Tech Town Hall Discusses Future of Iowa Innovation

The town hall was set up to encourage tech in Iowa by discussing the needs and trends of today's IT world.

by Austin Harrington, Ames Tribune, Iowa / September 25, 2015
(TNS) -- Tech leaders, students and hopeful entrepreneurs gathered in Ames Thursday to take part in a town hall style meeting that was designed to encourage a discussion about the challenges facing the state’s technology industry.

The event was organized by the Technology Association of Iowa and was held at the headquarters of the Ames-based software company Workiva. This was the seventh of 10 such town hall meetings that the Technology Association of Iowa has put on this year in different areas of the state, and according to Brian Waller, the association’s president, it was an important meeting.

“This is by far, a really special community, if not the most special community, we’ve talked to,” Waller said.

The town hall meeting, which was attended by more than 150 people, consisted of a four-person panel, including Dave Tucker, vice president of engineering at Workiva, Patrick Donovan, technology integration specialist for Ames Community Schools, Dan Culhane, president and CEO of Ames Chamber and AEDC, and Bill Adamowski, Innovation and entrepreneurship at Iowa State University.

Waller said his association holds these types of events to offer a chance to show that the Iowa tech industry is extremely competitive in the field, but it’s also a way for students to be introduced to different companies.

“At the community level, we want to introduce and connect people in the community to have discussions about what’s the next big thing. How can the schools help the private industry? How can the private industry help the universities? How can the universities help someone in the audience that’s looking for a job?” Waller said.

He added that he believes those conversations need to be started around technology because, “we think technology is going to be the backbone of what’s going to make Iowa thrive in the future.”

During the town hall discussion, topics ranged from the future of Iowa tech companies to finding the staffing necessary to continue growth in that industry.

Donovan, who works with the Ames high school students, said he believes that growth begins offering students technology based education programs. To provide that type of training, which is necessary for students who hope to transition into a technology related college programs or career after high school, Donovan said his school district has focused on providing the necessary equipment, such as laptops and tablets.

Despite those types of opportunities being more prevalent in classrooms over the past few years, the tech industry is still in need of more employees.

Tucker, who helps recruit perspective workers for Workiva, said getting people to come to Iowa instead of going to more popular tech areas of the country, such as Silicon Valley, is all about showing them that the Midwest is making great advancements in technology.

“We feel like if we can get people here to show them what we’ve got and the kind of environment we have, that really works to our advantage,” Tucker said.

Culhane agreed with Tucker and said that is why the focus has started to be on keeping ISU students to stay in Iowa.

Jamiahus Walton, a recent graduate from ISU, attended Thursday’s event and said the discussion made him realize there were many opportunities to be found in Ames.

“I want to stay in Ames, that’s my goal. So having this knowledge here is making me more excited to stay here for the future,” Walton said.

Adamowski said creating that sort of excitement among Iowa college students will help Ames develop as a region for technology based companies, because it will create an environment that companies want to relocate to and employees what to innovate in.

“That’s what we’re hoping from the ecosystem, that we keep people here, draw people here and hopefully this becomes somewhere where we are attracting people from other universities,” Adamowski said.

Thursday’s town hall meeting was designed to help create the type of ecosystem, according to Waller.

“People’s access to technology, student’s vocabulary and awareness about how to use technology, is really what we think the future is going to be about in Iowa,” Waller said.

The Technology Association of Iowa will continue to create that awareness by holding three more town hall meetings in the state before the end of the year, with the next meeting scheduled for Dubuque on Sept. 29.

©2015 the Ames Tribune, Iowa Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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