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Tag: C Spire

June 22nd, 2016

Building the Next Silicon Valley

My friend Joe¬†Stradinger of Edge Theory has often spoken of the idea of a “Silicon Delta.” Tech companies and a knowledge-based workforce in Mississippi. I think we all realize that the way Mississippi can “win the future” is through being highly competitive in the knowledge economy and growing/retaining/attracting more of these leading edge companies. The idea of a “Silicon Delta” is definitely exciting.

As it turns out, the next Silicon Valley may very well grow from, well, another valley: Water Valley, Mississippi.

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Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley, Mississippi. The town of Water Valley is quite a story in and of itself. A partnership of private development and city support has lead to a real renaissance in the rural city’s downtown area which has received a fair amount of national publicity. As amazing as the revival has been, I want to talk about a totally new development that really can be a sea change for rural Mississippi and a model for future workforce development.

I walked up the stairs into a rehabbed, row-style brick building in the center of Water Valley’s downtown area. It was built in the 1860s, and the floors are wonderful old hardwood. The character of the space is something that we can no longer duplicate ‚Äì it comes only with the cycle of vibrancy, decline, and rebirth. Inside this building is a large classroom with what have to be 20-foot tall ceilings. A ping-pong table, large flat screen monitors, and whiteboards pay testament to the fact that this old building is a place for new tech.

Fourteen students with 14 laptops sit listening to an instructor giving a working lesson on the Python programming language. This in and of itself is not that remarkable. This same scene is being repeated – albeit in classrooms with less atmosphere – across the country. What is remarkable are three aspects:

  1. These students are fresh out of high school. Two of them are actually 17-years-old.
  2. This program is non-profit in a small relatively rural Mississippi town, not associated with a major university or job training center.
  3. These students will have the skills to be fully employable as highly-compensated software developers at the end of 12 months. Before most of them are old enough to sample the craft beer from the Yalobusha Brewery just down the street, they will likely be commanding starting salaries higher than the median Mississippi income.



Basecamp is the only program of its kind in Mississippi… and it is damn exciting. When we talk about changing the trajectory of this state, breaking community-based cyclic economic challenges, and putting our state ahead of the trending employment curve, it is programs like Base Camp that can play a – if not THE – pivotal role in making that happen. To put it another way, we are looking at a model that will be disruptive, exponentially positive, and a game changer.

 

Building the Pipeline

The story of how this academy came about is really one that would make Thomas Edison proud. The 1% “inspiration” factor was certainly necessary, but also obvious. The software/tech companies that call Mississippi home – such as C Spire and FNC and others – have a workforce problem. And this problem isn’t unique to Mississippi, either. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that by the year 2020 (that’s less than 4 years, folks) the U.S. economy will have the need for 1.4 million “computer science” type jobs. Currently, only about 400,000 students are enrolled in programs or courses of study that would qualify them for these jobs. That’s a one-million job gap.

Why can’t and why shouldn’t Mississippi play a big role is filling this gap? We can certainly help with the dreadful diversity numbers that have plagued Silicon Valley for sometime now. Somewhere around 3% of the workforce are people of color or female. That’s a huge under-representation of the population. And it’s not because Silicon Valley has been exclusionary. Far from it. They WANT diversity in their companies. But they are also not in the workforce development business. That’s where a program like Basecamp comes in. And the 99% perspiration that several dedicated individuals and sponsoring organizations continue to put into making it a reality. They, in all likelihood, are creating a new pipeline to “Silicon Valley” jobs.

Understand that when I talk about “Silicon Valley,” I’m referring to the tech industry, not the place. I’ve been yelling about the “brain drain” in Mississippi for years now. No, it doesn’t do the state any good to develop human capital in the form of highly educated workers, only to have them leave the state. That’s the biggest challenge here, and where we run into the most resistance. To this, I’ll make the following rebuttal:

  • You have to accept the fact that you will inevitably lose some of the people that you educate. But it’s a numbers game. The more people you can expose to skills that command high wages, the more you will also KEEP in state. But…
  • We still have to do our part to make sure we are keeping as many as possible. Mississippi tech companies are ready, willing, and able to hire developers. It saves them time, money, and ultimately increases profits. But we have to make sure that a pipeline is established between industry and programs that can serve as a conduit for our Mississippi knowledge workers.



It really is a perfect combination of demand-side and supply-side economic theory. In-state companies have the need RIGHT NOW for new developers. The more these companies are able to grow based on their talent pool capacity, the more spin-offs, start-ups, and related tech companies will want to call Mississippi home. And they will be much more apt to do so because we are building the capacity to have the SUPPLY of knowledge workers necessary to make these enterprises successful.

