I’d like to think that my 46 years of experience in the Arkansas business community has provided me with valuable insights. My 34 years at Acxiom were exceptional. I arrived in 1973 with around 20 employees at the company, which was an exciting return to my native state. I saw firsthand how innovation, hard work and a level of confident risk-taking can drive business success. Acxiom exported clear business value to their customers. In return, it brought back to the state strong economic value. When I retired from Acxiom in 2007, we had more than 7,000 employees with revenue approaching $1.5 billion.
My second career had its roots with my involvement in Accelerate Arkansas. It started with a phone call in 1999 from Jim Pickens, the head of what was then called the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. He invited me to join a task force he was creating to examine how Arkansas could participate in the knowledge economy, or more specifically, “How could Arkansas recruit knowledge-based companies to Arkansas.” The task force was headed by James Hendren, who has been instrumental in my maturity with understanding technology-based economic development.
The core leadership involved in the taskforce stayed together to create Accelerate Arkansas, a nonprofit focused on policy and vision for Arkansas’ knowledge-based economy. Armed with a 2004 study titled, “Arkansas’ Position in the Knowledge-Based Economy,” written by Ross DeVol, then the chief economist for the Milken Institute, we started to dig in. Ross’ report admitted that “Arkansas has been operating at the periphery of the knowledge-based economy” — painful to hear, but true.
My second career leading the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) for the last 12 years has broadened my perspective of what role university research should play in the economic future of our state. The 2007 Strategic Plan authored by Accelerate Arkansas identified five core strategies to develop the state’s business and technological competitiveness. One of those strategies focused on how university research should change the economic trajectory of our state. Using the Georgia Research Alliance as a model, ARA officially started in April 2008, and we haven’t looked back. ARA, from the beginning, has had a strong board of trustees comprised of the chancellors from the five leading research universities in Arkansas plus corporate members of the board now numbering 16 — strong and strategic. The ARA website is up to date and provides great insight to our progress.
All of this is foundation for what we have ahead: an exciting future based on innovation, computational competence and an understanding of how Arkansas can compete in the 21st century. Already, the seeds we have planted are yielding fruit. Founded in 2016, the ARA Academy of Scholars & Fellows — comprised of chancellor-identified scientific talent core to the strategic success of each of the state’s major research campuses — is rapidly building essential relationships to Arkansas’ private sector and national organizations. It’s all fueled by support from federal and state resources and is helping us transition to a competitive tech-based innovation economy. Today, we are among the nation’s leaders in artificial intelligence, drug discovery, medical innovation, cybersecurity and more.
So, moving forward, we’ll be sharing with the readers of AMP a monthly dose of the elements of the necessary building blocks for the competitive future of Arkansas as it relates to innovation, university research and creating value by solving complex business challenges — story by story.
Jerry Adams is the president and CEO of the Arkansas Research Alliance, based in Conway. ARAlliance.org