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Promotin’ the General Welfare

Tech World's Collision Conference Offers Festival 2.0

While the world came to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, the renown annual celebration of culture, food, heritage, and music, another major event touched down between Jazz Fest weekends that may have an even greater impact on the city's future, both in the immediate and long-term. 


The second annual Collision Conference in New Orleans convened from May 2 through May 4 at the Convention Center and brought to our fair city one of the premiere and rising tech conferences in the world.  Developers, designers, investors, partners, and sponsors along with the generally tech-curious gathered to learn about and fawn over the latest ideas offered on all parts of the globe. So, while Jazz Fest celebrants were living it up, feasting on what’s made New Orleans famous, Collision conferees were showing the wares and wonders to be found in innovation today, and potential investors were on hand to meet, leverage and, for the lucky ones, agree to fund future endeavors.


What was most exciting was to see so many folks engaged in deep dialog about innovation here in New Orleans, which is supporting a burgeoning tech scene and sector. However, it was a disappointment that too few schools took advantage of this opportunity to expose aspiring coders, designers, engineers, programmers, and the robotics-inclined to the latest innovations. 


There was one group of eager acolytes in attendance from a home-school program: they attended all three days of the conference. Not seeing more students from private, parochial, or public schools raises the question of whether city and school leaders are seeing our students as part of the growing, viable part of the job market and economy – are they depending on techies from other parts of the country and the globe to fill all the new tech slots in our community and job market, or are they actively recruiting from the home base itself to ensure that our families and schools are invested in educating our students to be more tech sector savvy, more astute and aware of the variety of opportunities in the tech world?


I’m sure there were local tech interests represented in some form or fashion, but no one from the mayor’s or governor’s office, no one from municipal or state interest groups, made themselves apparent. This event put on by WebSummit, a partnership between two European concerns, featured no visible local presence and offered a lack of local flavor, save for the usual directions to hit the streets and sample local cuisines and sounds. Equally disappointing was no presence from our local school board or charter school interest group representing STEM initiatives.


Collision returned this year, and from an interview this writer heard on WWL-AM Radio last Friday (5.5), the local business and convention bureau would gladly welcome them back as often they’d like. From all indications, according to attendees, exhibitors, investors, and partners who spoke to this writer, returning to New Orleans is a winning idea. So, hooray to local business and convention planners for all your hard work!


However, that a conference of this magnitude has come to our fair city and there not be an obvious municipal or educational presence makes one wonder how serious New Orleans is about investing in the future success of a competitive tech sector. 


In the comings and goings from my vantage point at the conference, there was one representative from Tulane University. Many of the volunteers were from out of town, and the city business folks involved in tech investments need to ensure there is a greater local presence in attendance and participation if Collision returns next year.  It is a fabulous chance to establish a more significant footprint as a city that welcomes innovation incubators and a way to encourage schools at all levels to make certain more students are being introduced to these exciting ideas and developments.


We are great when we do what we do well, as evidenced by the ongoing improvements that make our Convention Center a fabulous attraction. We can become greater if we maintain a broader vision which maintains a keen eye on the look-out for exciting avenues to elevate New Orleans to a serious, top 10 urban destination.


How many other cities in the world can boast that it hosted perhaps the greatest American musical gathering simultaneously with what is fast becoming possibly the most important tech gathering in the world at this time? Last week, it happened here in New Orleans. Let’s work to make next week a more common occurrence.


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The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.

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