Monday, October 07, 2019

Project aims to make places in greater Mississippi Delta region, such as Paducah, Ky., into rural tech hubs

A project to grow tech talent in southeastern Missouri has received funding to expand in the region. 

Codefi launched in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 2014 with the goal of creating a "tech district" in the town of 40,000 through classes, co-working office space rental, start-up support and community get-togethers. In 2016, sister nonprofit Marquette Tech District Foundation formed, furthering Codefi's goals, Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder.

"Codefi and MTDF were selected as one of the first rural recipients of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies i6 Challenge," Oates reports. "The effort received $750,000 in federal grant funding and is matching the grant with nearly $1.5 million in local contributions to launch their project, which is called the Rural Delta Tech Innovation Network," in the watershed of the lower Mississippi River.

"In the 252 counties . . . from St. Louis to New Orleans, we have identified a huge need for tech talent," Chris Carnell, co-founder of Codefi and program director for MTDF, told Oates. "In the rural counties of the Delta, where our project is based, we have found that technology skills and talent are only available at one-seventh of the national average."

The project is focusing on creating a hub in Paducah, Kentucky, a town of 30,000 where the Tennessee River flows into the Ohio River. Carnell said they'll need to establish three "ingredients" to make it successful: create a physical space where people can gather, identify and educate tech-worker talent, and establish an "ecosystem of support" for entrepreneurs, Oates reports.

Carnell is hoping to replicate Codefi and MTDF's success in Cape Girardeau, where they've established fiber internet buildout, provided free wi-fi downtown, helped create 30 jobs, and have provided entry-level computer programming skills to more than 100 adults, Oates reports. 

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