Shreveport, La., is set to hire Keith Hanson as the city's first chief technology officer. The IT leader is a native of the city who started a software development company there eight years ago.
Fresh leadership in Louisiana’s third largest city is ushering in a new era where technology will be used to leverage improvements in economic development, public safety and education, among other areas.
Adrian Perkins, the newly elected 33-year-old mayor of Shreveport, has announced the appointment of the city’s first chief technology officer to help boost this north Louisiana city of 192,000 residents onto a more level playing field with peer communities with the help of technology and foundational infrastructure such as improved access to broadband and fiber-optic communications.
Perkins appointed Keith Hanson, also a Shreveport native and private-sector technology leader, as the city’s first CTO. In the next week or so the mayor expects the City Council to easily confirm Hanson’s appointment.
“The chief technology officer will be able to leverage the staff and his resources to make sure the city is pursuing those tech concepts that I’ve presented to the public,” said Perkins, speaking with Government Technology a week into his new administration.
A next step will be the drafting of a technology strategy to take to the council and the city, which will lay out goals and benchmarks. Some of those goals will include the development of better communications infrastructure, in support of two of the mayor's campaign pillars: economic development and public safety.
“We want to showcase that Shreveport is tech savvy and open for business,” Perkins said.
Today, Shreveport, a city that has long sat at the crossroads of industries like agriculture and the oil and gas sectors, is a patchwork of technology. Perkins describes the city’s fiber infrastructure as fragmented, unconnected silos.
For example, the parish government is fiber connected, as well as the schools. Fiber is also at the backbone of private-sector organizations like AT&T, local utilities and others.
“There’s fiber everywhere in our city right now. And I think step one is going to be to evaluate exactly where that fiber is, and again, how do we have public access to it,” said Perkins.
Understanding connectivity across the city and how to grow it may be one aspect of Hanson’s job, while another will be articulating how to put that connectivity to use for both residents and the city’s internal staff through smart city projects that collect and analyze data.
“I’ve seen over and over ways that technology can save money across the city, and open up more budgets for other departments, and things like that,” said Hanson.
Hanson — who said he’s been writing code since he was 12 years old — stresses what he will bring to City Hall is not just a techie sensibility, but leadership. As a young professional in tech, Shreveport offered few opportunities. That's why he went to Dallas to search out jobs there. By the time he was 25, Hanson was leading teams and developing software projects in the private sector.
He returned to Shreveport eight years ago and launched his own software development company called Twin Engine Labs, which merged with Lunabyte — another north Louisiana technology consulting firm — to form Ruby Shore in 2017. Hanson credits his ability to work closely with private-sector technology firms as a strength as he transitions into his public role in City Hall.
“One of the exciting things to me, is I can bring that insight into the administration,” he explained. “I understand how contract terms operate, what they like, what they don’t like, where some of the gaps may be when we contract with them, etc. And then I also helped recruit 50 people over the eight years in my company.”
Perkins and Hanson, who is also 33, are not unlike the many young political newcomers to emerge in 2018, elected to local, state and congressional positions. Perkins is a graduate of West Point, where he was the first African-American to serve as class president. He went on to lead multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before entering Harvard Law School, where he was again elected student body president. While at Harvard, Perkins focused his study in areas like innovation in small and mid-sized cities as well as criminal justice reform.
After graduation from Harvard, Perkins returned to his hometown for a run at the mayor’s office. He handily beat incumbent Ollie S. Taylor, 74, capturing more than 64 percent of the vote.
“I think I brought a lot of energy to the campaign, in general,” remarked Perkins. “But it wasn’t just me that was a political newcomer. There were people around me who were political newcomers as well. And I think it said a lot to our community, that the people — millennials, and some younger and older — people who weren’t typically engaged in the political process, were now engaged and they were passionate.”
Perkins predicts Hanson will “be one of the strongest, if not the strongest hires, that I make.” He wants tech to weave its way into not only City Hall, but also work to make Shreveport safer and more efficient.
Hanson said he hopes to work tech education and training into local schools, teaching students how to code mobile apps and other skills.
“Out in the community, a big mission of mine was to start building a pipeline of talented developers in our area,” said Hanson.
“I’m really looking forward to all of the initiatives that we’re working on, and just bringing those things to our school administrators and saying, ‘Hey, what can we do to work together? Let's partner on grants. Let's partner on initiatives that we all benefit on,’ and bring everybody to the table,” he added.