THE FUTURE IS WOW AT ITC
The Integrated Technology Center has arisen from the red clay of Bossier Parish next to the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City s National Cyber Research Park on East Texas Street.
The ITC is the latest addition to the park, whose mission, according to CIC Executive Director Craig Spohn, is to “foster collaboration, accelerate technology transfer, and develop the necessary workforce to meet the growing cyber demands.” In order to do that, he said, the park has partnered with government, industry, research and academia.
That’s where the ITC comes in. It is owned by CSRA, a Falls Church, Va., based technology service company whose clients are all agencies of the federal government. According to its Web site, CSRA has a broad portfolio of technology solutions and professional services it provides to agencies across the government.
The new structure in Bossier Parish will be the new home for the CSRA’s local employees, now sharing space in the Cyber Innovation Center. The new facility will open later this year.
Mike McSwain designed the building. “We were trying to keep the vibe of the building fairly hip and cool,” he said. “The goal was to make this inviting, cool and comfortable for the younger crowd. And I would say it was a lot about the
Google and Facebook environments they are kind of familiar with. That’s what we tried to create here, that sense of openness, the ability to collaborate in a lot of different places in a lot of unusual ways.”
McSwain accomplished that by designing a colorful, open environment, eliminating the ceiling – the piping and HVAC are there for the examining – bright-colored furniture, bright-colored walls and the ability to see outside. That visibility means every desk location on every floor is positioned so the occupant can see out of a window. All the furniture and work stations are mobile, McSwain said; they are intended to be rearranged to encourage collaboration.
Ashley Rockett is the director of operations for CSRA and the director of the Integrated Technology Center. “In order to attract the millennial to work in a government space, you have to have a building that speaks to that millennial – where they feel like they’re going to be successful and they are going to contribute. They are looking for a different thing from the marketplace than we did 20 or 25 years ago,” she said.
“You can’t just go out there and say I’m going to find a 20-year guy,” Rockett explained. “You have to have the spectrum of experience in order to be successful in any industry.” She said the new computer-savvy generation has been exposed to more, more quickly, than any before it has. “They learn differently than people did 20 years ago. What they are able to produce, the learning curve and how quickly they produce it, changes the landscape of what we as a company can deliver.”
And what they deliver is application development, cyber security, network infrastructure, mobility and things government agencies are clamoring for to meet the challenges of the new cyber reality.
Rockett said the choice of Bossier City from more than 130 applicant cities was no accident. “One of the reasons we, CSRA, are here in Bossier City, is a large incentive package we received from the state of Louisiana, Bossier City, Bossier Parish and the Cyber Innovation Center.” She said a unique piece of that incentive package was earmarking money to develop curricula at area universities.
She said the government officials negotiated that the additional funding would be used to create classes to produce the next generation of cyber workers. “To take advantage of those technology professionals – students at Louisiana Tech, Northwestern and Bossier Parish Community College. Let’s build a curriculum that’s specific and/or supports what CSRA is trying to achieve. Then those graduates can stay at home and work and have a career,” Rockett said.
“We think it’s huge from the standpoint of our universities, but really in terms of driving technology development across this region, it’s been an absolutely pivotal point,” Louisiana Tech University President Les Guice said.
CSRA’s new ITC is spurring Bossier City’s growth as a technology hub and is creating an entirely new industry in Northwest Louisiana.
Five years ago, Guice said Tech had 165 computer science students enrolled. Now there are 350 in computer science, another 175 in cyber engineering and more than 100 more in computer information systems.
CSRA expects to have 800 employees by June 2018 and are currently halfway there with about 400 employees. They hope to hire more than 200 by June 2017.
William Keen graduated from Tech and was looking for a programming job. “I had just graduated, so I needed money. I wanted to stay kind of local, where my parents are because it was my first time out on my own. CSRA put in a really nice offer, and everybody I talked to was really nice. So I accepted it.”
Caroline Wheat, who graduated from LSU in Shreveport, is a salesforce developer for CSRA. Like many students approaching graduation, she attended job fairs to research the job market. One of those fairs led to her decision to sign on with CSRA.
“It was the first time that there was really an opportunity for a larger, nationwide company to be here in the area,” she said. “That really piqued my interest. You could pursue a career with a larger company, but I could stay here where I was born and raised, near my family, friends, church, while still pursuing the kind of career that I was interested in.”
Lauren Schneider was the first and only intern hired at the company in the summer of 2014 while she was still a student at Tech. She described the summer job as well-rounded and a wonderful experience that gave her an understanding of the culture at CSRA.
She said, “I got really excited about it. When I left the internship, I rotated onto a parttime casual position. Then when I graduated in the summer of 2015, they offered me a full-time job.”
Schneider said the collaboration between Tech, LSU-S, Northwestern State University, Bossier Parish Community College and Grambling is the right move for the state.
“The difference is not [CSRA saying] that I want your best people today, it’s that we will create a workforce of strong talented individuals in IT for the future,” Schneider said.
“The state said we want the Cyber Research Park here, we want to grow a new industry here, we don’t want to be only dependent on oil and gas, or only dependent on health care. We want to give our people and our residents more options. The state was willing to say we’ll put a dog in this fight to get [CSRA] here. It’s right for our city. It’s right for our state.”
Keen said there are other, more personal, benefits to the collaboration. “Several years of computer science grads before me, they would just go to Texas because that’s where they could find jobs,” Keen said. “My graduation year was the first year that CSRA was hiring; they literally hired half my graduating class to stay here. Most of them would have moved away otherwise. It’s nice to have all of us still live here.”
Wheat said, “A company of this size has put its confidence in the people of this area so we can prove to them and, hopefully, to other companies and the rest of the country … we have the talent here. We have the people here who can do these jobs. We could grow our local economy; we can grow our local universities and make Louisiana and Shreveport-Bossier a better place to live. Since I grew up here and love it here, I think that’s a great benefit to this area.”
My graduation year was the fi rst year that CSRA was hiring; they literally hired half my graduating class to stay here. Most of them would have moved away otherwise. It’s nice to have all of us still live here.”
– William Keen, Tech graduate, CSRA employee
“The foresight that the city of Bossier and Bossier Parish and the Cyber Innovation Center had to eagerly hunt for CSRA is going to change the lives of my children and my children’s generation – to have the opportunity to stay home,” Rockett said. “And technology is not going away. We opened the door to something new and different that is going to continue to grow that is going to change our world. And possibly the children who are growing up here can stay here and we can protect our country right here from this building. That is a proud moment.”
“It changes our whole community,” McSwain said. “It’s neat to be a part of that, that leaves a legacy, that outlives all of us, that changes the world for the better.”