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"Data analytics and computing are at the forefront of a significant new business transformation in the way companies make decisions..."

Executive Summary

In late March of 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson kicked off the deliberations of his Blue Ribbon Commission to report on the Economic Competitiveness of Arkansas in Data Analytics and Computing (the “Commission”). The Commission is co-chaired by Charles Morgan, CEO of First Orion Corporation and Founder of Acxiom Corporation, and Mike Preston, Executive Director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC). The membership of the Commission draws upon industry executives from many of Arkansas’ leading companies using data analytics and computing to compete across retail, transportation, food processing, agricultural, energy, information technology, and telecommunications sectors with representation of educational leaders of Arkansas’ higher education systems.

The Commission has set out a “breakout” strategy for Arkansas considering the stakes in the economic competition around data analytics and computing. The unprecedented amount of digital information or Big Data being generated from digitizing of records, on-line transactions, social networking, Internet searches and extensive use of sensors and other monitoring technologies is now generating value and competitive business advantage using the tools of data analytics and computing, such as predictive modeling and machine learning algorithms, massive data storage and mining, and data visualization and decision support tools. On its own, the emerging industries providing advanced tools and services in data analytics and related computing will be a nearly $100 billion market in the years to come.

But the economic consequences of data analytics and computing are far greater. Data analytics and computing are at the forefront of a significant new business transformation in the way companies make decisions, design new products and interact with their supply chains and customers in real time.

Arkansas cannot afford to sit idly by as data analytics and computing transform the way businesses compete in the 21st century. As Mike Preston, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Co-chair of the Blue- Ribbon Commission, explained at the kick-off meeting, “The future of Arkansas’ economic development is tied to our ability to succeed in data analytics and computing. It is a technology that cuts across our leading industries. If we are to succeed in retaining and growing existing jobs and recruiting industry we have to have the talent and technical capabilities to meet this opportunity.” Charles Morgan, founder and past Chairman and CEO of Acxiom and now Chairman and CEO of First Orion Corporation, who serves as the other Co-chair of the Commission, echoed the concern around measuring up to the talent demands in data analytics and computing. “Software development is totally different now than what it used to be. The best job candidate needs to bring a background in computer science and data analysis, with an understanding of business requirements. A public-private partnership is needed to collaborate in developing the talent we all need in industry to compete in data analytics and computing. Higher education is a strategic partner, but not necessarily the total solution.”

For Arkansas, the breakout opportunity is to partner with its major existing companies in their efforts to transform their businesses to win in a data-driven, real-time, hyper-consumer-focused marketplace. Data analytics and computing is not merely about an emerging new industry of the future, but goes to the basic question of whether Arkansas’ existing industries will stay competitive and be able to generate the high- quality jobs needed to advance the state’s per capita income and standard of living for Arkansans. This is at the heart of the Vision Statement set out by the Commission – data analytics and computing is about existing industries and companies in Arkansas winning in the global marketplace.

The success of Arkansas in advancing its vision of transforming existing industries through data analytics and computing depends upon having a balanced approach of near-term actions that meet industry needs, along with an organizational plan for a sustained public-private partnership effort.

Commission Members

Charles Morgan, Co-Chair
CEO, First Orion Corporation


Mike Preston, Co-Chair
Executive Director, Arkansas Economic Development Commission


Jerry Adams
President & CEO, Arkansas Research Alliance


Don Bobbitt
President, University of Arkansas System


Andrew Clyde
President & CEO, Murphy USA

Ed Drilling
Arkansas State President, AT&T Services, Inc.


John Haley
Co-Chief Investment Officer, The Circumference Group

Todd Hillman
Vice President, MISO Energy South Region

Rich Howe
CEO, Inuvo, Inc.

Sonja Hubbard
CEO, E-Z Mart, Inc.

Clay Johnson
EVP, Enterprise Chief Information Officer, Walmart Stores, Inc.

Jerry Jones
EVP, Acxiom Corporation


Gaylon Lawrence
The Lawrence Group

Maria Markham
Director, Arkansas Department of Higher Education

Monica McGurk
Chief Growth Officer, Tyson Foods


Walter Smiley
Founder & Former CEO, Systematics


Warren Stephens
Chairman, President & CEO, Stephens, Inc.

Chuck Welch
President, Arkansas State University System


Tom Chilton, Director of Division of Science and Technology, Arkansas Economic Development Commission

A Note from the Governor

In forming this Governor’s Blue-Ribbon Commission to Report on the Economic Competitiveness of Computing and Data Analytics, my expectation is to set a guide for the State to respond to the needs of our business community and, in doing so, create career opportunities for our best and brightest young workers to remain in Arkansas and raise our overall state capabilities across industry, higher education and government to advance and apply the tools of data analytics and computing.


Arkansas is not new to the world of data analytics and computing. We have a history of both successful innovative companies and established industry leaders breaking new ground in the use of advanced computing and data analytics. But we know that the competition around the transformation of Big Data and its applications is stiff and the stakes are high for our state’s leading industries and future economic prosperity.

Arkansas can be a national leader in data analytics and computing. Our coding initiative is now nationally recognized for its accomplishments, with more than 5,500 high school students participating and a growing cadre of trained teachers certified to sustain the effort far into the future. This success now needs to be carried across industry, government and higher education.

For Arkansas to succeed we must work together to raise our capabilities and have a common game-plan with a clear vision, mission and strategic actions to be a national leader. It is this important task that the Blue-Ribbon Commission is being asked to address.

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