Today I’d like to share two pieces of news that illustrate how Arkansas has fostered an environment that encourages high-tech entrepreneurs and the educators who mentor and inspire them.
On Wednesday, I helped cut the ribbon for the Tech Depot in Newport. Tech Depot is an information technology education center with classrooms and training labs for apprentices who are employed by Arkansas companies. Tech Depot will offer courses in general IT skills, data analysis, cyber security, and software development.
The Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, one of the partners in this innovative program, will match companies to apprentices. Arkansas State University-Newport will provide the educational content for the IT Generalist class, which will start at the end of the month. The school has a long track record for creating training programs that fit the needs of industry. The Newport Economic Development Commission, the third Tech Depot partner, will coordinate the different elements of the program and help integrate them into the local economy.
We were cutting the ribbon at the Tech Depot in Newport a day after the leaders at the Venture Center in Little Rock learned they had captured the top prize at the Finovate conference. Finovate – which is a combination of “finance” and “innovate” – is the world’s top fintech conference. Five other winners of awards have worked with the Venture Center in Little Rock.
This award is appropriate because Little Rock is the birthplace of fintech. Fintech, by the way, is a combination of the words finance and technology.
I liked what Venture Center Executive Director Wayne Miller had to say about the award. Little Rock has always been known as the birthplace of fintech. Now, Wayne said, Little Rock is the epi-center of fintech innovation.
These two bits of news coming in the same week illustrate the strength of the technology industry in Arkansas. We see how education and business combine in public-private partnerships to produce tech-savvy entrepreneurs, strengthen our economy, and polish Arkansas’s reputation as a leader in technology.
The Venture Center programs help new companies accelerate their growth. Tech Depot in Newport will turn out graduates ready to join innovative companies or start their own.
In my remarks at the Tech Depot ribbon cutting, I celebrated a tech center in the rural part of our state. I also told of a trip I made to Silicon Valley to recruit technology companies. I quickly concluded they were reluctant to come. They were happy to lure Arkansans out to California, but they weren’t that excited about coming to Arkansas. I realized that we were going to have to build our own high-tech industry, and that we would build it from our own stable of world-class talent.
We are accomplishing that with a speed and success that exceeded my hopes but didn’t surprise me. That’s the way Arkansans work. Educators, business leaders, and elected leaders have embraced the challenge. We are equipping our workforce and bringing home the prizes.