Edwards speaks at inaugural conference

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards attended the UL Systems’ inaugural “For Our Future" conference hosted at the university, where he spoke about the importance in funding for higher education and the recent accomplishments in funding the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students. Annie Goodman/The Lion's Roar

The university hosted the inaugural University of Louisiana System’s “For Our Future" conference featuring talks from Regional Vice President of Healthcare Strategic Relations and Business Development in AT&T's Internet of Things Healthcare Group Judi Manis, Governor of Louisiana John Bel Edwards, UL System President Dr. James Henderson and the UL System’s University Presidents.

Edwards said, “If you believe, as I do, that the future of this state, the future of the students, of the kids, and probably many of our students aren’t kids anymore. But if you believe that it’s tied to education, to work force development, to job training and you know that this is the largest education system in the state, then to a very real degree the future of Louisiana is in the hands of the people in this room. I believe that.”

Officials from the nine institutions in the UL System, Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans, attended the conference on the third floor of the War Memorial Student Union Thursday, Feb. 1 and Friday, Feb. 2.

“I can talk about the importance of higher education,” said Edwards. “I can talk about how special our people are and that we want them to have opportunity. But if I’m not a good partner with the people in this room, that’s all it is. It’s talk. I said when I ran for governor that the chief reasons I was running was if we had children in Louisiana that decided for some reason to leave our state to get an education, to find a job, and to have a rewarding career, that would be great. We should bless them and send them on their way. But if we have our kids leaving our state because they believe they have to in order to get a good education, find that job and have a rewarding career, we have failed them. I do not intend to fail our children.”

In his speech during lunch on Feb. 1, Edwards addressed the accomplishments the government has made toward higher education since he stepped into office.

“For the first time in a decade, we didn’t cut higher education,” said Edwards. “That’s a great thing because it’s allowed university leaders just to take a deep breath and focus more on educating kids and not on keeping their campus open and making sure the lights come on when somebody walks in a room and flips a switch.”

Edwards then moved on to discuss a new business development in New Orleans that is expected to boost Louisiana’s economy.

“This is the single biggest economic win in the state’s history in terms of permanent direct jobs at one location,” said Edwards. “DXC Technology decides to invest in Louisiana. They are gonna hire 2,000 people on a permanent basis, pay them an average salary of $63,000 per year. These are all clean IT jobs, and it’s gonna happen in New Orleans. There’s another 2200 indirect jobs involved in that. Number two in the country by Business Facilities Magazine in terms of economic development wins in the year 2017.”

According to Edwards, before DXC Technology decided to build in Louisiana, they expressed with Edwards the importance they too put on higher education.

“I can tell you when I sat down with the people from DXC Technology, and they were trying to decide whether they wanted to come to Louisiana, the questions they asked, the commitment they wanted, it wasn’t about our taxes,” said Edwards. “They know we have the fifth lowest tax burden in the country. It wasn’t about the hurricane protection system in New Orleans. It wasn’t about any of those other things. It was, ‘Governor, are you committed to higher education? Are you committed to making sure that if we invest our money here, that we’re gonna have enough employees that we will be successful, employees that will know what they need to know, be able to do what they need to do?’ I then looked at him and said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Edwards feels the legislature not cutting higher education in 2017 persuaded DXC to open in New Orleans.

“We then went into session last year, and for the first time in nine years, we didn’t cut our state funds for support in higher education and we fully funded the TOPS program,” said Edwards. “And they turned around and made the announcement they were coming to Louisiana.”

Edwards explained how a task force to analyze tax systems and provide recommendations was created, but the issue was never addressed in the 2017 legislative session.

“When I came into office two years ago for the first full fiscal year, we were looking at a deficit that exceeded $2 billion,” said Edwards. “We fixed that problem in a very short-term way, a very temporary way, where the legislature raised some revenue. And yes, we made cuts and we also achieved savings. But the revenue that was raised, almost all of it expires June 30 of 2018.”

In order to further such growth, Edwards encouraged attendees to reach out to their legislators in regards to funding higher education in the 2018 “fiscal cliff.”

“Please don’t be silent,” said Edwards. “Make sure your legislators know what it is you expect from them. I promise you they’re hearing from other people on other things. They need to hear from you about higher education.”