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Innovation Council meets to brainstorm on state's tech efforts

by David Smith | February 20, 2019 at 1:54 a.m.

The Arkansas Innovation Council -- a group of 20 leaders from businesses, research universities and philanthropic organizations -- met Tuesday to study ways to improve the state's economy.

The long-term success of Arkansas will hinge on the development and expansion of the state's knowledge-based, technology-driven economy, said Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who will serve as chairman of the council.

"My goal for this summit is for you to tell us ... what are the gaps for the future?" Hutchinson said. "Where are our shortcomings as a state? What do we need to do to do better? What can Arkansas do to expand the technology sector?"

Richard Brown, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Utah, said he knows the obstacles to turning a technology economy around.

When he became dean in 2004, Brown led the University of Utah and the state in change, particularly with the Engineering Initiative, which improved the number of engineering graduates.

Utah graduated 366 engineering students a year before the initiative, Brown said. Last year, the state produced 1,048 engineering and computer-science graduates from its eight public universities, almost tripling in about 14 years.

"The secret sauce in Utah has been that government, higher education and industry have worked together," Brown said. "The [Utah] Legislature allocates funding to grow our capacity to educate engineers."

For about $5 million in funding, Utah's universities will graduate another 400 engineering students a year, Brown said. For the past five years, 84.5 percent of engineering graduates of Utah universities have remained in Utah, Brown said.

"That is a phenomenally high number," Brown said.

Ross DeVol, a Walton Fellow with the Walton Family Foundation, also spoke about some of the change in Utah. DeVol is the former chief research officer at the Milken Institute.

There have been 1.7 million jobs created in advanced services in the United States since 2010, DeVol said, and Utah led the nation in technology jobs created in 2007.

DeVol suggested some changes Arkansas should consider.

"You have to look at the value-added return on incentives offered to companies," DeVol said. "It can't be just about the number of jobs. You have to look at the quality of jobs, the mechanism to enforce that before they receive those incentives."

The founding members of the Arkansas Innovation Council include Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System; Albert Braunfisch, chairman of Mspark; Amy Callahan, co-founder of Collective Bias; William Dillard III, executive vice president of Dillard's Inc.; George Dunklin Jr. with Dunklin Farms; Richard Howe, chief executive officer of Inuvo; Doug McMillon, chief executive officer of Walmart Inc.; Judy McReynolds, chairman and chief executive officer, ArcBest Corp.; Jeffery Nolan Jr., chief executive officer of Loutre Land and Timber Co.

Also members are Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; John Rutledge, president of First Security Bank, based in Searcy; Cheryl Schluterman, interim president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority; Josh Smith, chief executive officer of Metova Inc.; Warren Stephens, chairman and chief executive officer of Stephens Inc.; Chuck Welch, president of the Arkansas State University System; Troy Wells, chief executive officer of Baptist Health; and Noel White, chief executive officer of Tyson Foods Inc.

The Innovation Council will meet twice a year.

Business on 02/20/2019

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