Related Article: Coding Bootcamps Boom in North America

 

The Snowball

The issue has always been that a large swath of Mississippians who are place-bound – either by choice or situation – haven’t had many options for upwardly mobility. The “remote” economy has turned that paradigm on its head. A 20-year-old in Clarksdale can write code of the same quality as someone in Cupertino. The compensation our Clarksdale coder makes will go a lot farther here than in the Bay Area, as well. So there’s incentive to stay. As that person stays and adds to the local economy, additional revenue flows in which can in turn be used to fund infrastructure, education, and other projects necessary to produce an environment that attracts additional commerce.

With this strategy, we may have hit on the secret sauce that snowballs our way out of the economic doldrums.

A project my agency helped to found – Kids Code Mississippi – has partnered with the non-profit Springboard To Opportunities organization to launch a summer-long coding academy for kids living in federally subsidized multifamily housing units across Mississippi. Concurrent with this Cyber Summer program, we recently held¬†”two gen” workshops at two apartment complex locations in Jackson, Mississippi. One was for mothers/daughters, the other for fathers/sons. At each of these events, we had a guest speaker address the young people who were participating. Sheena Allen, founder of Sheena Allen Apps, spoke to the girls’ group. Terence Williams – the only Mississippi-based app developer to be invited by Apple to the 2016 World Wide Developer’s Conference – spoke to the guys.

These are two young Mississippians who are successful and building their businesses in Mississippi, whom I personally admire. The are literally the picture of how Mississippi can become a hotbed in the 21st century knowledge economy. It is an inspiration for our kids to see that people CAN do it, and can do it here. The snowball gets a little larger…

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The “Hack2Gen” workshop attendees we recently held for Kids Code Mississippi.

 

The Big Mo

The Base Camp Coding Academy is incredible. It is a life-changing opportunity, and potentially a model for Mississippi leapfrogging other regions in the knowledge economy. Programs like Kids Code Mississippi continue to generate awareness of the opportunity that exists for all Mississippians, and especially among communities who need opportunity the most. To its credit, the Mississippi Department of Education has been aggressive in implementing its CS4MS pilot program to get computer science incorporated into public school curriculum sooner rather than later. It feels like we have a lot of momentum. It feels as if Mississippi isn’t behind the curve, but maybe in some ways actually leading it. Let’s keep it going.

My plea to fellow Mississippians – let the kids who are interested in digital skills know how important what they are doing is for all of us. It is tough for an 18-year-old to grasp the concept that they hold the key to changing the fate of an entire population. We send kids of the same age to foreign lands to protect our freedom. Let’s not diminish the contributions of those who are taking steps to create an economic environment that is growing and vibrant. We’re all in this together, and we’re only as strong as our weakest link. Tired and cliched, but ever so true.

#Create4Good #Create4MS #Code4MS

March 15th, 2016

Bytes & Bites… but Why?

Shot from Kids Code Event

 

Monday, 3/14 (yes, Pi Day), MWB partners Randy Lynn and myself hosted a session to brief lawmakers and leaders on the future of computer science education and related workforce opportunities in Mississippi. The event was held in partnership with the Fast Forward Mississippi and Kids Code Mississippi initiatives and co-sponsor, C Spire.

Speakers included Governor Phil Bryant, Deuce McAllister, Senator Brice Wiggins and representatives from Code.org, C Spire, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the Mississippi Children’s Museum.

You may be wondering why an ad agency is working pro bono to promote computer science education. There are three reasons:

First, we love Mississippi and want to see our state succeed in every way possible. Workforce development and, in particular, strong education outcomes are critical to a brighter future for our state and its residents.

Second, we believe that technology will only become more important to our state’s economy in the future. At a time when other states and many foreign countries are increasingly requiring that students learn coding, the language of technology, we can’t afford to look the other way. We can, however, take steps to jump ahead of the curve.

Finally, we recognize that children are, very literally, our state’s future. It is well documented that students who are never exposed to computer-science concepts are less likely to pursue and succeed in technology-based career paths. They’re less likely to qualify for higher-wage jobs in the future. They’re less likely to start up innovation-based companies. They’re less likely to become technology makers, not just technology users.

We don’t expect our support of computer science education to have an immediate payoff for our agency ‚Äì we’re taking the long view here. MWB has been in business in Mississippi for more than 45 years. We want to help make sure the next 45 years are even better for all Mississippians.

