Kansas software industry growth outstrips surrounding states

The software industry in Kansas has grown 37.5 percent since 2014, accounting for 22,493 direct jobs within the state, a new report found.

 

The report, published by Software.org, an international research organization, found the software industry adds $3 billion to Kansas’ gross domestic product. The state has seen unusually strong growth, compared with nearby states: Missouri, 7.9 percent job growth since 2014; Colorado, 12.3 percent; Oklahoma, 11.8 percent; and Nebraska, 13.5 percent.

Kansas has fewer overall software jobs, so the increase might be swayed by the addition of one or two companies, but Chris Hopfensperger, founding executive director of software.org, said the growth can’t be completely explained that way.

“We have anecdotal evidence about what is happening in states like Kansas – new companies arriving and established companies growing – but those anecdotes don’t fully explain the scope of the tremendous growth in the state,” he said. “More than 6,000 software jobs were created in the past two years. If that came from just one or two companies, I think we’d be able to track that down. This looks like solid growth in several locations and several sectors.”

It’s difficult to track jobs in the software industry, said Mike Beene, workforce services at the Kansas Department of Commerce, partly because a wide variety of companies may employ one or two people in the field. A manufacturer, for instance, may have a software designer on staff.

“From my standpoint, I believe these are somewhat accurate,” he said of the software.org figures. “We’ve seen growth in the IT industries in Kansas City and Wichita, and obviously with Cerner in the Kansas City area.”

Although it’s one of the state’s growth industries, Beene said he doesn’t believe KDOC specifically targets the industry. He has seen higher education programs ramping up information technology offerings.

“It is a growing industry, and the demand is there,” he said.

If that type of accelerated growth continues

in the software industry, workforce challenges that are hitting many industries could be an issue.

”The software industry has thousands of open jobs, and we aren’t graduating anywhere near enough people to fill them – and that’s just talking about the openings we already have,” Hopfensperger said. “We are falling further and further behind, and we need to really focus on how to get people the skills they need to take these jobs.”

He expects software.org will dig into the strong growth seen in states such as Kansas and Indiana, which saw an increase of 32.2 percent in software jobs since 2014, to determine what helped propel that growth.

”Look at Iowa, two years ago the number of software workers there was slightly higher than in Kansas. Over the next two years Kansas added nearly seven times as many software jobs,” Hopfensperger said. “That’s a significant difference.”

Beene said workforce issues plague numerous industries, and there just aren’t enough people. Drawing workers to Kansas is an important part of strategizing to address the needs.

“Making this type of industry and other industries in Kansas attractive to our young adults and youth is becoming more and more important to us, to persuade them to these sort of careers and more importantly, get them to stay in Kansas and work,” he said.

Some of the challenges came up as the state put together a proposal seeking to attract the Amazon second headquarters, said Kevin Doel, KDOC spokesman.

“We know that the Amazon type worker is looking for a lifestyle, not just an income,” he said. “We think Kansas offers a good lifestyle, and it just needs to be promoted. We’ve got plenty of activities and options, and you can have cities, you can have urban and rural, and outdoor activities. And a very low cost of living, compared to where you could be elsewhere, so you could have a great life here, and not with a huge price tag. I think that’s something we can promote.”

Beene said his department does outreach to bordering states promoting the Kansas lifestyle.

“I think as a state we could do a lot more of targeting those individuals who have moved away to the coast or to the Chicagos or New Yorks, and now they want to raise a family and are thinking about coming back home,” Beene said.

Hopfensperger said states need to be prepared — pushing STEM subjects, for instance — for growth in software to continue.

”If you take a step back and look at how software is revolutionizing every sector of our economy, we would expect continued growth in both jobs and economic impact,” he said. “Consider precision agriculture and advanced manufacturing. These are new fields that have only taken off in recent years, and you see workers and new businesses really taking off in these areas.”

Heroes
 

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