In 1996 local producers in Pike County "dug up 35.6 million tons, a state record," Loh writes. "The coal market began to collapse in 2011 as a global glut of the fuel swelled. Prices are down 75 percent since then, and nowhere has that hit harder than in Appalachia. Central Appalachia coal has dropped 70 percent from a record $143.25 in July 2008 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Pike County’s output dropped to 6.9 million tons in 2015, and its mining jobs fell to 1,285, about a third as many as four years earlier."
During coal's downturn, Justice, a fourth-generation Pikeville native, saw his excavation and engineering company lose 70 percent of its customer base, "including big miners like James River Coal Co., Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Arch Coal Inc. that all filed for bankruptcy protection," Loh writes. That led to the idea to switch to coding, Loh writes. Justice told him, “We didn’t think that was that big of a jump. Daggone, these are high-tech workers that just get dirty.” (Bloomberg graphic)