Workforce training center will benefit manufacturers, employees alike

Professional training and skills development have become critical requirements in Arkansas to develop talent across industries, support company expansion and growth, and help employees build careers.

Randy Zook, Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the issue at an economic forecasts conference in Little Rock this month.

“The biggest problem everyone faces is talent,” Zook said, noting that professional training and skills development efforts “need to be more responsive and flexible.”

Last week, Arkansas economic development officials stepped up to fill the void by announcing that 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 the development of new skills to take advantage of technological advances that integrate artificial intelligence, automation and robotics into the production process.

However, Arkansas workers must be ready to take on these jobs, and now they will have a dedicated center in the state to hone their skills and prepare for manufacturing careers.

“Manufacturing is key to Arkansas’ economy,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in announcing the initiative. “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 jobs in Arkansas, we knew we had to fix the situation. The Arkansas Manufacturing Workforce Training Center will be able to keep Arkansas employers and employees in the state for training 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 custom engineering needs of Arkansas companies. Training is provided for current workers and new hires, as well as retraining for unemployed Arkansans to prepare the state’s manufacturing workers.

The collaboration is a public-private partnership that will provide industry-led training, meaning Arkansas manufacturers will provide input to design the facility and necessary equipment to meet their training needs and fill vacancies .

“The Arkansas Manufacturing Workforce Center will not only help improve the Arkansas workforce, it will also create jobs,” said Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston.

The facility will be located just off Interstate 40 at the east end of Conway’s Central Landing, the former site of the city’s airport.


Arkansas Capital Corp. invests $15 million in an equity fund to support the development and growth of black-owned technology companies in the state.

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

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

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

Founded in 1957, Arkansas Capital has provided $2.4 billion in funding to empower entrepreneurs in Arkansas and surrounding states.


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

The National Security Agency is providing funding to expand a national cybersecurity education program for teachers and develop a standardized curriculum to encourage collaboration on 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 NSA’s National Cybersecurity Teaching Academy (NCTA).

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

University teachers will be ready to offer advanced internship courses in cybersecurity. Instructors receive instruction from a nationally recognized cybersecurity curriculum and learn basic cybersecurity principles.


Jonesboro-based communications provider Ritter Communications has completed a $12.5 million network upgrade serving residential customers in northeastern Arkansas and western Tennessee.

The upgrade includes 1 Gigabit speeds delivered to 45 communities and nearly 24,000 customers who will notice less buffering, fewer dropouts and improved power consumption.

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

The project was originally supposed to last three years and be ready for customers by 2024.

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

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need to be pursued? Contact me at [email protected] or at 501-378-3567.