, UL Lafayette, and LEDA. When it opened, the center was highly touted as a 21st century economic development engine, the potential of which has yet to be fully realized. The feature component of the center is a super-computer-powered 3-D visualization cave. The cave takes almost any form of complex data and turns it into an immersive 3-D environment that can easily be studied and manipulated. The technology has the potential to help facilitate anything from architectural planning to complex medical procedures to oil and gas drilling plans. LITE strives to sell its services in a way that enhances and helps grow local businesses without competing with them.
Since its launch, LITE has struggled to ween itself off state dollars and become more self-sufficient. Originally, seismic analysis for oil and gas companies was seen as one the biggest potential revenue generators for LITE, but the business never materialized. What has emerged is work with the film industry, which now accounts for some of LITE’s biggest clients. The center’s film work involves developing custom computer solutions to render computer-generated images into video. The center has also found success with architectural modeling and digital media work. LITE is still hopeful that it will one day generate business through creating immersive images for the oil and gas industry and the medical industry.
Florsheim, who was named CEO after a national search last year, says LITE is having to find ways to better leverage its resources. “We’re going to have to be much more focused in our business development and take less of a shotgun approach,” he says. While he recognizes a need for more self-generated revenue, he also stresses that LITE’s success can’t be measured solely by profit. “We need a good mix [of public and private revenue],” he says. “We definitely don’t want to be relying as much on state dollars, but LITE was built to create opportunities. If your goal is economic development, you can’t be a total profit center.”
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)