Workforce training center will benefit manufacturers, employees alike

Job training and skills development have become critical needs in Arkansas to develop talent across industries, feed business expansion and growth, and help employees build careers.

The issue was highlighted by Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Randy Zook at an economic forecast conference this month in Little Rock.

“The biggest problem everyone faces is talent,” Zook said, noting that job-training and skills-development efforts “have to be more responsive and more nimble.”

Last week, Arkansas economic development officials stepped up to fill in the void by announcing the state will collaborate on an investment of up to $40 million to create the Arkansas Manufacturing Workforce Training Center, a joint venture between the Arkansas Office of Skills Development and the Conway Development Corporation. The Conway location will be easily accessible from all corners of Arkansas.

Manufacturing, in particular, has required development of new skills to take advantage of technology advances that incorporate artificial intelligence, automation and robotics into the production process.

Arkansas workers, however, will have to be ready to take on those jobs and now they will have a dedicated center in the state to upgrade their skills to prepare for manufacturing careers.

“Manufacturing is key to the Arkansas economy,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in announcing the initiative. “So, when we found out that many of our state’s employers were sending their employees to other states to get the training they needed for Arkansas jobs, we knew that we had to remedy the situation. The Arkansas Manufacturing Workforce Training Center will be able to keep Arkansas employers and Arkansas employees in state to be trained where they can further contribute to our local and state economies.”

The 100,000-square-foot center will focus on computer-controlled machinery, automation, robotics, industrial maintenance, craft skills, plastic injection molding and other customized technical needs of Arkansas companies. Training will be provided for current workers and new hires, as well as upskilling unemployed Arkansans to prepare the manufacturing workforce in the state.

The collaborative effort is a public-private partnership that will provide industry-led training, meaning Arkansas manufacturers will give input on the design of the facility and the equipment needed to meet their training needs and help fill job openings.

“The Arkansas Manufacturing Workforce Center will not only contribute to enhancing the Arkansas workforce, but it will also be a job creator,” commerce Secretary Mike Preston said.

The facility will be built on the east end of Conway’s Central Landing development, former location of the city’s airport and just off Interstate 40.

SUPPORTING BLACK TECH FIRMS

Arkansas Capital Corp. is investing $15 million in an equity fund to support development and growth of Black-led technology firms in the state.

The investment advances Arkansas Capital’s strategic focus on creating more opportunities for minority and female small business owners.

High Street Equity Partners created the funds to directly invest nationwide in emerging and potentially scalable, technology businesses created by minority founders.

Arkansas Capital Chief Executive Officer Sam Walls said the organization’s investment will be dedicated to support the growth of Arkansas-based companies. “Focusing on stimulating economic growth and empowering entrepreneurs in underserved communities is vital to create equal opportunity for everyone in the community to thrive,” Walls said.

Arkansas Capital, founded in 1957, has injected $2.4 billion in financing to empower entrepreneurs in Arkansas and surrounding states.

CYBERSECURITY TRAINING

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will receive an $800,000 grant to enhance cybersecurity education in high schools.

The National Security Agency is providing funding to expand a national cybersecurity education program for teachers and develop standardized curriculum to encourage collaboration for cybersecurity education between high schools and colleges.

UALR will be the lead institution working with DePaul University and the University of Louisville to develop the program through the NSA’s National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy (NCTA).

“NCTA is an integral component of UA Little Rock’s evolving ecosystem for cybersecurity education,” said Albert Baker, chairman of the Department of Computer Science.

High school teachers will be prepared to offer advanced placement courses in cybersecurity. Teachers will receive instruction in a nationally recognized cybersecurity curriculum and learn basic cybersecurity principles.

RITTER COMPLETES UPGRADE

Communications provider Ritter Communications of Jonesboro has completed a $12.5 million network upgrade for residential customers in northeast Arkansas and western Tennessee.

The upgrade includes 1-gigabit speeds that will be delivered to 45 communities and nearly 24,000 customers, who will notice less buffering, fewer outages and improved power consumption.

“With more devices per household, and more devices per person, faster speeds are necessary to meet the unique needs of each customer,” said Ritter Communications Chief Executive Officer Alan Morse. “Ritter Communications works to ensure our customers have high-quality broadband services that give them access to the things they need to work, learn and live.”

The project was initially scheduled to take three years and be customer-ready by 2024.

Ritter Communications is a regional telecommunications provider serving more than 113 communities in the region across four states: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

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