Click to see photos from the Bites and Bytes event on MWB’s Facebook.

August 24th, 2015

Special MWBeer30: KATRINA – SURVIVING THE PERFECT STORM w/C SPIRE

After taking a hiatus in July, MWBeer30 is back on Friday, August  28th with a very special gathering.

Terrell Knight, VP Government Sales & Economic Development with C Spire, will give a stirring presentation of how C Spire (then Cellular South), ultimately overcame the telecommunications challenges posed by the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

And as a special treat, MWB’s own Jana Bell (the Landmass Queen) will say a few words about her social media phenomenon that grew from a few ill-placed words via the Weather Channel.

As always, we’ll have lots of great Mississippi Craft Beer on-hand for sampling. Join us at MWB’s Global HQ, 8/28, 3:30-ish. We look forward to seeing you there.

May 5th, 2015

DEV4MS

Our agency is the founding entity of the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative, which is dedicated to reversing the loss of Mississippi’s intellectual capital (brain-drain), and helping to develop a knowledge-based workforce for the 21st century. One of the signature projects of initiative is Kids Code Mississippi. As you can probably guess, Kids Code MS focuses on digital literacy awareness and promoting digital skills (coding) among Mississippi youth.

On May 2nd, through Fast Forward and Kids Code MS, we helped to organize and produce the first full-day “hackathon” for high school students, at Terry High School. You can read about the event at the links below.

We would just like say “thank you” to the valuable partners what helped make the event possible: SchoolStatus, C Spire, and JAWAD (Jackson Area Website and App Developers). And a special thanks to Ms. Mehreen Butt, a passionate Teach for American Mississippi Corps. member who see the unbridled potential in our kids. Stay tuned for more in the #DEV4MS series.

Read about the DEV4MS:Terry event on Kids Code Mississippi

Learn about the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative.

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April 21st, 2015

80/20, Pecha Kucha, Play-Doh, and purple hair.

At the risk of the MWB Blog looking increasingly like a tavern, I feel compelled to write a postmortem on our latest #MWBeer30 event. Jon Fisher, Donnie Brimm, and Bethany Cooper from Oxford-based FNC gave a great talk reviewing many of the practices and protocols their company has put in place designed to stir innovation and creativity. I think attendees of this event (4/17) will agree that it really was inspiring to hear a Silicon Valley-esque approach to innovation being undertaken by a company who is committed to being headquartered in Mississippi.

Like I’ve said a million times before, Silicon Valley was an apple orchard 60 years ago. There’s no reason we can’t turn the Delta, red clay hills, pine woods, gulf coast, and mini-Appalachian landscapes that are Mississippi into something at least equally as impressive. And I don’t want to gloss over the fact that FNC – like so many other thriving entities – is committed to a robust corporate headquarters in our state. The company counts the majority of the top 20 banks in the U.S. as clients utilizing their applications. They are rapidly expanding operations into Brazil and Canada. I have a feeling new products are in the offing. FNC basically invented a category and is the market leader. Not bad for Oxford, Mississippi. Heck, that wouldn’t be bad for Oxford, England.

But back to the main point, the latest #MWBeer30. We had a great crowd attend representing Innovate Mississippi, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Clarion Ledger, EatShopPlayLiveJXN, C Spire, and various other highly innovative individuals. After a brief announcement about TEDxJackson 2015 (coming 11.12.15) and watching the newest Star Wars Trailer (yes, it looks uber cool) the folks from FNC took the floor. Here’s what we learned from their 6 minute 40 second presentation:

1. A 6-minute, 40-second, 20 slide presentation is called “Pecha Kucha.”

MWBeer30_JonFisher_Wormhole

Here’s Jon Fisher from FNC getting into their talk. Many of you may be familiar with the “Pecha Kucha” approach. I was not. This is a presentation that consists of a total of 20 slides and each slide lasts no more than 20 seconds. Jon’s pictured here taking us “through the wormhole” that is FNC’s innovation process. The story I was told was that #MWBeer30 was the first time these guys had used Pecha Kucha in a talk… and they didn’t practice, either. They really had it down seamlessly, so I don’t know that I necessarily believe that “we didn’t do a run-through” story. Either way, they nailed it. This was a highly effective and engaging way to present information, so three cheers on the style points!

2. Play-Doh isn’t just for kids anymore.

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Bethany Cooper of FNC talked specifically about some of the (dare I use the phrase) out-of-the-box exercises that the company utilizes to get the creative juices flowing. These include actual Play-Doh planning sessions. Don’t be skeptical. There’s a reason four-year-olds think they can do anything.

