Forget plastics. A public-private partnership for advancing data analytics and computing is the best way to position Arkansas for the future. That's the chief finding of a report prepared by an 18-member commission and presented to Governor Asa Hutchinson in December 2017. The result is the Arkansas Partnership for Data Analytics and Computing, a non-profit organization governed by industry leaders with representation from state government and higher education. The commission comprised mainly Arkansas company executives (Walmart, Stephens, Tyson Foods and others) and higher education leaders; it was co-chaired by Charles Morgan, CEO of First Orion Corporation, and Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
"The future of Arkansas's economic development is tied to our ability to succeed in data analytics and computing," said Morgan on presenting the commission's report to the governor. "It is a technology that cuts across our leading industries. If we are to succeed in retaining and growing existing jobs and recruiting industry, we have to have the talent and technical capabilities to meet this opportunity. A public-private partnership is needed to collaborate in developing the talent we all need in industry to compete in data analytics and computing."
Over the next five years, strategic priorities for the Arkansas Partnership for Data Analytics and Computing include:
addressing the challenges of recruiting top talent actively involved in data analytics and computing; raising industry awareness and understanding; and developing, engaging and retaining homegrown top talent in data analytics and computing.
The commission's recommendations also included specific ways to: (1) advance increased networking and executive education for Arkansas companies to better integrate data analytics into their businesses; (2) reinforce data analytics skills development across Arkansas's universities and connecting students with businesses; (3) target data analytics and computing talent retention, attraction, and retraining to ensure Arkansas can meet existing and new company demand for data analytics talent; and (4) raise Arkansas's technical capabilities through a Data Analytics Strategic Improvement Plan.
The commissioners estimate $25 million from state government and private entities over a five-year period will be required to staff the initiative and launch its near-term program efforts as a key technology-based economic development initiative of the state.
Where do things stand in mid-2018? Has the train left the station?
"A lot of work has taken place to set the program up for implementation," says AEDC's Mike Preston. "The legal organization filing for the Arkansas Center for Data Science will be completed within a week. The organizing members are scheduled to meet in July to establish the board of directors and slate of officers."
Meanwhile, he adds, work has begun to establish a user group of CIOs from major Arkansas corporations to share industry problems and create a common training to address those issues. "Finally," reports Preston, "AEDC and its partners are finalizing its science and technology plan, which will be the roadmap for the state's input on this private-public economic development strategy. The document will be up for public review near the end of July."
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.