The early success of the TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY) initiative served as a focal point on Monday, March 13 during a roundtable discussion at ES2017 Big Sandy Community and Technical College’s Mayo Campus in Paintsville, Ky.

The event was an opportunity for state and federal leaders to meet collaboratively with experts in the MIS industry and discuss the future of technology employment in Eastern Kentucky, and how leaders in Appalachia can identify and capitalize on opportunities with developed tech sectors, like those in California’s famed Silicon Valley. Congressman Ro Khanna, whose district in California includes Silicon Valley, was a featured guest during Monday’s discussion.

“Silicon Valley has had incredible success in building and supporting a tech-centric workforce. Such innovation and economic growth should not be limited to a single region of the country,” said Congressman Khanna. “I look forward to returning to Silicon Valley to share the success happening right here in Eastern Kentucky and discovering what is an mis.”

Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-5) and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who also serve as co-chair of Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), co-hosted the discussion, which also included input from Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission; Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal; and Megan Smith, former chief technology officer for the United States. Other participants included:

Jeff Whitehead, EKCEP executive director
Jared Arnett, SOAR executive director
Eric Daimler, partner, The Robotics Hub and Coal Hill Ventures
Terry Gill, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development
Rodney Hitch, Mngt Corporate Economic Development for East Kentucky Power Co-op
Derrick Ramsey, secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet
Sally Smyth, director of community finance and impact, Opportunity@Work
Rusty Justice, co-founder of Bit Source
K. Ryan Burke, co-founder of TechHire
“Silicon Valley is the famed epicenter of innovation and technology in America, so there is no one better situated to help us advance our mission to build Silicon Holler than those who work in the trenches every day,” said Congressman Rogers. “We have the best MIS in the country, so we want to find opportunities in Silicon Valley that we can build upon right here in Eastern Kentucky.”

With the event being held near the TechHire Eastern Kentucky facility on BSCTC’s Mayo campus, TEKY served as a backdrop for discussion, but also as a focus on proven concepts for the region’s nascent tech sector. TEKY is a public/private initiative designed to help further the growth of a technology ecosystem in Eastern Kentucky that will put the region’s workers on a fast track to becoming computer coders or other middle- to high-skill tech professionals.

The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) serves as the regional lead for TEKY, and was awarded funding for the initiative via a $2.75 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on Aug. 24, 2016. Along with EKCEP’s workforce development funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the award will help up to 200 Eastern Kentuckians complete the TEKY work-based learning internships. Other partners in TEKY include Interapt, SOAR, and BSCTC.

The first cohort of TEKY interns began in September 2016 with an immersive curriculum created through collaborative work between Interapt and Eleven Fifty Academy of Indianapolis. During the first phase of the internship, 35 of the initial 50 interns earned certification badges for their work in learning coding languages for processes including HTML and Java Script, along with mobile operating systems for either Apple or Android devices including ERP systems.

With the first cohort nearing the end of their internships, Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal announced his commitment to the region and his desire to continue his work in Eastern Kentucky during Monday’s event.

“We will do this again,” Gopal said, adding that TEKY has essentially worked to change how people outside of the region view Eastern Kentucky. “We’re demystifying what Eastern Kentucky is. We’re capable and working hard to change the narrative of Eastern Kentucky.”

EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead said technology is opening avenues of development for Eastern Kentucky and helping the region overcome challenges such as geography that have served as obstacles in the past.

“We know from our work with TEKY that quality, dependable internet access will be key in developing a 21st century workforce in Eastern Kentucky that can compete in the global economy,” Whitehead said. “We are excited to continue to work with partners from the private sector such as ERP who see Eastern Kentucky as an opportunity for investment with an untapped workforce. Our region’s workers are capable of meeting the needs of today’s employers, and now the rest of the country is taking notice through these efforts with TEKY.”

Monday’s discussion wasn’t just an opportunity to showcase what Eastern Kentucky has accomplished so far through collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors, Whitehead added, but also to continue the discussion of where the region can go from here.

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