Arkansas continues to push for growth in the information technology field. With the evolution of the companies that comprise this industry, the definitions of an IT firm have changed.
They include companies that host data, develop software, create programs, install hardware, design web sites, and build apps – just to name a few.
The monthly survey of employers released by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services indicates that the state’s IT workforce – which employs an estimated 14,500 Arkansans as of March 2013 – has been relatively flat during the past year.
Employment in the information services sector in Arkansas has trended downward in the past 10 years, with the lowest point reached in February 2013 with an estimated 14,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sector employment is down almost 28% compared to March 2003 and down almost 18% compared to March 2008.
Between 1990 and March 2013, employment in the sector peaked at 21,300 in December 2000. The sector employed more than 20,000 in Arkansas until April 2004, when if fell to 19,900. Sector employment fell below 19,000 in February 2006, fell below 17,000 in November 2008, fell below 16,000 in October 2009, and fell below 15,000 in March 2011.
But those numbers could be deceiving, according to those in the field. Defining information technologies firms is a constantly moving target. And despite the shrinking numbers, talent does abound.
What is the state of the state’s workforce for information-based firms? Several Arkansas company leaders weigh in with thoughts on the subject.
Mainstream Technologies offers information technology services in the areas of outsourced software development, hosting and cloud infrastructure, and outsourced infrastructure management. It currently has around 50 employees and contractors, all based at its headquarters in Little Rock.
CEO John Burgess says Mainstream Technologies has been in a growth mode for the last two years, seeing a more than 30 percent leap in staff size.
“We recognize that we are going to be successful in our mission by attracting and retaining the very best talent. To that end, we work hard to position Mainstream as a desirable place to work for those people who excel in these technical fields and who appreciate being surrounded by other excellent people. We have been successful in finding candidates in central Arkansas who meet our skill and experience and requirements through a limited use of placement firms and a primary focus on leveraging the professional networks of our existing associates. We have great people and they are genuinely interested in helping us recruit other great people who they have worked with during their careers.
“One of the poorly understood drivers in our industry is the rapid turnover of technology skills. IT is one of the few career choices where it is almost a liability to have a long tenure with the same technical skill because the field is simply evolving that quickly. Almost constant training and re-training is required to keep one’s technical resume current and relevant. Hardware, software and infrastructure get incrementally cheaper per capacity unit each year leaving labor as the single biggest target for cost-cutting efforts. This has been a driving force behind the adoption of the outsourcing model as IT decision makers keep looking for ways to do more with less.”
Fort Smith-based Kirkham Systems specializes in providing one-stop IT services for small businesses, computer security, disaster recovery and back-up, and managed services for servers, routers, and networking. Kirkham Systems also does website design and integration for its clients, which include TheCityWire.com news service.
With seven full-time employees and freelancers, Kirkham operates in an efficient manner and is fairly exclusive when it comes to new hires.
“In our region, we have no trouble attracting well-qualified candidates. The IT industry overall is going through changes and many companies are downsizing their IT staff and outsourcing to companies like us.
“The IT industry attracts what I refer to as firemen – personnel that are extremely adept at putting out fires. What we find is that it is important for IT personnel to not only possess these skills, but also have organizational and efficiency skills. In IT, the best outcome is planning for problems and disasters, rather than only responding to them.”
Matmon has over 16 years of experience in designing custom websites and delivering Internet marketing services with clients ranging from local businesses to international brands. The Little Rock-based firm provides research, branding, site design, programming, testing, hosting and go-to-market strategies. Currently, Matmon employs 16 full-time and freelance employees.
Matt Olson, President and CEO, says the talent pool in Arkansas is available, but it requires particularly solid searching skills.
“We may not have enough positions to fill at the moment to give you a true answer regarding the talent pool in Arkansas. Our experience when looking for new talent in the past was that it was a bit costly to advertise a position and we sometimes have trouble determining where to advertise. Arkansas has provided Matmon with talented, loyal and driven to continually learn talent thus far and we have nothing but great things to say regarding our local community and schools.
“With the industry continually evolving, it’s important for our company to stay educated on new advancements when they’re introduced. We use the Internet to stay current on these new trends by attending online webinars, watching video tutorials, and participating in forum discussions with fellow industry professionals. After learning about new technology advancements, it’s essential to test their features and functionality in real world situations. Each new project is an opportunity to incorporate a new method or technology and analyze the benefits it brings to our clients.”
Chairman & CEO
Inuvo recently moved its corporate headquarters from New York to Conway. The tech firm develops consumer applications for the Internet and delivers targeted advertisements onto websites owned by partners and the company. It topped $53 million in revenues last year.
Inuvo said at its January 2013 announcement to relocate in Arkansas that it would hire 50 new employees during the next four years and relocate many of its senior leadership team to the state.
The company has a highly specialized workforce that requires knowledge of network equipment, cloud computing technology, enterprise support, and a variety of open source software programming, deployment and usage.
“Currently we have approximately 14 developers, database administrators, data architects and system administrators.”
“The talent pool in Arkansas is very strong with many IT people well-trained at companies like Acxiom, HP, Windstream and Alltel. Overall, the tendency has been towards vertical expertise, meaning the people we have interviewed are great at a few things and still learning about a lot of things.”