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Governor proposes $25 million technology development partnership

12/21/17 09:41 Am EDT

News Organization: Arkansas Times

Gov. Asa Hutchinson today recommended a potential five-year $25 million investment by public and private sources in a partnership to spur technology development in the state. 

This grew from work of a commission of business leaders put together by Hutchinson that issued a report on improving the state's prospect in technology jobs.

"We want to be a leader in this," Hutchinson said, accepting the report at a press conference and promising to push towards funding its recommendations.

Hutchinson and the commission co-chairs — Charles Morgan, CEO of First Orion Corporation and Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission — said they have not yet decided how much money will come from public and private sources. Morgan said work to find contributors is already underway.

The idea of a private-public partnership is "is something unique to Arkansas" Preston said, allowing them to be more nimble. The commission is envisioned as a separate non-profit "comprised of an industry-led Board with representation from state government and higher education," according to the report.

The "heart of the issue," Morgan said, would be in the education of local talent and recruitment.

"We need to have specific training that takes the computer science graduates and the people with some computer science skill and makes them job ready without just dumping them into a company and saying, 'try to figure it out,'" Morgan said. He hoped that his business would be able to hire in Arkansas "rather than going outside of the state to try to hire or moving all those jobs to California or Austin — which we don't want either."

Morgan said that the average salary for such jobs here is $85,000. In Seattle, a similar job at his company pays more than $100,000, but the money goes farther in lower-cost Arkansas.

Preston, continuing this point, in an interview after, saying, "we do have a really good quality of life."

"The wages that they're paying and the cost of living compared to a place like Austin or Seattle or Silicon Valley, you're going to get a lot more bang for your buck if you come here and do a tech job," he said. "But part of our challenge is just getting them here, getting them past any stigma that there might be for someone who's never been to Arkansas, whose not from Arkansas. ... This is a place that's friendly to millennials, that's friendly to this generation — we just have to get them here."

Here's the full report of the governor's commission.

The governor's summary of the aims of the Arkansas Partnership for Data Analytics and Computing:

Addressing the challenges of recruiting top talent actively involved in data analytics and computing

Raising industry awareness and understanding

Developing, engaging and retaining homegrown top talent in data analytics and computing

The Commission’s recommendations also included specific ways to:

Advance increased networking and executive education for Arkansas companies to better integrate data analytics into their businesses

Reinforce data analytics skills development across Arkansas’ universities and connecting students with businesses

Target data analytics and computing talent retention, attraction, and retraining to ensure Arkansas can meet existing and new company demand for data analytics talent

Raise Arkansas’s technical capabilities through a Data Analytics Strategic Improvement Plan