When NetApp announced that it was hiring more than 400 people last year, it caused a lot of waves for Wichita’s small IT community, and Bill Ramsey is taking the long view to adjusting to the changing technology scene.
Ramsey sold his computer service company, the Bill Guy, to local computer maker Cybertron International last year and now is looking forward to developing the company’s computer services business. He is also helping to lead an effort by the city’s technology companies to turn Wichita into a tech town – starting in the schools.
Ramsey, 40, is married to Marilyn, and they have five children.
Tell me about the effort to develop the technology sector.
The technology alliance is part of Visioneering Wichita, and we have been meeting very regularly … There are about 40 different companies represented. Wayne Chambers (CEO of High Touch) is the head of it, and I’m on the leadership council. A big part of what we are trying to do is come up with a way to start education for people interested in this industry at a much earlier age. We’ve got several colleges involved; we’re trying to get USD 259 involved, Maize, whatever, and define the career paths where a child would want to go. All of the things they need to go through to get where they want to go. Our mission is to retain and educate and attract talent to Wichita, thereby attracting larger companies and have better growth all the way around.
Can this really work?
I’ll equate this to a city-to-city trip we took a couple years ago with Visioneering to Pittsburgh. ... That city has really turned itself around, from a steel-based economy, and reinvented itself and got a very rich arts foundation and has become very technology rich. The colleges and schools there work together to provide the kind of talent that these larger corporations are looking for. They are pulling in these companies because you are breeding their talent pool. Brilliant. ... How do we make something like that happen in Wichita? How do we come up with the way to educate these kids, and most importantly, to retain them, because they’re leaving? They get done with what they’re doing and Wichita, not having a very large technology sector, they bolt to Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis, where they will be paid a whole lot more money for what they do.
What kind of a tech sector would you train for?
Our first goal is to bolster the existing companies. ... We have these existing companies saying this is the type of talent we are looking for, this is what we need. We need these kinds of people; schools, help us.
The second part is how do we get larger corporations here. NetApp coming in and hiring 450 people, you know, that is a heck of a big deal. I’ve lost three of my best employees to NetApp because they came in and just stole everybody. That’s difficult to deal with, and to replace them is very challenging. … I don’t want to say we don’t want that. We want those types of companies here. They are a great boon to our technology sector. I would love to have 100 NetApps because that means we’ll be attracting all kinds of talent. But we have to breed that eco-system, and education is where we start.
What’s been the response from the big tech companies, such as NetApp?
We have been trying desperately to get them involved because we want to know what they need. We just haven’t found the right person to talk to, yet. Koch has a big technology sector. … These are the companies we need to have contact with. We need to get the staple companies on board.
How about from the education sector?
We are getting a spectacular response from the universities in the area – very, very helpful, very easy to work with. They are helping us design surveys to see what companies want to do. … We want to find out what the community needs at this point in time and start designing around that. That is our first step. As we fulfill that need we can start expanding, so that a company coming in will say, hey, they’ve got all these people.
How easy was it to replace your lost technicians?
We are getting applications from all over the United States, but do we really want to pay for them to relocate here? I’d rather pull somebody from the area. Wichita is our home, and we want to help the people who are here. But it’s difficult finding people of the caliber of what you need here, especially now because so many took off and went to NetApp.
Aren’t the community colleges and technical colleges able to train the workers you need?
Butler is, the technical schools, Vatterott, Wright and WTI. They come out with a very set (knowledge). They’re very trainable. Five of my people came right out of a technical school.
So, isn’t that enough?
It might be for me, but not maybe not for Company B over here in the technology sector … and it certainly may not be what Company C over in another state that’s looking at moving. That’s why we need to develop the talent pool to Wichita. ... And for (Cybertron), too, there will come a time that we need those skills, because our growth has been pretty astronomical. We went from 33 to 60 people last year. There will come a time when I need somebody with a master’s degree. I may not be there yet, but that’s what I’m going to want at some point.