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Ohio County 'Hub' Offers Training and Coworking Space

It’s Monday evening, the time every week when a few residents of Ohio County, Kentucky gather at The Hub in the small town of Hartford for coding boot camp.  Coding is a precise set of instructions that tells a computer what to do.

“I have to enter something in every field, but I should be able to put something in there, so if I skip over a field it still counts as a token somehow,” said Cindy Sandefur as she goes over her progress in the computer programming language Java in a two-way video conference with instructor Patrick Toner of The Software Guild.

"So what you’ll do is you’ll ask them to enter all of the fields." said Toner. "And you know how you’re calling the setters  on the fields, whenever you get the stuff. They don’t enter any information, just don’t call the setter." 

The Software Guild has an office in Louisville, but this instructor is in Akron, Ohio. That’s exactly the reason The Hub was created - to use 21st Century technology to offer training and shared office space, called coworking space, with high-speed Internet in this rural community.

Sandefur has a degree in accounting and has been an office manager for a local business for 10 years. She says learning coding offers some security for the future.

"My husband is employed as an underground coal miner, so his job is less than stable, obviously. So I wanted to have a skill set to be able provide an income that is comparable to what he has and this opportunity came up," said Sandefur.

The vision for this type of training gained ground when Ohio County bought the building for $100,000.

Chase Vincent is executive director of the Ohio County Economic Development Alliance. He says the building was renovated with a $100,000 Rural Development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"They realize the challenges that rural communities face in economic development and this scored very high on their rubric because it’s sort of an innovative idea for a rural community," said Vincent. "Instead of looking outside and trying to draw people in, we looked back at ourselves and said, how do we fit into the 21st Century economy?"

Vincent says the county found a good partner in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"I turned around after they gave us the renovation grant and applied for another one to do the coding boot camp and was awarded another $99,000 to get that started," he said.

That grant provides a rare opportunity for eight county residents to take, a no cost to them, this $12,000 coding boot camp. They were chosen by The Software Guild from among 50 applicants who took an aptitude test. The 10-month boot camp began in November.

"How ya doin’ Steve?" asked the instructor.

"Doin’ all right,"  said Steve Finch, who is a math teacher and minister.

"Ran into some trouble, with the particularly the unit test with the stateful code, but I think I’m past that," said Finch. "And then lambdas and streams I visited a while back and they seemed to make some sense but I’m going to come back to them soon, and I expect I’ll have a lot of questions over those."

These Ohio County residents are gaining skills that are in high demand.

Scott Gormly is manager of information technology for The Intersect Group, an Atlanta staffing agency. He says coding boot camps are increasingly popular.

"What I’m finding, especially the larger companies, they are more inclined to want to hire these individuals because they had such one-on-one training and tutoring to get up to speed on development and they don’t have a lot of bad habits from previous companies that companies have to overcome, so their code is very clean," said Gormly.

Another opportunity for Ohio County residents will be training to become a virtual assistant, someone who can manage an office remotely from home or from a business incubator like The Hub.

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