Remote Work is a Growth Opportunity for Appalachia
As I was canvassing prospective guests for our Forgotten America Podcast, I came across Aaron Renn’s report titled “The Future of Appalachia.” Renn outlines areas of both growth and opportunity throughout Appalachia. He believes remote work is an area of opportunity for the region. Two firms – CentralApp and Oktana – are doing exciting work connecting West Virginians with not only remote tech jobs but also providing the necessary training to transition into tech.
Renn offers this work praise,
This has produced life-changing results for some people. One CentralApp person got hired on at his client at a six figure salary. One of the people at Oktana is a former coal miner who was previously homeless for a period of time. I think broker firms like these are critical to connecting people in many communities with real, high quality, well-paying remote work jobs.
Remote work is here to stay. Many tech jobs can be done remotely and are high-paying. Many in West Virginia cannot gain tech skills through traditional means like college. CentralApp and Oktana are creating pathways toward providing job skills to West Virginians in a way that is also lucrative for their own organizations. This win-win method is more sustainable than any government job program could ever hope to be. Plus, it’s providing new economic capital for the communities of these remote workers.
CentralApp is a tech firm located in Huntington, West Virginia that creates technology-based solutions for small businesses. Their CEO, Todd Cope, is a Silicon Valley executive who has returned to West Virginia. His goal is “To bridge the economic chasm between urban and rural America.” He sees Appalachia as a hotbed for underused talent. Cope wants to find hardworking West Virginians and give them skills to gain top remote jobs in the tech industry.
One of their success stories began with Zach Edgell who needed a less physically demanding job after some health issues. Zach enrolled in a free training program through CentralApp. CentralApp shares about his journey:
Zach completed CentralApp’s Salesforce Administrator training program in record time and passed his certification test with flying colors. He showed such promise that the CentralApp team asked him to begin learning developer skills and offered to pay for his training. Again, Zach excelled. He completed the eight-month developer training program in just four months — right before Christmas 2019.
Early the next year, Zach launched his tech career by working remotely with a Philadelphia startup called Source Digital. There he learned from seasoned coders and Google Developers. He also worked on high-level projects for NBC Universal, Vudu, and pop superstar Iggy Azalea. In May 2020, Source Digital promoted Zach to Quality Assurance Manager.
Oktana is a tech agency founded in 2014 in Uruguay that provides Salesforce innovation to companies. They tout their organizational culture as focusing on problem-solving, adaptability, and a growth-oriented mindset. Oktana also values individual development, transparency, and integrity. They have offices throughout Latin America and the United States. In 2020, they opened an office in Charleston, West Virginia.
Oktana notes they were drawn to West Virginia for several reasons but cites the Mountain State’s sense of home as the biggest factor. Their general manager Julia Barrette noted, “What we find in West Virginia is that West Virginians love West Virginia. We’re really happy to be here, providing jobs to people who want to be here and who are excited that we’re here.”
Today, it’s common to hear that companies are hiring for skills but firing for attitude and behavior. Scott Nostaja notes, “When you hire for behavior, you focus on choosing employees that will keep company morale high. Plus, it’s easier to train people for skills than to change negative behaviors developed over the length of their career.” Companies can often train new hires on the skills necessary to complete the job. However, it’s very difficult to retrain a bad work ethic, a negative attitude, or other undesirable attributes.
In West Virginia, Oktana has found people who do not currently possess tech skills but are hardworking, friendly, loyal, and teachable. Companies can teach tech skills, but it is virtually impossible to teach character attributes. By providing hard-working Mountaineers with tech skills, they are serving to provide upward mobility for these people while also developing a great pool of workers. Hopefully, Oktana’s experience will be a megaphone that declares to the rest of the world, “If you’re looking for workers with strong character and work ethic, then come to West Virginia.”
A Sustainable System for Remote Work
Oktana and CentralApp are doing what no government program is doing. They are creating a sustainable system for sourcing employees where everyone benefits. This includes the people gaining remote jobs, the local economy, Oktana and CentralApp themselves, and the companies hiring the workers.
The people who gain remote jobs receive both training and high-paying remote jobs that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. Their local economy is gaining a financial boost because a resident has more capital to spend in their community. Oktana and CentralApp are getting paid to provide valuable remote workers to companies that are receiving great workers. Hopefully, both companies serve to inspire other organizations to do likewise. If companies source top talent and provide job training for people in West Virginia and Appalachia, then we would see an economic boom in the region.
Nate Phipps is the Communications & Social Media Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.
Read More about remote work from Nate.