The Arkansas Economic Development Commission, in conjunction with a local technology-oriented nonprofit, announced Tuesday (Aug. 15) the launch of a new website aimed at matching highly-skilled knowledge-based workers with employers in the state’s fast-growing professional and business services sector.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, along with AEDC Director Mike Preston, said the new jobs portal, www.ARTechjobs.com, is the latest component of his computer coding initiative to increase the number of Arkansans in high-tech fields.
“We are not exporting our talent out there to Silicon Valley, but we are saying ‘if you want talent,’ it is right here in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said during a downtown announcement at the Little Rock Technology Park. “So, in Arkansas, the high-tech wind is at our back and this will help us to keep going in the right direction to create the talent and showcase our companies and to build Arkansas into that hub of technology companies that will be such a balance to the other industries that are leading our state.”
According to Dave Wengel, founder and CEO of Little Rock startup Idatafy, the new job board is the brainchild of ARCodeKids, a statewide non-profit started about a year ago that is focused on building awareness, expanding student participation and enabling new career pathways in computer coding in Arkansas. Wengel said the goal of ArTechJobs is to connect employers and tech workers in Arkansas in an effort to fill a growing number of technical jobs in a wide variety of industries including IT, web development and design, database administration, software development, computer network architecture, information security, healthcare and other highly-skilled, knowledge-based jobs.
“This isn’t just startups, this is Wal-Mart, Windstream, J.B. Hunt and Tyson,” he said. “That is not only important for recruiting individuals here, but to the governor’s point it is showing our state that this computer science initiative is about supporting our most important businesses.”
As of Tuesday there are more than 50 companies with operations in Arkansas that have signed up to participate in the initiative and post jobs on the AEDC-run website. There is no cost for companies or job seekers to participate, Wengal said, adding there are now about 100 open positions listed. A majority of the jobs are with corporate entities in Northwest Arkansas and state government in central Arkansas.
Preston said now that ARCodeKids has delivered the technology job portal to AEDC, his staff will be responsible for marketing and promoting the site, which the Information Network of Arkansas (INA) created and developed at no expense to the state.
“For Dave (Wengel) to come in and bring this to us, it was a delight for us because we are bringing in these companies to our states, but we need to make sure that we have that pipeline of talent … that are coming to fill these jobs,” Preston said. “If you look at the jobs that are coming into our economy right now … it doesn’t matter the sector – whether it’s retail, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture or financial services – there is a need for technology-driven jobs.”
The new state-run job portal is going live at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is at an all-time low of 4.3% and the labor pool has expanded to more than 1.35 million workers. One of the more surprising trends that has emerged from Arkansas job data over the past year is the job growth from the professional and business services supersector, which is the second-fastest growing segment of the state’s labor pool with more than 150,000 workers.
According to the NAICS, or the North American Industry Classification System for U.S. industry, businesses in this class generally hire workers who have a high degree of expertise and training, including startup firms and workers in the technology sector.
In a recent analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Economist Michael Pakko said an average of 4,780 professional and business service jobs were added to the state’s economy between 2012 and 2016. The UALR economist said the professional and technical services industry has grown steadily and now accounts for nearly a quarter of the growth in the professional and business services supersector.
“These jobs are in specialized sectors and tend to require highly skilled employees,” Pakko said.
At Tuesday’s event, Preston and Wendel expressed confidence that Arkansas has the talent to fill the growing need for these hi-tech jobs.
“This website is the first step in pairing the right employees with the right companies,” said the AEDC chief.