Other hyper-cool practices FNC has implemented include developing and maintaining their own internal Innovation Team, an annual all-night hackathon called The Forge (props to Jon Fisher for having a product from The Forge now in development), and their implementation of the “80/20” work principle. The latter of these, being a concept pioneered by 3M and really made famous by Google, roughly states that an employee has the freedom to spend 20% of their time working on pet projects they believe will contribute to a company’s mission, outside of “sanctioned” job functions.

3. People will show up and talk… for beer… (and for other reasons, too).

Many, many apologies to FNC, but I didn’t learn until they pulled into our world headquarters about 2:45 p.m. that they had actually missed out on the annual FNC crawfish boil to some speak to the attendees of #MWBeer30. I hate the thought of making someone miss their own event like that, but I will also say that we’re not BYOB. We had great craft beer (much of it brewed here in the great state of Mississippi) on hand for sampling. There are so many innovative people in Jackson and across Mississippi that we feel honored to provide a forum to evangelize the growing nature of our state’s knowledge economy, the great creative assets that we possess, and the how companies, organizations, and individuals are really fostering a culture of innovation.

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MWBeer30_Lynlee

Tasha Bibb (top) and Lynlee Honea (bottom) were among a contingent from Innovate Mississippi who attended #MWBeer30. Innovate Mississippi is a great organization who are champions of innovation culture and entrpreneurialism across our state. Always very glad to see these folks in attendance.

4. Mississippians are engaged and ready to support our knowledge-based companies. 

Plain and simple, we (Mississippians) get a bad rap. “We’re a backwater…” “we really can read and write…” “thank goodness for Arkansas…”.¬† Well we say phooey on all that nonsense. And apologies to our friends from the Travelers State, no disrespect intended. I’m just trying to convey the point here that we’re poised and ready to springboard into a prominent place in the 21st century.

MWBeer30_DonnieBrimm

Here’s Donnie Brimm from FNC talking. Donnie and the rest of the FNC crew got peppered with questions after their 6 minutes and 40 seconds were done. And I don’t mean peppered in a “Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes GOTCHA” kind of way. The people at #MWBeer30 were genuinely curious and supportive of¬† great knowledge-based business like FNC and wanted to know more about the industry, the development aspect, and especially what kind of stumbling blocks had the company encountered in implementing a real culture of innovation.

They say that an indicator of creativity and intelligence is the ability to ask great questions. That being said, we certainly had a highly creative and intelligent group of people who attend #MWBeer30. Being a connoisseur of great craft beer is simply a plus. By the way, our craft beer is courtesy of the great guys at LD’s Beer Run, serving a huge selection of local, regional, and national craft brands. Stop by and see them if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

 

 

5. Star Wars The Force Awakens looks super cool.

MWBeer30_Drone

One of the warm-up acts for FNC’s presentation was screening of the new trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To quote Mississippi icon Marshall Ramsey, “I watched it at least a dozen times and I felt my heart swell when Han said, “Chewie, we’re home.” To quote MWB VP Keith Fraser, “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod.” Yes, it certainly sends chills throughout your spine. The folks gathering at MWB world heaquarters gave a standing ovation after the trailer. Well, technically they were already standing, but I feel certain if they could have levitated, they would have.

6. It’s ok to hire people with purple hair.

This was actually a happy little coincidence of parallelism. A couple of years ago FNC CEO Bill Rayburn was giving the luncheon keynote talk at Innovate Mississippi’s annual luncheon. During his impassioned delivery (those of you who have ever heard Mr. Rayburn give a talk know exactly what I’m talking about), he made the statement – I’m paraphrasing here – that in the new economy we have to get over not hiring people because of things like tattoos and purple hair and instead be meritorious in our approach. Basically, hire the most creative, innovative, and driven person for the job at hand.

MWBeer30_Erica

Well MWB new hire Erica Robinson just happened to show up at her first #MWBeer30 sporting a rather glamorous “Friday wig,” as she calls it. Everybody loved it. She’s a great addition to our creative staff and innovative culture and certainly the embodiment of how not to let individualism and self expression be an impediment to raising your organization’s intellectual talent. Can’t wait to see this Friday’s colour-de-jour.

In fact, one of the best TEDx talks I’ve heard was given by purple-haired Heather Crawford at the TEDxAntioch event I also spoke at in 2014. Check out Heather’s talk here, titled “You really ARE what you eat.”

