Gov. Hutchinson touts growth of tech businesses at Women in Tech conference

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 449 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Wednesday (April 12) at the Women in Information Technology Conference held at the University of Arkansas. (photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state’s tech industry and access to tech education have each expanded in recent years, and a key objective moving forward is to connect local talent to local jobs.

To that end, Hutchinson announced the creation of a new website populated with tech job openings for Arkansas companies. He talked about the website during his speech at the Women in Information Technology Conference held Wednesday (April 12) at the University of Arkansas. The website is not live, according to the Governor’s Office, but will be up-and-running in May when Gov. Hutchinson goes on his fourth high school coding tour, where he recruits computer science students for next year.

“We want those students to see the opportunities ahead for them,” Hutchinson said. “There is a gap there mentally. A high school student down in Nashville, Arkansas, is taking computer science and he says, ‘What guarantee do I have to find a job if I take computer science?’ because they don’t understand, so we’ve got to really push that message.”

Since the governor’s computer science initiative, which resulted in mandating that computer science be offered at every Arkansas high school, the state has invested $5 million to retrain teachers and increased the number of high-schoolers taking the classes from fewer than 1,000 to 5,500, he said.

He pointed to the relocation of the tech startup Elixr from Boston to Little Rock and the expansion of Arkansas tech companies like Metova and Inuvo as proof of the state’s viability as a home for innovative businesses.

“If you think about it we have the largest tech company in the world with Walmart. We have J.B. Hunt, Tyson foods — you cannot be a food service company and not a technology company. You can’t be a retail company without building a tech company alongside it,” Hutchinson said. “I believe we can have a micro-hub of technology in Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock — and hopefully in other places — where we’ve got a good foundation for those technology companies here.”

Speaking to the college students in the audience, Hutchinson encouraged them to look for local jobs, rather than being recruited to places like Silicon Valley.

“They might offer you more money, but over time if we produce the talent the companies will locate here,” he said, adding that the quality of life in Arkansas is only improving — and that goes “hand and glove” with the tech businesses.

In particular, he highlighted amenities like bike trails that are aimed at attracting millennials.

The governor also identified a focus on recruiting females in tech as a key goal for his computer science initiative. Almost one-third of high school computer science students in Arkansas are female, showing a marked increase since the beginning of the initiative, Hutchinson said.

“We want to grow that number and we’re doing everything we can to emphasize that,” he said.

The governor spoke on his support for women in technology careers and pointed out in the audience Amy Fecher, chief transformation officer for the Office of Transformation, established last December as a means to streamline state operations and increase efficiency, in addition to Yessica Jones, director of the Arkansas Department of Information Systems.

“She’s the chief technology officer for Arkansas,” he said.

“I hope from this presentation you can see that as governor I’m going to be leading this state in tech education and bringing tech business to the state, and women are a critical part of that effort. We need your voice, we need your engagement. I hope that you’re going out there to start businesses,” Hutchinson said. “We’re not done yet. We have a lot more to do.”

Keynote speakers at the conference were Rita Carney, retired executive for Wal-Mart Stores, and Lisa Tuttle, chief information security officer for North Carolina-based SPX Corp., a global supplier for HVAC infrastructure, measurement and detection and engineered solutions markets.

The conference also featured two panel discussions. Executives from Dillard’s, Forecast5 Analytics, UGAM and CaseStack discussed business analytics and big data. Representatives from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and Tyson Foods, in addition to Carney and Tuttle, addressed the theme of the conference: “Progress – Putting Theory into Practice,” regarding gender equality in the tech industry.

On Tuesday (April 11), 20 high school students were honored with a dinner for their achievements and aspirations in the field of technology as part of the conference. The students are awardees from the seventh annual National Center for Women and Information Technology Aspirations in Computing Award.

Sarah Daigle, the chief tech strategy officer and founder of Currant Technology Group, facilitated the two-day conference.