Across west Kentucky and the country, the information technology sector continues to grow at a rapid pace. The current and future demands of the information technology sector across west Kentucky are outpacing the sector’s current support mechanisms and the workforce development pipeline within the region, creating a regional economic development challenge.
As introduced several months ago, representatives from dozens of businesses and organizations across west Kentucky came together to identify the challenges, opportunities and ultimately a plan to advance the region. Out of multiple brainstorming discussions and several planning meetings, a new nonprofit organization was created called the Technology Council of West Kentucky (TCWK). The TCWK seeks to build a unified catalyst for the growth and influence of West Kentucky’s technology industry focusing on the four pillars of unifying, advocating, growing and connecting.
While TCWK has been around for less than a year, it is already making a difference in our region. As previously noted, the primary focus and reason for the creation of TCWK was workforce development. For TCWK, workforce development focuses on increasing the number of IT workers in west Kentucky by recruiting current workers to west Kentucky, while also encouraging area high school and college students to pursue careers in IT.
TCWK members, along with schools from the region, hosted the inaugural Tech Mania event on March 29 at the WK&T Tech Park in Mayfield. Tech Mania brought together over 125 students from McCracken, Graves, Marshall, Hickman, Fulton, and Carlisle counties, as well as Paducah Tilghman, St. Mary, Fulton City, Mayfield, and Murray. Tech Mania asked high school and middle school students to work with IT equipment in a team competition format with the goal of encouraging students to explore real world experiences in networking, programming and cybersecurity.
By all accounts, Tech Mania was a great success. First, the students have provided positive feedback and are ready to participate again next year. For many of the students, Tech Mania was the most hands-on and real-world experience they have experienced in IT. Second, our region’s IT sector really showed up reinforcing the priority that workforce development is a priority.
The student groups were provided mentors who assisted the students with any questions that arose throughout the day. Mentors consisted of Murray State telecommunications systems management and West Kentucky Community and Technology College faculty, staff and students, as well as industry professionals from Computer Services Inc., Kalleo Technologies, Peel & Holland Insurance, Mercy Health, Connected Nation, Systems Solutions Inc., Sprocket, and Community Financial Services Bank. All together, over 25 mentors were present at Tech Mania.
Events like Tech Mania aren’t free to run. Equipment and financial were provided by organizations who are advocating for IT in our region. Support came from Computer Services Inc.; Systems Solutions Inc; Veolia Nuclear Solutions; the Rural Technology Fund; Forrest Brook Technologies; DEVsource; Graves County Schools; and Paducah Economic Development.
TCWK has enabled community technology leaders from around the region to have a unified voice. When speaking to stakeholders outside our region, TCWK has created a unified regional voice enabling West Kentucky to advocate for the needs of the entire region instead of a single organization. One example of this regional voice has been the workforce recruitment effort by TCWK representatives at Fort Campbell.
Another goal of TCWK was to provide opportunities for technology minded individuals to network with other professionals and continue their own development by learning about emerging topics within the tech sector. TCWK has partnered with Sprocket and Entre Paducah to host the monthly Tech on Tap. Tech on Tap is held on the last Monday of each month at the historic Coke Plant in Paducah. Previous topics have included app development, cybersecurity, technology leadership, 3D printing and prototyping, among others. The event has already become a great opportunity to network with other similar minded individuals.
While the Technology Council of West Kentucky is just starting up, the impact can already be seen. In order to maximize that impact, TCWK needs your help. For the small business owners, government officials or tech-minded individuals who want to have a part of moving our regions IT sector forward, your involvement would be helpful both to the council, for your business and for the region.
If you want to learn more, you can visit the council’s webpage at www.tcwk.org, email the council at [email protected], or follow the council on Facebook at www.facebook.com/techcouncilwky. The only way the council will accomplish the goals established is with the involvement from our entire region and entire technology sector.
Michael Ramage is the director of the Center for Telecommunications Systems Management (CTSM) at Murray State University and serves as the president of the Technology Council of West Kentucky. He can be reached at [email protected] or 270-809-3987.
Originally published in the Four Rivers Business Journal and available at http://www.paducahsun.com/business/journal/tech-council-eyes-regional-it-growth/article_1eebadad-7575-5bf5-bc12-a1e6631cc224.html