Business and government leaders across Arkansas say the challenges in the Internet Age present opportunities for success and failures. Navigating the rapidly changing landscape may be the highest hurdle to overcome.
A Google+ Hangout chat, sponsored by Washington, D.C.-based The Internet Association (IA), brought together the offices of U.S. Sens. John Boozman (R ) and Mark Pryor (D) and IA President CEO Michael Beckerman. Talk Business Arkansas executive editor Roby Brock moderated the discussion.
Business and government panel participants included:
• Susie Marks, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce
• Jeffrey Hall, Arkansas Farm Bureau
• Mike Abbiatti, Arkansas Research & Education Optical Network (ARE-ON)
• Matt Price, Bourbon and Boots
• Ellie Keffler, UA Associated Student Government
Andy York, chief of staff for Sen. Pryor, warned that one of the challenges facing Congress in setting policy to guide Internet commerce is the rapid speed with which technology changes.
“The last thing you want to do with legislation is to be technology-specific to a point where anything you write, any policy you create is going to be obsolete 10 or 15 minutes after you draft it into law,” York said.
FROM SECURITY TO WORKFORCE
Security is another policy hurdle. Small businesses are on guard to protect against identity theft, while attacks from domestic and foreign hackers constantly requires diligence for those doing business on the Internet.
Abbiatti – who oversees ARE-ON, a large bandwidth Internet portal used by researchers for telemedicine and higher education projects – said that Arkansas has caught up with the rest of the country and world despite its later entry into the international high-speed network known as the LambdaRail.
“Arkansas is not behind in the Internet economy, we’re just new,” said Abbiatti. “Being new means having a different set of rules.”
He said Arkansas is taking its intellectual capital and leveraging it on a global scale through research and new technologies. Abbiatti said since ARE-ON has evolved in recent years, UAMS has expanded telemedicine capabilities to 400 clinics across the state.
“We are new, but we are still behind,” said Matt Price, founder of Bourbon and Boots, an online commerce site selling Southern-style gift items. He said workforce opportunities are hindered by educational models that don’t account for the rapidly changing dynamics of Internet technology.
“I think that’s a hurdle for businesses like mine, when you’re trying to look around and find talent,” Price said.
He also noted that two of his four full-time employees do not have college degrees. They are self-taught in their Internet skills.
The hottest topic of debate in the Google+ Hangout discussion centered on immigration. Congress is likely to spend the better part of the next month discussing potential immigration reform.
While much debate has focused on illegal immigrants and how to handle their citizenship, a big issue in the tech community revolves around overseas students who come to the U.S. for education, create Internet-based business models, then return to their native lands.
There are worries, and proof, that these workers could use their American-based educations to start-up new firms in competition with U.S.-based counterparts.
“This is part of a much bigger debate,” said Sen. Boozman. “We have to get that straight.”
He added, “I would like to do immigration reform incrementally. At the top of the list is making sure that people who can contribute in a way of accessing information through our universities and things so we can allow them to get the right documentation so they can stay and contribute.”
“Immigrants play a big part in our state’s economy, but we need to have the technology in place to be able to track where our immigrants are as they move from job to job and to be able to confirm their status and the type of workers our businesses are hiring,” said Marks with the state chamber.
FROM THE FIELDS TO THE CLASSROOM
No industry may have undergone a more dramatic transformation than the state’s agricultural industry.
Hall, with the Farm Bureau, said farmers use technology to plant, test and monitor their crops from start to finish. He said a 62-year old farmer does not fear using technology although he may be aided by a 22-year old grandchild helping the family farm.
Hall also said farmers utilizing Twitter and other social media are using those platforms to participate in public policy discussions through online town halls with elected officials like Sens. Pryor and Boozman.
“I do know several of our young farmers recently tweeted some questions and rated the Senators responses via Twitter,” Hall said.
Keffler, a junior history major at the University of Arkansas, said she hasn’t taken an online course in her studies, but has several colleagues who have met core curriculum requirements through Internet studies.
She won’t be surprised if that trend continues and grows in the coming years. Keffler also said that Internet-based communication through social media apps are the preferred choice of dialogue for her generation.
UA officials use Facebook, Twitter and text alerts to communicate with students regularly about campus events and concerns.
“Social media is the best way to get that information out to people about events happening on campus,” Keffler said.
Link here for a video segment of the event.