After two years of going mostly virtual, the annual Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit came back with 1,700 registered attendees when it returned in person to Bentonville last month.
Executives and employees from companies large and small attended dozens of sessions tackling rapid technological changes through the lenses of health care, supply chains, entrepreneurship and others.
Each track had its own venue around town, with Record serving as the event’s central stage.
The conference’s recurring theme was NWA’s growing prominence as a hub for tech jobs that can transform society and help meet its growing needs.
“I am telling you there is technology brilliance residing in the region today, and that was not the case just a few years ago,” Scott Spradley, Tyson Foods’ chief technology and automation officer, said during his Monday morning keynote. He pointed to more than 1,000 tech job openings in the region as well as the hundreds of computer science specialists graduating from the University of Arkansas’ data science program.
The Northwest Arkansas Council’s workforce development program has been instrumental in cultivating that potential, helping to launch hundreds of apprenticeships in tech and other industries for high school and college students as well as professionals already in the field. Council workforce development director Joe Rollins and consultant G.B. Cazes both spoke during sessions focusing on that work.
“This is huge for all the companies around the state that are looking to hire young technology talent,” Spradley said.
The importance of technology and related jobs is difficult to overstate, with constantly improving software and hardware geared for such far-reaching concerns as renewable power, beleaguered supply chains throughout the pandemic, and cybersecurity threats.
Northwest Arkansas’ progress was plain to see during the summit’s pitch competition, which pitted Heartland entrepreneurs against each other for cash prizes from California-based recruiting firm Riviera Partners.
Finalists included locally-based companies Basis Health, Attraversiamo Technologies and Catalyze H2O, the latter of which won third place for its work on a better drinking water filtration system for military facilities and the general public.
“There needs to be a revolution in our country in how we deliver health care,” said Basis Health founder Andres Lazarte, whose company has developed a system to give elderly or chronically ill patients better access to their health care from home.
The Northwest Arkansas Council, alongside the Walton Family Foundation, helped make this event accessible for startups, students and other communities by removing financial barriers to attend. The Council’s support enabled the NWA Tech Summit to provide complimentary access to nearly 20% of its registered attendees. High school students, college students, educators, entrepreneurs, active-duty military and veterans were all able to attend the event at no cost.
The Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit plans to celebrate its tenth year when the conference convenes next fall, October 15-17, 2023, in downtown Bentonville.