Don Hutchinson is far from bored.
As secretary of Louisiana's Department of Economic Development, he's in the midst of a radical reorganization of his department's approach to energizing the state's economy. The state is dropping its old way of pursuing businesses, moving to the clustering method successfully employed by states such as North Carolina and regions such as Silicon Valley.
The crux of Louisiana's strategy is its "Vision 2020" plan -- a plan that took nearly three years and countless meetings to craft. The state's goals under the plan are aggressive: To transform Louisiana into a "Learning Enterprise" where all businesses, institutions and citizens are actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge; to create a diverse and thriving economy driven by technology-intensive industries that work with the state's colleges and universities as sources for technology and potential employees; and, by 2020, to make Louisiana one of the top 10 states in the nation in standard of living indicators while preserving and developing the state's natural and cultural assets.
Government Technology: Given the recent economic downturn, has the term "economic development" become an oxymoron?
Hutchinson: No. In fact, it's more accurate than ever. It's like the stock market; it's a perfect time for where we are as a state to re-position ourselves to be ready for [when] the upswing comes. It's an advantage for us, with our new strategy in the Department of Economic Development -- especially in light of our long-term plan, "Louisiana Vision 2020."
We focused on three areas. One is the Learning Enterprise, and that's strictly about education in the classroom as well as continuously learning on the job site. The second goal is what we call the "culture of innovation," which is really making sure we focus on technology-intensive opportunities; making sure that our current economy focuses on that as well and on diversifying and doing some things that we're not doing too much of right now, such as bio-tech, environmental technology and food technology.
The third goal is that Louisiana becomes a top 10 state; that's about celebrating, highlighting and emphasizing our diversity -- emphasizing the good things that we have in Louisiana, the great parks and the great waterways.
Companies want to locate where they can make money and have a great workforce, but they also want to go to a place where they can have fun and experience quality of life.
Our plan is the driver, and this time is a great opportunity for us.
GT: How long did it take for the department to decide to make the move to the cluster approach?
Hutchinson: It actually started about three and a half years ago when we were looking at the development of the Vision 2020 plan itself. We went around the state talking to businessmen; talking to chambers of commerce; talking to economic development organizations; and meeting with education leaders both at the postsecondary level and at the K-12 level.
What we found out after going around the state crafting Vision 2020 was that there were a lot of commonalities that were being presented to us from the different geographic regions of the state. In one part of the state, their driver was shipbuilding; another part was oil and gas; another part was IT.
We realized that we, as a state, were trying to do everything. Any company that moved, we wanted to attract it to Louisiana. Our new strategy, which is a paradigm shift from what we were doing, is focusing on sectors of our economy that are indigenous to Louisiana, that are natural strengths for us because we already have them here now, or that we see potential to grow into new technology areas, such as the life sciences, biotech or biomedical, food technologies and environmental