In the summer of 1962, an ambitious businessman named Sam Walton opened his first retail store in Rogers, Arkansas. Of course, this act of entrepreneurship set into motion a number of positive things for the Natural State, the most famous of which was that Arkansas would become home to the world’s largest employer, Walmart.
But the transformation extended beyond retail. Soon, Arkansas would become a growing hub for logistics, fintech and data management. The nation’s “digital disruption” actually came early to Arkansas, with homegrown companies like Acxiom serving as the epicenter for a data revolution that continues to evolve today.
Quietly, the Natural State has become the Big Data State, with data driven companies like FIS finding a home in Arkansas. It’s little wonder that the U.S. Air Force decided to station its 223rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron at the Little Rock Air Force Base, or that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law legislation to require that high school students take a computer science course before graduating.
Data is the present of Arkansas, and its security is our future.
The state’s investment in providing basic computer skills to the next generation of our its workforce is a wise course to take, because the demand for cybersecurity professionals is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the industry will experience job growth of at least 31 percent between 2019 and 2029, leading to an estimated shortfall of nearly 3.4 million jobs.
Arkansans have a head start on obtaining these careers, thanks in part to the governor’s sagacity and to an infrastructure set forth by Sam Walton’s experiment in big box store retail. But Arkansas isn’t simply resting on these laurels. The state has taken fresh steps to solidify Arkansas as a rallying point for the nation’s cybersecurity.
In December of 2021, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Forge Institute announced a collaboration to establish the Consortium for Cyber Innovation (CCI) with the purpose of developing and aligning cyber education and growing applied research capabilities in the state of Arkansas. This initiative builds upon an existing relationship with the University of Arkansas, whose cyber-capabilities are growing in tandem with the region’s emergence as a hub for tech and innovation. The CCI is critical to unifying our resources and capabilities to making Arkansas a stronger cyber defender.
Furthermore, a partnership between Forge Institute, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) and the Arkansas Department of Work Services (ADWS) is working to provide training programs targeted to our state’s underserved communities. A person freshly trained in IT and information security (infosec) skills can earn entry-level positions at $40,000 to $50,000 a year and build a career. That’s a life-altering economic shift that can lift entire families out of poverty and contribute to the health of the state’s economy.
Arkansas is ready to accept the role of national cyber defenders. Our universities are leading research in bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data. We have public policy and private infrastructure already in place. We boast a strong military and ex-military population — disciplined men and women with a passion for serving their country.
The mission is accepted.
Lee Watson is the founder and CEO of Little Rock’s Forge Institute, an established leader in workforce cyber training and infosec intelligence. Learn more about Forge Institute at www.Forge.Institute.
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