Correction, 1:37 P.M. Also do not be afraid to hire people who’s names are spelled in unconventional ways. I just realized her name is actually “Hether Crawford.” Our apologies, Hether.

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So anyway, a great time at April’s #MWBeer30. Again, many many thanks to FNC for sending down some of their most impressive folks to give a great 6-minute, 40-second presentation. We’re already working on the agenda for #MWBeer30 in May, so if you want to keep up with this and other #MWBeer30 events, please opt into our MWB Tap special alter system. Cheers!

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Ray Harris (MWB), Tasha Bibb & Lynlee Honea (Innovate Mississippi), various unidentifiable pairs legs.

All photography via MWB’s Tate Nations.

October 14th, 2014

Eyes are on us. Let’s give them something to see.

MSKnowIt.001

The eyes of the universe are upon us. At least the college football universe. And that’s a pretty big universe. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are both unbeaten, on top of the strongest division of the strongest conference in the country, and sit #1 and #3 in the polls, respectively.¬†Game Day came to Mississippi two weeks in a row. There’s a lot of football left to play but for the first time ever, it is possible that the two best teams in the land will square off to decide the next year’s residence of the Golden Egg.

Right now Mississippi is one of the most, if not the most, visible state in the United States. We do have some amazingly good football going on for sure. But folks taking a look at Mississippi need to understand that athletics and football are just one thing we’re great at. We all know there is so much more to this state.

While everyone is looking, let’s give them a show.

Chances are if you’re engaging someone out of state in the next few weeks, the leading topic of conservation will be football. Let’s claim it. Then let’s use it. Use it as a springboard to say, “now let me tell you what else…”

What else? The University of Southern Mississippi has one of the best polymer science programs in the world. Back in Oxford we have the corporate headquarters of one of the fastest growing private software companies in the country. Skip down to Starkville and we find the corporate headquarters of a company working to solve issues arising from the “Internet of Things”… solutions to problems that don’t yet exist! The capital city area is home to a corporation working to ensure Mississippi is the first to have fiber-to-home networks essentially statewide. A financial services firm is focused on solutions to increase health care quality while also lowering costs. Speaking of health care, we should evangelize the incredible research happening at our state research hospital. Some of that research will be instrumental in mankind walking on the surface of Mars. Speaking of space travel, the propulsion systems that will take us there will be tested on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It should be no surprise that Mississippi is playing such a pivotal role in the development of commercial space flight.

World Class IT companies who call Mississippi home are expanding. We’re the home to the headquarters of the second-largest nuclear power fleet in the U.S. We’re a top state for entrepreneurial activity. Yes, we are the last state to host a TEDx event, but one look at the TEDxJackson speaker list and you realize that we’re about to host one of the best. Contrary to popular belief, we’re a state on the rise. So let’s make sure that we actively contradict that popular belief.

Absolutely talk about how we have leading college football teams. Then talk about how we are poised to be a leader in the Knowledge Economy. I know it, you know, and this is our chance to let everyone know it.

#MSKnowIt

More about #MSKnowIt

 

Related Initiatives:

Fast Forward Mississippi

TEDxJackson

April 7th, 2014

TEDxJackson: Coming November, 2014

Mississippi has never hosted a TEDx event before. As of 2014, that’s all about to change. MWB is among a small group of organizations and individuals that have worked to make TEDxJackson a reality.
TEDxJackson

With our application granted this month, the stage is set for TEDxJackson to happen November 6th in the Fondren neighborhood.

The spirit of TED is all about “ideas worth spreading.” TEDxJackson will remain true to that mission. The theme for this event is Fertile Ground, a reference to the great opportunity that exists in Mississippi. The committee is currently working to recruit a diverse range of speakers both from inside and outside the state. Talks will focus on ideas relevant to the global TED community, but subjects will center on issues that connect with the needs and interests of Mississippi – health, education, creativity, and the economy.

A website for the event is currently under construction, and information about attendance applications and tickets will be available soon. Anyone interested can, in the meantime, connect with TEDxJackson through social media platforms, listed below.

twitterbutton TEDxJackson on Twitter

facebookbutton TEDxJackson on Facebook

Organizing committee members include our agency, C Spire,¬†Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Innovate Mississippi, with additional participation from the Jackson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Mississippi Development Authority.

Jackson Attorney David Pharr has taken the position as lead organizer of the event. You can read a great interview David gave about plans for the event.

TEDxJackson is an independently organized TED event.

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