Louisiana lures Gameloft and other job creators with a training program on steroids

A welder works on an industrial crane being assembled as Standard Crane near Houma, La.
A welder works on an industrial crane being assembled as Standard Crane near Houma, La.

Baton Rouge, La. -- A couple years ago, Louisiana barely showed up on radar when the mobile gaming leader Gameloft went looking to expand.

Hardly a tech giant, the state was, predictably, not on the short list of likely sites for the company's second U.S. studio.

"We kind of took a risk with them," explained Stephen Moret, head of Louisiana Economic Development.

The state asked Gameloft to allow it to screen potential applicants, even before the company had made the decision.

"We were, of course, taking a little risk," Moret said. "If they didn't select New Orleans, we'd have a little egg on our face."

Through social media and other efforts, LED rounded up 1,400 potential job seekers, which Moret believes was a key factor in Gameloft's decision to expand in New Orleans.

Gameloft, which employees 150 workers in New Orleans, was a key victory for LED FastStart, a sort of job training program on steroids.

"We help them hire and train the best people they can find," said Jeff Lynn, Executive Director of Workforce Development programs for LED.

The LED website explains that FastStart customizes "employee recruitment, screening, training development and training delivery for eligible, new or expanding companies – all at no cost."

That can mean everything from helping businesses fill their staffing needs to training workers and developing more general programs for Louisiana technical colleges.

32 full-time staff members, and more than 100 contractors, work out of a design studio and office about one mile from the state capitol.

Business Facilities Magazine rated LED FastStart the top job training program in the country.

On a recent visit, Tahjah Krauss was designing an ibook that a central Louisiana printing company will use as a training tool.

"This is basically now their manual instead of a printed manual," Krauss said.

Ironically, new employees will use iPads, working interactive steps to learn about an industrial printing press before they ever lay a hand on the machine.

"They can actually click on things at their own pace and actually see the machine and explore it that way," Krauss said.

Moret explains when he took the job one of the biggest challenges he faced, given the state's relatively higher poverty rate, was the doubts privately companies held about their ability to attract high quality, trained workers in Louisiana.

Moret realized he didn't have an answer for that. So, the state created FastStart.

All of the services here come at no cost to the company, simply part of the deal for picking Louisiana over someplace else.

As for job training programs, Moret argues "we can do it, in most cases, better than the companies themselves."

A big auto manufacturer, he reasons, might open a new factory, "once every year of two years. Our FastStart team is doing dozens of projects every year and all they do is start ups."

After Electronic Arts chose Baton Rouge for a design studio, FastStart developed a program for EA staff members who test new games, teaching them to think like other personality types.

"They'll be able to find defects that they wouldn't normally find," explained Jeff Elliott, an LED Senior e-Learning Animator and Designer.

Elliott says that allows EA to fix the "bugs" in games before they hit the stores.

"We have to be very results oriented," Lynn said. "For us be very effective and to help companies recruit and want to build new operations here in the state of Louisiana, we have to act like a company."