Governor Asa Hutchinson recently spent time in Silicon Valley where he visited Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and several other tech leaders. Many think this visit was already planned, but expedited due to recent developments surrounding Arkansas’s Religious Freedom Reform Act (RFRA).
Whatever the catalyst for the Governor’s trip, this is a great move in furthering the state’s push to attract tech companies, and with them, much-needed jobs.
As I discussed in an earlier article about our state’s startup culture, Arkansas colleges and universities have a track record of offering programs including pitch competitions and business plan contests that help prepare students to be entrepreneurs and innovative problem solvers – exactly the kind of talent tech companies need.
Now, our state is leading the way as the first state in the nation to pass legislation and set aside funding for all high schools to offer computer science courses to students. The combination of these existing and newly launched efforts puts Arkansas on the path to building a strong pipeline of highly-skilled tech and innovation workers.
Arkansas also has many assets that would be highly beneficial to tech companies seeking to attract additional millennials from outside the state. Our state’s low cost of living, family-friendly communities, and low home prices are a great fit for millennials who are still early in their careers, but looking to put down roots somewhere their hard-earned income can afford them a high-quality lifestyle.
Moreover, Arkansas workers avoid the crazy commute times that have climbed upwards of one hour for many in Silicon Valley. Arkansans can instead spend the time they would have spent sitting in traffic exploring the beautiful mountains, trails, rivers, lakes, and wildlife that give us our name the Natural State.
Beyond the human capital advantages our state has to offer, we have also fostered an environment very conducive to doing business. Arkansas is home to seven Fortune 500 companies, most of which were homegrown.
The state also has a relational atmosphere that allows business leaders to collaborate and get things done. In this way, the Natural State’s small size is an advantage as it allows easy access and coordination between business, community, and political leaders.
Despite all we have going for us, we have to keep in mind that Arkansas is not the only state in the region making a play to attract tech giants from Silicon Valley.
The state of Georgia touts its high-quality university systems, low cost of doing business, and strategic positioning as an international transportation hub thanks to its network of ports, railways, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.
Louisiana has also thrown its hat into the ring, turning itself into a gaming hub by luring companies like Electronic Arts and Gameloft largely through tax incentives and customized job training programs.
As we look to strengthen our state’s economy with good quality jobs, it is as important as ever that we continue to embrace innovative approaches to show tech companies why they should call the Natural State home.
The computer coding initiative is a good first step, but let’s don’t stop there. Our neighbors and competitors are unlikely to stop their efforts, so it’s incumbent that our leaders bring additional innovative thinking to the forefront.