[news] How NOLA's Tech Industry is Thriving

(from ABC 26 News With a Twist) 

NEW ORLEANS -- The technology industry in New Orleans is the envy of much of the country.

"We're number one for technology growth over the past five years," says the CEO of GNO, Inc. Michael Hecht.

In fact, since 2006, New Orleans has increased its tech jobs to nearly 20,000.  That's more than a 22% jump.

"I tell people it was a 15 year overnight success story," Hecht says.

Planning and work to increase the technology industry in the city started around the year 2000 with "Techvision 2020", a program that identified New Orleans' strengths as well as those of other cities that were already increasing their tech communities.

"Low cost, high culture" is one of the big factors, says Hecht.  That refers to a city that has a low cost of living -- compared to other tech cities like New York and San Francisco -- and also has a thriving and unique culture of its own.  Early on, the people who worked to boost the city's tech industry knew that young people would enjoy living in New Orleans.  And those young people are the workers who are most likely to possess in-demand computer skills.

Another big factor was the state's technology tax incentive that Hecht and GNO Inc. pushed to get passed.  Essentially, it provides a 25% tax break to companies that move all or a portion of their technology operation to the state.

Together all the incentives have worked.  GE, DXC, Accruent and other major companies have opened shop in the area.  Also local universities are working with those companies to train young people to fill the new jobs.  Hecht says that UNO has a program dedicated to providing DXC with capable workers.

But what about technology companies born in the city?

iSeatz is one of them.  CEO Kenneth Purcell started the company in 1999 with just a handful of workers.  iSeatz provides the software engines that travel companies use to book things like flights, hotel rooms, car rentals and even restaurant reservations.

Now iSeatz has more than 60 employees in New Orleans and dozens more across the country.  Purcell plans to add another 30 jobs in the city over the next six months.

"Good mid-income paying jobs that allow people to buy houses and send their children to school and dine out in the great restaurants," Purcell told WGNO.

We first interviewed Purcell nearly 20 years ago.  Since then, not only has iSeatz  enjoyed success and growth, it has also become one of the cooler places to work in the city.   Along with competitive benefits, every day is casual day, pets are welcome at work, and there are even retro video games that employees can work into their time on the job.

"It's a competitive tool that we use to help promote why iSeatz, as opposed to another area technology company," Purcell said of the battle to hire the best workers.

If you'd like to see just how cool the iSeatz office is, click on the video button at the top of this page.

This piece originally aired on ABC 26. 

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