Rutherford County's fast-growing information technology industry and what business and tech leaders are doing to build a highly skilled IT workforce.
Aspiring technology professionals and entrepreneurs don’t have to look far to find opportunity in Rutherford County. Whether launching a software startup or landing a lucrative job doing what they love, IT workers can find plenty of possibilities for advancing their careers in Rutherford County’s growing information technology sector.
“There’s a perception that if you want to have a technology-related career, you need to be in Nashville, Brentwood or Franklin,” says David Speight, owner of True North Geographic Technologies, a Murfreesboro-based GIS consulting and services firm that works with state agencies, utilities, and city and county governments to implement mapping systems. “But there is a lot of opportunity for information technology professionals in Rutherford County – not just with IT companies, but in other sectors too.”
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Numerous firms with technology-based products and services thrive in the area. Larger companies include Asurion, a consumer electronics insurance provider that employs 1,250 at its operations, technology and logistics centers in Smyrna, and Ingram Content Group, a leading provider of books, music and media content with 1,700 employees at its global headquarters in La Vergne.
Murfreesboro is home to a growing cluster of tech-based firms like True North, as well as Wiser Company, which provides geospatial intelligence analysis and IT services to commercial and federal clients, including the military and intelligence agencies, and Bondware Web Solutions, which produces software to help publishers deliver content online.
To draw more awareness to these opportunities and bring even more high-paying, high-tech jobs to the area, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce’s workforce development team has brought these tech leaders together to form the Rutherford Works Tech Community. The purpose of the group is to retain and attract more highly skilled IT workers to the area by building a network of industry leaders that will collaborate, share information and partner with local higher education institutions.
“We are looking for opportunities to participate in curriculum discussions from elementary school all the way up to the university level, and also to participate in internship and mentoring opportunities,” says Speight, who serves on the executive committee, along with other local IT leaders.
Training Future IT Professionals
The technology community has an ideal partner in Middle Tennessee State University, which offers a computer science program that enrolls more than 400 undergraduates and more than 30 graduate students in its programs at any one time.
MTSU has an external advisory board that consists of industry leaders who work with educators to help shape computer science curriculum and provide internship opportunities for students, says Dr. Chrisila Pettey, chair of MTSU’s computer science department. The program focuses on producing graduates who are well grounded in the fundamentals of computer science and capable of pursuing whatever direction they choose in the industry.
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“This field changes so rapidly that you can’t just teach the thing of the moment,” Dr. Pettey says. “You can offer specialized classes, but what students really need is a sound foundational education, so they can learn a new programming language if they are faced with it – because as computer scientists they will be faced with it. We offer some of everything and teach our students how to learn.”
That is exactly the kind of training that Speight and other employers seek in their hires.“For the work we do, we need people with a strong computer science background, whether that is system administration or database development,” he says.
Developing Talent at Home
The local tech community already benefits from the fact that most of MTSU’s computer science students choose to stay in the area after graduation. The development of career and technical education (CTE) programs in Rutherford County Schools is also beginning to pay dividends. CTE programs offer network programming classes that allow students to earn industry-level certifications. Initiatives like the IT Academy at La Vergne High School are helping make students aware of the high caliber of technology jobs available locally, while also giving them a jump on the training they need to get hired for those jobs.
It all adds up to a bright future for Rutherford County students – and for the local economy.
“Rutherford County has been a very good spot to start a technology company, and with the Tech Community we want to continue to raise awareness about the opportunities here,” Speight says. “Anything that helps promote Rutherford County as a location for technology jobs and helps grow the local workforce is a very good thing.”