Governor's Data Analytics Commission Holds First Meeting

Governor's Data Analytics Commission Holds First Meeting
Members of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission to Report on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics in Arkansas listen to Co-Chair Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, at the group's first meeting on Friday. (Sarah Campbell)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday kicked off the first meeting of his new Blue Ribbon Commission to Report on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics in Arkansas.

The meeting began at 10 a.m. in the Capital Hotel in downtown Little Rock and ended around 2 p.m.

Hutchinson told the room of industry leaders that Arkansas is already a national leader in computer science education and could be a national leader in data analytics. He said data analytics is essential to every industry and named the retail, agriculture, government and health care as sectors that could benefit from the commission's work.

Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development, and former Acxiom Corp. CEO Charles Morgan are co-chairs of commission.

Morgan called the commission a "dream come true" and said the company he's working with now, First Orion, and others need talent. He said the commission's coordinated effort could help.

"I know for a fact the people of Arkansas can do so much more to support business if given the chance," he said.

Morgan said the trouble with jobs in data analytics is that young people don't know that the jobs are "good" and "exciting"; educators don't know how to promote or prepare students for careers in the field; and companies don't know where to go to hire the talent they need.

Andrew Clyde, CEO of Murphy USA Inc. of El Dorado, said the business is working to move on from legacy systems and find out more about their customers.

Walter Smiley, formerly of Systematics, said Arkansans are hard workers, but companies still struggle with getting the talent they need here. 

"If we can solve the people problem, we can be the absolute leader in this," he said.

Arkansas State University System President Charles Welch said incorporating computer science has been a priority for ASU's two- and four-year campuses.

Ed Drilling of AT&T Arkansas said the amount of data coming through its network has increased rapidly in the past few years. 

"It's going to be the language we all speak, no matter what industry you’re in," he said.

Gaylon Lawrence of The Lawrence Group said data analytics would help the farmers he works with make better decisions, while Monica McGurk of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale and John Roberts, CEO of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, said data analytics will be the key to helping their companies handle increasingly complex supply chains.

Roberts added that J.B. Hunt has five data scientists on its staff and is looking to add five more.

Preston told Arkansas Business on Monday that the main takeaway from the first meeting was that all these people coming from just about every industry and walk of life were saying the same things and willing to work together to address the gap. Attendance was great and everyone was engaged throughout the day, he said.

Preston also said the commission decided to split themselves between three smaller working groups. Those will focus on a long-term and sustainable solution, private sector engagement and public sector engagement ahead of the next meeting that is tentatively scheduled for June.