Mainstream Technologies sees unprecedented growth thanks to state contracts, changing workforce trends

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,773 views 

Some companies announce their plans for hiring and expansion before actually doing it, some look back on a time period and realize they’ve got something to share.

Little Rock-based Mainstream Technologies, a 27-year old homegrown information technology company, fits in the latter category.

CEO John Burgess tells Talk Business & Politics that Mainstream has added nearly 20 programmers in the last six months due to an influx of new business. Most of the growth has come from software development contracts, although cybersecurity and hosting services are also driving new hires.

Burgess said a lot of work the firm has been doing involves state contracts in Arkansas and six other states.

“We’ve secured a couple of new contracts with state governments around the country so our footprint has now expanded where we’re actively working with government entities in six different states around the continental U.S.,” he said.

The work ranges from departments of education to corrections – two big areas where Arkansas will be seeing changes soon. The education-related IT work covers everything from background checks to administrative organization, while the corrections contracts deal with criminal history and data management.

“We started working with Arkansas state government entities, the Department of Education, Employee Benefits Division, the Arkansas Crime Information Center and various Constitutional offices going back 13, 14 years. In working with those different agencies, we’ve developed some core competencies in some and are becoming subject matter experts in a couple of niche spaces,” Burgess said.

“Nobody knows how to write software better than Mainstream. We take that core center of excellence and we layer in these subject matter experts around industry-specific processes and that’s really opened some doors for us in these other states,” he added.

Examples include a new teacher licensure system for the Arizona Department of Education and a Colorado Department of Corrections information management system. In state, Mainstream is helping rewrite the case management system for the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts.

Greater focus on protecting sensitive data has also led the company to new projects for its managed IT and cybersecurity services.

“We’ve also developed a real expertise in dealing with these regulatory frameworks and being able to ‘walk the walk’ in terms of governance and accountability with the regulators in these industries and that gives us another kind of opportunity to write a system for somebody. We’ve demonstrated that we know how to safely handle it, store it and process it and that gives us opportunities to then host and manage and then secure those implementations,” Burgess said.

Mainstream has its fair share of private sector work. It was the foundation for the firm’s early success, but public sector work is no longer viewed as “technology lagging.”

“Governments have really made huge strides in improving the quality of the way they’re procuring software and the way they’re managing and deploying software to catch up with more cutting-edge practices in the private sector, so we certainly see opportunities to work with more states in these areas,” he said.

With new contracts and new hires, Burgess said the post-COVID world of managing its roughly 100 employee workforce has been a complete re-thinking process for talent recruitment and retention.

“As a result of 2020 and COVID, we pivoted to an almost completely work-from-home environment. Once that genie was out of the bottle, it’s not going back in,” he said.

Burgess said it quickly became apparent there would be difficulty retaining top talent without a work-from-home option. There were plenty of competitors capable of matching or exceeding salaries with a no office policy. The productivity has remained high, and without the necessity to bring staff into an office building, Mainstream quickly discovered it could cast a wider net for its growing workforce.

“On one hand, it’s opened up our ability to recruit on a much wider footprint. We have people in eight different states working on client projects. The flip side of that is that we’re also competing with every company in the country for these same resources and talent, but our competitive surface has expanded greatly from central Arkansas to the continental U.S.,” Burgess said.

“It’s a new world,” he added. “Although we’re going deeper into the talent pool than we have in the past in terms of hiring less experienced people – we’re typically dealing with someone who has five or 10 years out of school with industry experience and figuring out how to keep those people engaged… It has been a cultural challenge for us, because that’s always been one of our strengths is our culture. How do you engage somebody 300 miles away when you might not ever see them in person?”