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.”
It wouldn’t be a first, however, as the Chamber has thrown money behind Landrieu before.
The Democratic incumbent, seeking her fourth term in office, is a strong supporter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance exports of U.S. companies.
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine. In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
American companies export smog; UN calls for cease-fire in Gaza; fist bump keeps germ transfer down and more national and international news for Monday, July 28, 2014.
Monday's Blogs from the Bog!
Louisiana has joined nine other states in support of Indiana’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the Hoosier State’s ban on sam-sex marriage violates the Constitution.
The Saints are being cautious in an effort to minimize risk of re-injury.
LSU Health Sciences Center says people with a common, hard-to-treat kind of lung cancer can join a new national trial to test drugs faster.
As New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spoke about the opening of training camp, steep, tree-covered mountains were in full view behind them.
The family of fallen cyclist Lon Lomas is speaking out after the release this week of the man charged with his death.
"The solutions are obvious: undo consolidation, or amend the charter to make this hybrid attempt at a new form of government work better."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.
The latest meeting of a south Louisiana flood board that stirred political turmoil with a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry is taking place amid uncertainty over the future of the lawsuit — and the board's own membership.
The photos taken nearly a mile under the Gulf of Mexico are so clear that small holes are visible in a lifeboat that may have gone down or been scuttled when a passenger ship was sunk by a Nazi submarine in 1942.
Advocate columnist and Jindal shill Quin Hillyer has been against the New Orleans levee board lawsuit from day one, but a recent piece targeting author/activist John Barry prompted the perfect rebuttal from the board’s former vice-president, who takes Hillyer to task on just about every distorted claim he’s made on the issue.
Thousands of people who bought health insurance through the marketplace created by the federal health care overhaul face price hikes next year that could top 10 percent.
Louisiana fell one spot in an annual national ranking of child well-being that looks at poverty, education and health access.
A federal judge has decided he doesn't need to hear more arguments in the case of a gay couple who want a Louisiana marriage license.
Saints again bring playoff aspirations into 2014 campaign.
New details in the case against the man arrested for last week’s bomb threat and bank robbery has surfaced, including a MidSouth Bank surveillance video showing the alleged suspect attempt an early-morning bank robbery.
Parents and teachers who support the Common Core education standards sued Gov. Bobby Jindal Tuesday over his actions against the multi-state standards, accusing him of illegally meddling in education policy.
An arrest was announced this morning in connection with last week’s bomb scare at UL Lafayette.
Attorneys, judges and others interviewed by LaPolitics expect 15 to 20 district judge races this year.
"I feel like I'm under siege," an attorney said recently over drinks at Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge. "We all do. Every time I turn around somebody wants a check. District attorney races. The judges. They're killing us."
As a requirement for running for Congress in the 6th District, former Gov. Edwin Edwards has filed his financial disclosure statement with the U.S. House showing his income in 2013 totaling $242,787.