Four of the city's economic development heavyweights have created a new entity to push the development of the digital entertainment industry in Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge Area Digital Industries Consortium will use the resources of LSU, the Mayor's Office, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to grow and recruit gaming companies and develop the work force to feed them. The consortium will be headed by Stacey Simmons, director for special projects at LSU's Center for Computation and Technology and co-creator of the Red Stick International Animation Festival. Members of the consortium will work together to attract more digital media businesses to Baton Rouge, building on the early success of the animation festival and state tax credits targeted to digital media companies that are similar to the film tax credits that have drawn movie production to Louisiana. Speaking by phone from Texas while attending the Austin Game Developers Conference, Simmons said she just had lunch with game developers who were unaware of tax incentives the state offers. She said companies are feeling pressure to relocate outside the U.S. to Europe and Canada because of economic incentives offered there. Louisiana is well-positioned with its digital media tax credit, tax incentives to headquarter companies here and the quality jobs program. Georgia is the only other state with an incentive specifically for digital entertainment, she said. Simmons said gaming industry jobs are important because they pay well — starting at $40,000 to $55,000 a year — and, unlike the movie industry, “these jobs stay here.” The production cycle on a video game is between three and five years. A single video game in a small production house can create 35 jobs, and a medium to large one up to 250 jobs. According to the Entertainment Software Association, computer and console software alone was a $7.4 billion industry last year. “The game industry is not going away,” Simmons said. “It's only getting bigger. The average age of a gamer is 34, that gives you a pretty wide swath of people who are playing games.” In addition to having Simmons as a point person, the consortium draws together the considerable muscle and resources of LSU, the city, the chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. “I can say without hesitation that all want to see Baton Rouge grow … to stop the brain drain out of Baton Rouge and out of Louisiana,” Simmons said She said a major step in the effort is coming up Nov. 1 at the Lod Cook Conference Center. Digital Media Education Forum will bring together educators and industry representatives to discuss how Louisiana can shape the curriculum necessary to create the work force that suits the industry. She said LSU graduates in art music and electrical engineering already work in the gaming industry here and elsewhere, but the city needs to make further strides in creating a bond between education and industry. And doing so, along with tax incentives, will make Baton Rouge more attractive to game developers. “It is possible, it's just a matter of educating our own people,” she said.
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