t’s not just our health facility. It’s also in our blood.”
So says Jayne Dominique, a registered nurse with Ochsner Health System, in a video about the healthcare provider’s Louisiana legacy, noting that she and her siblings, all four of her children and all of her grandchildren were born at Ochsner. Not to mention three sisters and her mother were nurses there too.
The organization turns 80 this year and employs 34,000 across the Gulf south. But Ochsner (pronounced “Ox-ner” by some and “Aasch-ner” by others) is more than a stalwart institution. It’s also a catalyst for converging innovations in healthcare and technology. You might say creative innovation is in their blood.
No better example exists than SafeSource Direct, a company created in a joint venture between Ochsner and Trax Development to be the only U.S. provider-owned PPE manufacturer with U.S. provider-owned quality control.
“Challenging times spark innovation,” said Ochsner Health President and CEO Warner Thomas in May 2022 when it was announced SafeSource would develop two new PPE manufacturing facilities in Broussard in Louisiana’s Acadiana region, just 12 months after the company’s launch. Louisiana Economic Development projects the company will create around 2,200 new jobs over the next two years.
Ochsner’s stake in SafeSource Direct is managed through Ochsner Ventures. “Ochsner is one of only 20 health systems that have an innovation investment arm,” says Matt Wolfe, vice president of communications for Greater New Orleans Inc.
— Aimee Quirk, CEO, Ochsner Ventures
Asked how Ochsner embodies the convergence of the region’s tech and life sciences economies, Aimee Quirk, CEO, Ochsner Ventures, tells me, “We’ve been a pioneer and a leader in digital within healthcare and continue to invest in transformative innovations that reimagine the way care is delivered to be more proactive, predictive, personalized and preventative ... The pandemic changed the game for digital health by catalyzing adoption and experimentation, and Ochsner is committed to innovating and fostering new collaborations to advance health equity and greater health and prosperity for the communities we serve.”
The digital health expertise dovetails with the May 2022 launch of Northshore Healthscape, a three-year collaborative healthcare sector strategy program from Ochsner and a four other health systems and institutions partnered with St. Tammany Corporation to harness competitive advantages, enhance workforce, and promote the Northshore as a healthcare destination.
Source: CompTIA’s 2022 CyberStates report
Healthcare contributes more than $1.5 billion to the three-parish Northshore regional GDP and represents 22,000 jobs in the area. In the year leading up to the May announcement, there were 5,000 unique postings for jobs, and projections say healthcare jobs will increase by 11% in the region by 2026.
“The Northshore is at a pivotal point in determining actionable next steps to transform the healthcare ecosystems in our region,” said St. Tammany Corporation CEO Chris Masingill.
“Northshore Healthscape represents the dynamic relationship between the healthcare industry, economic development, and workforce,” said Corwin N. Harper, CEO, Ochsner Northshore and Gulf Coast Region, “with the desired outcome of enhancing access to quality care, increasing awareness of career opportunities in the healthcare industry and related fields, and showcasing the world-class healthcare services provided right here on the Northshore.”
Critical Mass, Critical Skills
Economic research firm Emsi ranked the New Orleans metro area in a tie for No. 6 in America for tech growth between 2013 and 2018 (with Memphis). Fast forward to today and you see a market on fast forward.
The 2022 Cyberstates report from CompTIA found that the New Orleans metro, while ranking No. 51 in the nation in overall tech employment, was No. 29 in net tech jobs added, and No. 8 in the percentage change in tech business establishments. Last year saw 7,275 job postings by tech employers in the region, with nearly 20% of them from emerging tech firms. Moreover, the area’s estimated median tech wage was $75,276 — 97% higher than the median metro wage, but eminently affordable in any national comparison. No wonder CompTIA also projected a 4.1% growth in New Orleans software, programming, web and quality assurance employment in 2022.
St. Tammany Parish — the No. 1 parish in Louisiana for median income ($66,000), income per capita ($34,201) and educational attainment — also has great potential for the IT sector: Average earnings per job in computer systems design & related services are $93,330, and the sector has a 10-year projected growth rate of 39%.
Institutional investments in St. Tammany include Ochsner Health’s new cancer center investment (with St. Tammany Health System) and Northshore Technical Community College’s expanding programs in tech, healthcare and life sciences.
Photo (l.) by Stephen Legendre courtesy of Ochsner Health
Helping prepare the way for that growth are strong tech curricula at higher education institutions such as Tulane University, Xavier University, the University of New Orleans (UNO) and Southeastern Louisiana University, a school with nearly 15,000 students and a computer science program known for its top-notch graduates.
