I began my oil industry career in 1982 as a micro-paleontologist at Paleo-Data, Inc., a New Orleans based consulting firm founded in 1967. There was no advanced technology to be found in the shop and records were kept on index cards and traditional paper files.
A lot has changed since I was a junior paleontologist at Paleo-Data, Inc. The post-Katrina company has evolved from the triage-like quick and basic service into a high-tech wonder in the industry, applying high technology to interpreting the distant past. Owner and manager Art Waterman provided me with a tour of the newly renovated offices and laboratory pointing out a heavy investment in technology, an investment that has allowed the company to expand into a 23 employee-strong operation with folks in New Orleans, Lafayette, Nebraska, Massachusetts and the U.K.
This is a company that has seen it all as a technology-based NOLA business from index cards to an all digital business and can provide valuable advice for the new technology-based efforts in the city.
When asked why Paleo-Data, Inc has bucked the oil industry flight to Houston trend and remained in New Orleans even rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, Art listed three primary reasons, the first two being Employee retention and Lifestyle differences in NOLA vs. Houston, This came as no surprise. Many companies I interviewed expressed the same sentiment. Locals just won’t move.
On a related note, when asked what barriers Art saw to establishing NOLA as a technology hub for the nation, he cited lack of a trained and educated supply of personnel and competition from other better established technology hubs such as Austin or Raleigh-Durham that already has an infrastructure and larger corporate presence.
This has been a common complaint amongst technology-based businesses I’ve interviewed in and outside of New Orleans. Technology hubs tend to locate near a reliable source of talent, tech-based universities. New Orleans, with handful of universities, is sorely lacking in this area. Constituents need to pressure local government to invest in providing the fuel required to run the new tech engine – well funded universities, colleges and K-12 education to fill those upper level seats. Likewise, with a reputation for poor government and high crime, it’s unlikely many talented folks in STEM will ever experience the crescent city’s unique culture or chose to raise a family here.
A third reason Logistics – or the proximity of New Orleans to embarkation locations offshore making for a more efficient operation was cited by Art and reveals a local feature that should be developed and marketed to similar businesses.
And because this is a New Orleans based column, Art was happy to identify,
Herbsaint or Luke or Cafe Carmo as the best places for lunch in the city.