Conway: Arkansas' Tech Job Magnet

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

Richard Howe (Photo by Luke Jones)

“Very few places are like Conway where the median age is 25,” Lacy said. “We grow as a city because kids come here to go to school and they never leave. Obviously some do, but some don’t.”

Lacy said this educated workforce has become a big selling point for the city’s economic developers.

“I think it’s becoming better every day,” said David Hinson, chief information officer at Hendrix College. “You look at how well Acxiom has done historically — there’s a growing and vibrant entrepreneurial community here with Startup Arkansas and other initiatives. I see improvements every time I look around. It’s a great place for tech people to be.”

In the new economy, Lacy said, “the value is in people. If you’re smart, and you’re mobile, you can go wherever you want to. The companies are going to gravitate to where those smart people are. Communities that are smart are going to try to keep those people.”

Howe said another reason was existing talent in the town due to other tech companies, like Acxiom and HP, being present.

“The third component of it was the community aspect of the city itself,” he said. “We have a very young demographic. We’re an Internet marketing company, so our demographic of the average employee is around 30 years old. A lot of our employees are at the stage where they’re starting to raise families. They’re looking for this sort of community.”

Lacy said the Inuvo employees were attracted to newly developed areas like Hendrix Village.

“The quality of life in Conway is very attractive to people,” Hinson said.

“Inuvo is a great example,” Lacy said. “Over the Christmas holidays, one of my team members here spent time with some of the management-level folks from Inuvo wanting to relocate into Conway. The process went very, very well.

“Ten years ago, or 12 years ago, that would have been a much harder sell for us. If I ventured a guess, I would say people wouldn’t have lived here.”

Lacy said the city has spent as much effort on developmental measures as it has on monetary incentives.

“I think what the city did is really begin to focus on quality-of-life issues, quality-of-place issues,” he said. “You can look at the investments made in parks, the investments made downtown, you look at the design standards they’ve passed on how buildings need to look. All of those things, when put together, contribute to a different quality of place than existed 15 years ago.”

Labor costs are more favorable to Inuvo in Conway, too. Howe said salaries would have to be roughly 30 percent higher in New York, one of Inuvo’s two previous locations. The company stated in a release that it would save from $80,000 to $120,000 per month when it exits its lease in New York City.

“It’s interesting: You’d think that in today’s day and age you’d want to move to, say, San Francisco,” Howe said. “But you can’t compete there. If you really think about it, if we had moved our company to San Francisco, we’d be competing with thousands of similar-sized companies that are all competing for money, talent and mindshare. Why would we do that?”

The easier competition and lower costs may be exactly what Inuvo needs: It posted a net loss of $7.02 million in 2012 on revenue of $53.3 million and a loss of $8.97 million in 2011 on a top line of $35.8 million. Its operating expenses grew from $20.6 million in 2011 to $34.2 million in 2012.



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