Lansing emerges as hub of IT opportunity

chart 2chart 1

When Samantha Amburgey started overseeing technology teams in April 2014, the company she worked for had 52 employees and two interns in information technology.

Now, three years later, Amburgey's reach has broadened to 69 employees and eight interns. That 43 percent increase shows no sign of slowing down as Amburgey projects she will add four to eight employees and one to two interns annually for several years to keep pace with company demands.Samantha Amburgey at MSUFCU - Photo Dave Trumpie

Although it sounds like Amburgey works in Silicon Valley, she's actually in Mid-Michigan, working for a organization not typically associated with high-tech. As the chief information officer for the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, Amburgey is on the front lines of change as businesses from finance to health care rely on technology systems to get things done.

"IT is a field that's rapidly advancing," she says. "It's just growing and growing as automation becomes more efficient. It's where business is going, and if you go into IT, you'll have a great career."

Linking affinities

Amburgey saw opportunity and charted her future in IT. While earning her bachelor's in sociology in the early 2000s, she dabbled in the design and processes behind high-tech media. She loved the challenges and set out to seize every opportunity.

The credit union, she says, provided an environment where she could combine her affinity for people with her penchant for technology. Within a couple years, she advanced from an entry-level job in the call center into management.

Through a combination of people skills, training and a passion for problem solving, Amburgey entered the inner workings of a tech world that drives organizations and underlies everyday life. She saw through preconceived notions to discover that today's IT isn't relegated to workers who sit in a computer room or write code in a basement office. Instead, she saw an IT world filled with vibrant, creative thinkers who bridge the gap between people and technology, working together to make life IT Staff at MSUFCU - Photo Dave Trumpie more efficient.

"Individuals today want to use technology to interact with businesses," she says. "At the credit union, all our technology comes back to supporting our members, so they have a good experience calling us, coming to a branch, doing a service online, or receiving communications or alerts. We deliver service by making technology a great experience."

Delivering that type of service, she says, takes technologically savvy individuals. And in Lansing, those individuals are in short supply compared to the high demand by the public and private sector.

"Lots of businesses are competing for IT people," she says. "We struggle with having a diverse set of candidates. The sheer shortage of candidates has caused us to be creative about getting individuals into this organization."

Say yes to the quest

More and more people are saying yes to the quest to promote, pursue and build opportunity in Lansing's IT sector. The Capital Area IT Council is among the groups addressing specific workforce challenges that face the local information technology industry.

Amburgey is a member of the coalition that hails from industry, education, economic development and government. Employer-led and directed, the council is committed to finding a way to increase the number of qualified IT professionals in the region.

Facts and figures from CAIC reveal that IT is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the capital area, expanding at a rate seven times faster that the rate of all jobs. Data suggests that more than 13,000 residents in Mid-Michigan are employed in IT-IT staff at Dewpoint - Photo Dave Trumpie related jobs.

Andrea Ragan, the previous director and member of the CAIC, says Greater Lansing's IT story is "exponential." She says that while it's easy to think of opportunities in straight-up tech-driven companies, every line of business increasingly relies upon and needs IT.  The result, she says, are "hidden IT" opportunities.

"Careers in IT are everywhere," says Ragan, a self-described community-enthusiast and advocate. "IT is an industry that permeates all other industries. It's in health, manufacturing, insurance and finance. It's hard to touch on just one career path."

Ragan says that understanding the depth of IT opportunity often stands in the way of filling the demand for IT jobs.

"There's a barrier to the awareness of how diverse IT careers are," she says. "More than ever, IT is those hidden careers, those people you don't see. For instance, when you go to the doctor, you meet the doctor and the nurse—but you don't meet the people behind the computer and record system that makes the office or hospital run effectively."

Types of IT jobs range from the help desk to traditional software development to testing and maintaining the functionality of systems or applications. Project managers, security experts, network engineers and computer user support specialists are among IT jobs that require varying degrees of education from certificates all the way to bachelor's degrees.

