Metova to hire 100 more in Conway

Metova Inc., the Tennessee-based mobile application software development company that opened an office in Conway in January, said Thursday that faster than expected growth means it will add more jobs at its Arkansas office.

The company now expects to add another 100 jobs to bring its eventual workforce to 160 and more than double its investment in Arkansas, said Josh Smith, the company's chief revenue officer.

"Conway is a great tech hub for us," Smith said. "It fits in with a similar model we have in Franklin, [Tenn.], a suburb of a larger metropolitan area with access to universities and, so far since January, we've had really good luck here."

Metova works with digital media firms including Yelp, Dropbox, eHarmony and Microsoft. It was one of three tech firms that announced expansion plans in downtown Conway early this year.

Initially, the company said it would invest about $2.1 million in its Arkansas operations. The additional jobs mean that the company will invest another $2 million to $3 million, Smith said.

"This is driven by emerging tech and new business that we have that we're trying to keep up with," Smith said.

One of the new Metova employees who will be part of the Conway operation is Ed Horton, the former chief marketing officer and senior vice president of business development for Acxiom and Vestcom, two data services companies.

Horton, as Metova's vice president for business development, will help grow the company's commercial business.

"They're doing a lot of things right and they're certainly at the center of emerging technologies," Horton said. "What these guys are doing ... is really exciting to me personally but I also think it's very exciting to the market."

In January, Metova was one of three tech companies that announced expansion plans. The other two include Eyenalyze Inc., which helps restaurants evaluate data such as sales, billing and inventory, and Big Cloud Analytics, which evaluates market information and shopping patterns to connect customers with products.

Also Thursday, a Little Rock-based tech company, Black Oak Analytics, said it would open a branch in Conway at 803 Harkrider St.

Jerry Adams, chairman of Black Oak's board of directors, said in a release that the company has already hired four people and hopes to hire nine more in the coming year with as many as 20 workers eventually working in the Conway office. Black Oak is a Web services, database marketing and data management company.

Jamie Gates, executive vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said Metova will first fill any available space it has in its original office in the Halter Building at Front and Oak streets in downtown Conway. Then, it will convert space in the building once used for catering and events into office space for the new workers.

"Once that's exhausted, we'll be looking for real estate solutions nearby," Gates said.

Gates and Brad Lacy, the chamber's president and chief executive, said tech companies such as Metova are increasingly interested in Conway because of its downtown "Data District" where Internet data transfer rates of up to 1 gigabit per second are available.

Gates said that moves by companies such as Black Oak and Grainster, an online service to help farmers sell grain, reflect the demand for high-speed Internet connections. Grainster officials announced in April they planned to hire as many as 220 people over the next two years with expertise in banking, programming, marketing and other fields.

Conway Corp., which operates the city-owned utilities, announced last March it would offer the service, which eventually will be available in 18 blocks in downtown Conway.

"We've certainly seen an increase [in inquiries] since they pushed that out," Lacy said. "It's a benefit to have a locally-owned utility that can make local decisions."

Richard Arnold, Conway Corp.'s chief executive officer, didn't know whether other utilities in the state offered a similar level of service. Even then, given current technology, the high speed data service in Conway is currently limited to eight blocks in the downtown with plans to more than double the service area by the end of the year.

Smith said that Metova doesn't currently use the gigabit connection, but said it is in talks with Conway Corp. about how it can take advantage of it.

While the fast Internet connection helps, Lacy said the talent pool available in Conway and central Arkansas is also helping drive the interest of tech companies, especially startups. He said the University of Central Arkansas is committed to giving its graduates the knowledge they need to work for such companies.

And the history of Acxiom in Conway over the past 40 years has also helped shape attitudes, he said.

"There's talent in the marketplace that otherwise would not exist in a city our size," Lacy said.

Smith said Metova currently has 25 openings for Web developers and designers and will look to fill 50 more over the next few months. Most new employees are now being drawn from the local labor market, he said.

"Our model is a little different. We're looking for people who are natural problem solvers and kind of superior communicators with a technical aptitude" with backgrounds in programming, computer science or information systems, he said. The company then puts new employees through a four- to six-week-long in-house training program.

Horton said he wasn't surprised by the Metova's decision to expand in central Arkansas.

"I'm from Arkansas and I love it," he said. "There's a lot of wonderful talent in central Arkansas. I love that we're leveraging that."

Business on 07/31/2015

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