Measuring Arkansas’ high-tech employment

by Greg Kaza ([email protected]) 783 views 

Entrepreneurs, public officials and academics have worked in the 21st Century to increase market awareness that Arkansas’ economy includes a growing “high-tech” component.

One way to illustrate this development is by reporting more information to world markets about private Arkansas high-tech industries. Information can also make Arkansas state government more efficient by breaking down barriers, sometimes termed ‘silos,’ between agencies.

An expansion of the state Department of Workforce Services site accomplishes these goals. It shows the number of skilled employees – including coders – working in Arkansas’ Computer Systems Design and Related Services sector is nearing 10,000.

Here’s some background on measuring Arkansas’ high-tech employment.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and state Department of Workforce Services (DWS) report monthly payroll employment data.  It includes information on employment super-sectors and sectors but without numbers on specialized industries.

A 2003 Policy Foundation memo noted: “No state in the region publishes monthly data for the five largest high-technology industries identified in Department of Labor publications.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in late 2015 that the Foundation would lead an efficiency review of state government.

“The citizens of Arkansas deserve a critical evaluation of their state government to ensure the cost-effective delivery of services and to ensure that state employees have every possible means necessary to maximize their effectiveness,” Hutchinson said.

The Efficiency Project, with private funds, hired a national firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers to work with the state Department of Finance and Administration. Citizen volunteers, after a nine-month review of state agencies, also produced a report with 60 recommendations. Recommendation No. 42 suggested DWS “expand its monthly nonfarm payroll employment report to include private industry sectors engaged in coding and technology-related services.” DWS also received suggestions from private sector employers.

This summer, DWS expanded its website to include quarterly labor market information on more than 300 industries including coding and technology-related services.

DWS Director Daryl Bassett explained, “The Division strives to listen to employer’s needs and present solutions to their training and workforce development needs and respond to the growing and rapidly changing needs of industry for a capable , career-ready workforce.  Fortunately, we have a labor market department that is uniquely positioned to provide the kind of timely information needed on “in-demand” occupations.  We think this is critical if we are to provide the state with an effective talent delivery system.”

The quarterly information dates to 2001, which means private sector employers and economic developers can trace the expansion or contraction of Arkansas industries throughout the 21st Century.

Entrepreneurs and economic developers no longer face inefficient information barriers.  Answers are only several clicks away. More accurate portraits of Arkansas high-tech industries will emerge from the expanded DWS site. For example, the Computer Systems Design and Related Services designation includes computer programmers and software developers. DWS’ revised website shows employment in the area increased from 7,159 (2001-1Q) to 9,707 (2017-1Q). Management and Technical Consulting more than tripled from 1,471 (2001-1Q) to 5,800 (2017-1Q).

Following is BLS’ description of computer programmers:

“Create, modify, and test the code, forms, and script that allow computer applications to run. Work from specifications drawn up by software developers or other individuals. May assist software developers by analyzing user needs and designing software solutions. May develop and write computer programs to store, locate, and retrieve specific documents, data, and information.”

And software developers, applications: “Develop, create, and modify general computer applications software or specialized utility programs. Analyze user needs and develop software solutions. Design software or customize software for client use with the aim of optimizing operational efficiency. May analyze and design databases within an application area, working individually or coordinating database development as part of a team. May supervise computer programmers.”

DWS’ action will change perceptions about Arkansas in world markets. The knowledge that nearly 10,000 Arkansans are employed in “knowledge-based” areas will also encourage more students to study technology.

A 2016 Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation report noted a ’70-30′ Arkansas labor market.  Nearly 70% “require a high school diploma or less,” but “only 30% require a post-secondary credential.” The ’70/30′ initiative seeks to “raise expectations” by reversing the mix of Arkansans employed in low- and high-wage sectors. Another way to raise expectations is to note the range of high-tech jobs that already exist in Arkansas.

DWS has taken an important step to draw attention to the high-tech component of Arkansas’ private economy.
Editor’s note:  Greg Kaza is executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, a Little Rock-based think tank founded in 1995. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.