Missouri’s technology sector has experienced job growth of nearly 12% over the past five years – a trend expected to continue into 2023.
In the Technology 2030 Report, released last month, the state ranks in the top 15 nationally in multiple metrics for the tech sector. Among them includes growth in the workforce over the next five years, during which employment change is projected at 9.5%, or ninth nationally. The report lists the employment change in the tech sector at 11.7% from 2012-17, placing it 12th in the nation.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry commissioned Economic Leadership LLC, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based consulting firm, for the 60-page report on the tech industry. It includes comparisons of Missouri to other states, including tech employment, growth, concentration and wages.
Job growth in the tech industry is no surprise to Sherry Coker, a co-founder and board member of Mid-America Technology Alliance.
“I am ecstatic,” she said of the report. “Missouri is situated, especially in the Springfield region, as looking good for growth.”
She pointed to Springfield’s large employers with tech jobs, such as Jack Henry & Associates Inc. (Nasdaq: JKHY) and O’Reilly Automotive Inc. (Nasdaq: ORLY). But she said it also supports smaller startups, such as software development studio Self Interactive and digital commerce firm Classy Llama Studios LLC.
“The biggest challenge, no matter what industry category you look at, there’s going to be more jobs than people to fill those jobs,” said Coker, who stepped down last September from her executive director post at MATA after being promoted at Ozarks Technical Community College to executive director of the Center for Workforce Development. “But when it comes to the landscape for technology jobs in southwest Missouri, it looks really good.”
Sometimes growth needs some guidance.
That’s where Ryan Mooney said the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce comes in.
The chamber works to recruit companies looking to relocate, as well as retain others already in Springfield wanting to grow its workforce or office space.
Mooney serves as the chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, so he has a front-row seat to prospective conversations.
In the tech sector, he said chamber staff in recent years assisted health care software firm Netsmart Technologies Inc. acquire local company HealthMedX LLC and Tennessee-based Change Healthcare Technologies LLC’s home care and hospice units in Springfield. As Netsmart was expanding locally, officials had some real estate needs.
“One of the challenges is finding the real estate for these tech companies,” Mooney said. “Anything we can do to attract more tech workers and grow our own is going to make us a more attractive place for them.”
In January, Netsmart moved into vacant space in the former world headquarters for nonprofit Enactus, on the city’s north side. Yet, a lot of the tech companies, Mooney said, want to be in the downtown area for talent attraction purposes.
One of those downtown tech companies aided by the chamber was World Wide Technology Inc.
In May 2015, the St. Louis-based software development company opened a remote office in Springfield, one of five it currently operates. Formerly in the Holland Building, the company office moved to Brick City at 440 N. Campbell Ave. in 2017.
Software developer Ben Pomerenke moved from St. Louis four years ago as the first employee at the remote office. About a month later, a second employee was hired.
Today, he and Stephanie Youngblood are part of a leadership team for the local office, which has grown to 28 employees. Youngblood, who works as an agile coach, was the sixth employee added in 2015. As the company’s employee count has grown 367% since her hiring, Youngblood said the rapid growth was very much part of the company’s strategic growth plan.
“There’s still some space. We definitely have the potential to grow here,” she said, noting additional employees usually means having to “play Tetris” with the furniture and equipment configuration. “We are very much a close-knit office. We work close together in open space, not just on our teams but in the office in general.”
Companywide, WWT employs some 5,000 employees with $11.2 billion in 2018 revenue, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Morrison. Among its clients are Mercy, Schnuck Markets Inc. and Richard Petty Motorsports. Company revenue was around $9 billion in 2016, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Pomerenke and Youngblood grew up in Springfield and are acutely aware of the growth of the tech sector downtown with the Efactory and Jordan Valley Innovation Center.
“Technology is one of those things that can be built anywhere,” Pomerenke said. “You don’t need to be in Silicon Valley. I know most of the employees that work here come from Missouri State [University] or OTC.”
With a well-educated workforce and generally lower cost of living, communities like Springfield can compete with big cities, he added.
“We really work on educating college students on the opportunities here,” he said. “If they’re getting that tech degree, they don’t have to go to Kansas City, St. Louis or Chicago or Dallas. They can get those jobs here and may really like the lifestyle they can have here.”
While the tech industry only accounts for around 5% of Missouri’s total employment, its impact packs a punch when its wages and sales are evaluated, according to the Technology 2030 Report. In 2017, the industry earned over $41.6 billion in sales revenue, accounting for 7.9% of all sales in the state.
More than half of the 143,707 tech sector jobs cited in the report, approximately 81,000, are in the information technology area. Over the past five years, the IT area has grown jobs by 16.8%. Coker said that job growth should continue for years in the future as technology continues to drive our lives.
“You name me an organization that doesn’t need an IT professional in some way, shape or form,” Coker said. “Everybody needs them.”
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