As an example, two "hot jobs" identified in South Central Michigan by the Michigan Department  of Technology, Management and Budget are IT-related. Demand for computer systems analysts is projected to grow 28.4% through 2022, while jobs for computer user support specialists are expected to increase 17.6% within the same time frame. Wages for the two range from $20 to $42 per hour.

"IT careers are varied, sustainable and lucrative," says Ragan. "If you live in Lansing or want to make a career here, the conditions are here. We have a critical mass of health care, insurance and manufacturing companies, with the constraints being our IT talent. And while we're not known as an IT hub, it doesn't mean we're not."

IT today, IT tomorrow

One IT consulting and integration firm has understood Lansing's latent IT potential for more than 20 years.IT staff at Dewpoint - Photo Dave Trumpie

Founded by eight entrepreneurs in 1996, Dewpoint has grown from a service and hardware reseller company in Holt into a multi-pronged information technology solutions provider in Lansing. Headquartered downtown in the Knapp's Centre with a branch in Grand Rapids, the homegrown company is poised for expansion. Since 2016, Dewpoint has created 100 jobs a year, bringing the total number of direct hires and contractors to 350.

Vice President of Business Operations Michelle Massey says Dewpoint prides itself on identifying client needs for IT services, and providing solutions through short- and long-term strategic technology plans. Dewpoint, she says, works with up to 300 clients across Mid-Michigan, and typically deploys experts to work as consultants or embedded employees. Key industries include state and local government, insurance, health care, finance, biotechnology and manufacturing.

"Companies are starting to realize that if I'm in a particular line of business, that I want to do that business well," says Massey. "It used to be that companies were experts in everything. Now they are seeing that they should let specialists do the work, which is behind what's propelling the growth and need for IT professionals."

Currently, Dewpoint has openings for about 40 employees. Recognizing their need as well as that of area industries, Dewpoint embraces efforts to build STEM education in schools and through nonprofit groups. Recent support includes a $10,000 gift to the Information Technology Empowerment Center to expand their 2020 Girls program.

"It's not just about the generation that's arrived," says Massey. "When we talk about developing and building the IT community, it's also about building the generation that's coming up. We've been here 21 years and we want to be here another 21. We want to be sure we have a good foundation."

---

Ann Kammerer is the News Editor for Capital Gains and writes occasional features.

This article was created in partnership with Capital Area Michigan Works.

Photos © Dave Trumpie

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

Said Taiym: Senior Vice President, Chief Information OfficerQ&A : Said  Taiym
Chief Information Officer
AF Group
Chair
Capital Area IT Council


What do you think people think of when they think IT?

People have different points of view when it comes to IT. A lot depends how they use or perceive information technology in their everyday lives. Someone might think of IT as the systems that make their telephone, computers or laptops work. They might also think of the processes behind websites or social media.

A more proper definition of IT is the technology and systems that help inform all users to make better decisions. Our world is moving fast and increasingly digital. Things that used to take seven days or seven hours or seven minutes now take mere seconds. The capabilities made possible by an IT infrastructure are causing a shift in society, and creating a lot of opportunity for jobs, careers and futures in IT.

What are some of those IT opportunities?

Many larger companies couldn't survive without IT. Smaller organizations also rely on IT, with customers interfacing with applications from the moment they walk in to the moment they walk out.

Jobs in IT range from service technicians to administrators and everything in between. Professionals in IT analyze and assess needs, and develop and test solutions. General types of IT jobs include software and app developers, programmers, project managers, business analysts and telecommunications experts, technology architects and testers. Sometimes all those jobs are needed to develop and maintain a single solution!

Why should someone consider Lansing as a great place for an IT career?

Right now, the Capital Area IT Council estimates that Lansing has about 2,000 vacancies in IT-related jobs. Information technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in Greater Lansing, with a growth rate that's almost seven times faster than the rate for all jobs. Several IT-dependent businesses thrive here, including health care, insurance and finance, state government and higher education.

I moved here from Chicago, and love that you get a big city feel and a great place to raise a family. You have access to multiple companies, professional networks, and all the restaurants, entertainment and culture, and social life you could ask for. All the amenities are here. It's just about making it happen.