Will Lexington produce the next smart device or social media platform? Katy Brown is the executive director of the Technology Association of the Bluegrass, or “TAB.” Haven’t heard of TAB? That’s because it’s just getting under way. Tom Martin talked with Katy about this new organization in town and what it’s all about.
Q: What is the Technology Association of the Bluegrass and what’s driving its formation?
A: At the end of last year, a group of technology companies got together with Commerce Lexington and had a round table discussion about some of the needs that were existing for the technology sector in Lexington and what came out of that discussion was a resounding agreement that there needed to be some type of a group or an association formed to help with some of the gaps that these companies were feeling.
That’s when Awesome Inc. took the lead, saying they would spearhead this. I came on board in January of this year. The mission of the Technology Association is to support and promote software technology with students and professionals through events, education, and advocacy.
There are four pillars to our organization. “Events” has to do with meet-ups that are already happening around town. There are about fifteen to twenty technology meet ups focused on a specific programming language or a topic that’s relevant to a discipline within technology. We aim to support them to sustain and grow.
On the education side, it’s working on various initiatives to support and grow computer science from kindergarten all the way up to post secondary and beyond in professional development.
Q: Going back to the conversations with the Commerce Lexington and identifying some needs that this organization hopes to address. What are those needs?
A: One big gap is employment. There’s this chicken and egg problem. There are some 2,400 open opportunities in the state of Kentucky and only roughly 430 computer science graduates. So, there’s a big opportunity and not enough individuals to fill the need.
There are a lot of talented software developers in our community, but they are not getting connected to the opportunities that exist for various reasons. So, they feel the need to leave Central Kentucky and go to other places to find work and it’s causing the. And so, it fragments the technology economy. And so, there is a need to combine efforts and say, ‘okay, let’s create a jobs portal,’ which is what we’re doing. A place where somebody can post their resume and an employer can post an opportunity and they can connect easily.
Q: Do you have a lot of interest in membership, people who are already saying ‘count us in?’
A: Yes. I’ve talked to about 50 companies in the area who have said that they would like to have some type of participation in this association.
Q: Is this seen as something that could in some ways change the economy of Lexington and move it forward?
A: Yes. In researching other technology associations across the country, I honed in on one particular one, the Charleston Digital Corridor and operates out of Charleston, S.C.. They started their association in 2000 with 17 technology companies and in 17 years they’ve grown to 400. And currently, they’re growing at a rate of 26 percent faster than any other technology community in the US - the same rate as Silicon Valley - and they attribute a lot of their success and their technology sector to the association.
Q: Is a function of an association in an economic sector like technology to serve as a cross-pollinator, a place where all of these interests can come together and share ideas?
A: Absolutely. There are already silos in technology that are going on in education, in events, in advocacy and what this association looks to do is to bring those silos under under one roof so that there can be interaction that helps to support and grow each of those silos. So, if you’re a startup company in need of software developers, you can find that employee that you’re looking for. The association aims to drive growth within specifically the technology sector in Lexington.
A board has been formed. It’s twenty individuals who are technology influencers in Lexington ranging from educators to city and state government people, startup founders, and more established companies as well.
Q: And is the presence of an organization like this looked for by businesses that might be thinking of locating in Lexington?
A: I can talk about Lexmark as an example. Several years ago, the head of recruiting for software development at Lexmark was expressing the need for something like this to exist because he specifically was having trouble recruiting technology people to the area because they felt like Lexmark was their only option and the technology economy wasn’t strong enough. So, if something didn’t work out at Lexmark, they wouldn’t have anything to fall back on or they wouldn’t necessarily be around likeminded individuals coming to Lexington.
An organization like this helps startup founders and even larger companies recruit and maintain as well as grow because they know that they’ve got more resources and more support for themselves and their employees.
Q: Where do you see Lexington five years down the road, having organized in this way?
A: We hope to see more growth, more startup technology companies in Lexington and more students choosing computer science as a career pathway and more professionals switching careers or pivoting to bring technology into their various sectors as well.
Q: When do you open for business?
A: November 8, we are having our lunch event in conjunction with Undercover Lex, a four year running event. The event will be at Awesome Inc. from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm and the goal is to show the community what the technology economy looks like in Lexington. We expect to have between 30 to 50 technology companies exhibiting and we look to have about 200 students and professionals that will be there networking and making connections for potential jobs.
Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.