- An Arkansas commission recently released a 24-page report calling on the state to establish a "sustainable" public-private partnership that could increase the state's competitiveness and capabilities in data analytics and computing.
- The commission — dubbed the Blue Ribbon Commission to Report on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics in Arkansas — was formed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in March 2017 to study opportunities for economic growth in relation to computer science.
- The report notes that the new Arkansas Partnership for Data Analytics and Computing will require at least $25 million over a five-year period to address tech recruiting challenges; develop and retain homegrown tech talent; advance a "high-value business environment" for data analytics and computing and foster career pathways for industry professionals.
In a July report outlining the best states for data innovation, authored by the Center for Data Innovation, Arkansas took 38th place overall, trailing closely behind Hawaii and Kentucky. The report broke down various factors of data availability, and while Arkansas ranked poorly in some areas such as e-prescribing data (No. 49), broadband data (No. 49) and building energy-efficiency data (No. 47), it ranked very well in areas such as open legislative data (No. 2), education data (No. 1, tied with Kentucky and Delaware), and health care price transparency (No. 7). The state also has anti-SLAPP laws, allowing for increased transparency in data, compared to those that do not have such laws. While this report highlights a lot of work for the state to do, the rankings also show some promise for Arkansas to step up as a leader in data analytics and computing.
However the Arkansas Partnership for Data Analytics and Computing has a bit to sort out before it can begin operations. First Orion Corporation CFO Charles Morgan and Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston are co-chairs of the commission, though it is still unclear who the specific partners will be — and exactly where the necessary funding will come from. Once these factors are decided, the partnership will likely move forward quickly with its "year one" priorities of networking, educating, targeting a talented workforce and connecting students with businesses.
In fact, much of the focus of this report is on Arkansas' students. According to remarks from Gov. Hutchinson, more than 5,500 high school students are currently participating in a coding initiative across the state's public schools. The report notes, "It is critical to expose students early in their academic careers to data analytics and coding in a way that is engaging and enables them to be work-ready upon graduation," and outlines various ways to increase student interest in coding, such as networking opportunities and financial incentives. As seen recently in Chicago, more cities and states are placing an emphasis on coding curriculums in public school systems, and if Arkansas sees success in its student initiatives, it may become a role model for other communities hoping to increase their coding opportunities for younger generations.