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) continues to evolve too. LCTCS President Dr. Monty Sullivan told me that a partnership between Amazon Web Services and his own system’s 12 colleges — including Delgado Community College and Northshore Technical Community College (NTCC) in the GNO region — was a game-changer.
“First, we did not take lightly the development and co-branding of a degree program in web services with Amazon,” Sullivan says. “We recognized from the start that most of our graduates would be working right here in Louisiana but not only for Amazon. The vast majority will go to work for companies of nearly every sector, reflective of the expansion of web services and the broader workforce needs. That point is what led the LCTCS to launch this degree program at all 12 colleges.”
NTCC — with locations in Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes — in May graduated its largest class in history at 539 graduates. What that number doesn’t mention is the 1,286 credentials earned by 650 students during the 2021-2022 academic year. I asked NTCC Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives & External Affairs Dr. Jim Carlson how the school’s programs have evolved.
“Northshore Technical Community College has evolved greatly over the last several years to meet the demands of our industry partners, specifically in tech, healthcare and life sciences,” he says. “For tech, we have restructured our entire Information Technology program to meet the needs of industry, specifically after the arrival of DXC Technology.”
DXC, the enterprise IT services company formed by the merger of CSC and a division of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, announced five years ago its Digital Transformation Center in the heart of New Orleans, in a region that had already welcomed projects from EA, CenturyLink, IBM, CSRA, CGI and GE Digital. This summer DXC welcomed 50 new interns to its new U.S. internship program based at its Regional Innovation & Delivery Center in the city. Crucial to New Orleans winning the original project over 30 other cities was the state’s $25 million higher education initiative to expand the number of degrees awarded annually in STEM-related studies.
“The DXC higher education grant has allowed NTCC to invest in the equipment, software, faculty and overall foundation of IT,” says NTCC’s Carlson. Other programs are evolving too. “Our Mechatronics Apprenticeship program with NTCC, Delgado Community College and Nunez Community College has recreated the way we offer advanced technology/manufacturing training,” he says. “It’s a two-year program that is an earn-while-you-learn format — eight weeks of school, eight weeks of work.”
Carlson says LCTCS system teamwork can’t be beat, unless it expands beyond the system. “The Mechatronics Apprenticeship program not only involves three area community colleges as partners, but also our local economic driver, Greater New Orleans, Inc. as the business and industry liaison. We were able to leverage this partnership to receive a $1.9 million Delta Regional Authority grant to bring it to scale. To date, we are actively recruiting our fourth cohort of the two-year apprenticeship program.”
Welcome, Wanderers and Players
There’s one more wild card now animating the Greater New Orleans tech talent picture: Digital nomads, those well-remunerated professionals whose “IT” descriptor also stands for itinerant. Frequently moving along to their next outpost after six months to a year, they are nevertheless sought after by employers greedy for their advanced skills. So much so that Louisiana in 2021 passed two laws: one which exempts employees from the state’s nonresident income tax when they work within the state for fewer than 25 days in the calendar year, and another providing an income tax incentive for teleworkers relocating to the state.
Even before the incentive, says GNO’s Matt Wolfe, the organic attraction of tech talent has been “off the charts.” That includes people “who work for major global corporations who move to New Orleans because they can now,” he says. The new state incentives could inspire firms as well as individuals to put down stakes and thus raise their stake in the community.
Other tech niches booming in the area are video game and software development, helped by state digital media incentives that offer a 25% rebate on payroll. Video games especially match up in a strong and powerful way, Wolfe says. “There are 12 to 15 companies with a studio or who somehow service the game development industry with animation, testing and so on,” he says, including Xbox company inXile and High Voltage Software. The incentive is among the richest on the continent for digital media. “It lets companies know they have strong financial backing to create software in the state,” Wolfe says. “Some use it to pad their bottom line. Some use it as essentially a signing bonus. Some use it to raise their average salary to become more competitive. We sometimes refer to it as ‘hire three, get one free.’ ”
Accessing the talent flocking to the region is an incentive in its own right: “We see potential for meaningful and valued long-term relationships with higher education institutions in the state to enhance software engineering programs for students,” Kerry Ganofsky, CEO of High Voltage Software, has said. “The opportunities in New Orleans are truly incredible.”
Startup companies in the GNO region have never had better vital signs. In 2021 there were more than a dozen major startup exits in New Orleans. Ochsner’s Aimee Quirk says the region at large has “come a long way in the past 10-plus years through a collective commitment to growing our talent, funding, and recognition, while leveraging our unique culture, community and incentives, demonstrating our region’s competitiveness and strength in digital and tech.” The former senior economic development advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says, “We’ve had big wins this year with four large exits that have shown the world we are a place to develop, grow and scale digital businesses with international reach and positive community impact.”