~by Noah Rohlfing for The Scranton Journal
A “Silicon Prairie” in Iowa might not be a crazy thought anymore.
At least, that’s the hope of a group of investors and collaborators who debuted a high school development scholarship geared towards the training of students in future high-demand technological fields at a press conference in the rotunda of the Greene County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
The group present on Wednesday included Gov. Kim Reynolds, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, Tim Ritchie of The Tech Initiative, Corteva Agriscience IT leader Jim Alcombright, DMACC president Rob Denson and Greene County superintendent Tim Christensen, as well as the faces of the agreement, Jefferson resident and entrepreneur Chris Deal and Accenture executive Linc Kroeger.
“Our rural communities offer something very special for our young people,” Reynolds said. “That is the opportunity to chase your dream no matter where you live.”
The program, a Technological Skilling pilot program (as it was described in the event’s press release), will be held at tech development site “The Forge” in downtown Jefferson. The Forge is spearheaded by the Accenture executive and Iowa native, and it will be open in September.
Kroeger has said he wants the Forge to eventually grow to hold 30 employees earning about $75,000 per year.
The Technological Skilling pilot program will be offered to 25 students from Greene County, Perry and the 39 small Iowa towns in between, with classes being held through a partnership between DMACC and Iowa Central Community College.
Following graduation from the program, students will have the opportunity to either learn more through Accenture or head into the workforce, Reynolds said.
Leading the press conference was Deal, who said he had felt like Jefferson could be something big. Deal said he was thrilled to bring the technological fervor of Silicon Valley to the middle of Iowa.
“We’ve got the people; We’ve also got the place,” Deal said. “Why can’t Jefferson/Greene County become the hub of a rural tech transformation?”
Deal then introduced Reynolds, who announced the scholarship program as a big deal for not just Jefferson, but for the state of Iowa as a whole. Reynolds said she could feel the excitement from the community every time she visited.
Reynolds said that The Forge had included a $20,000 sponsorship to Greene County Elementary in order to improve its computer science. The deal also includes a $50,000 grant to Perry schools for a computer science elementary program.
“It’s about building an Iowa that exceeds the expectations of our young people,” Reynolds said of the event. “Partnerships like this one can prepare Iowans of all ages for the cutting-edge careers of the 21st century.”
The scholarships funded by Corteva are full ride, according to Alcombright, which would ensure that students going through the program would have nothing to repay following their graduation from high school and from the academy.
Alcombright said that one of the most important things he wanted to do was help his company and the workforce in the coming years.
“The opportunity here is terrific,” Alcombright said. “Corteva’s mission is to enrich the lives of those who produce and consume.
“I can think of no better way to show that commitment to enhancing lives than the new rural Forge program.”
Corteva has input $187,500 into the program, approximately $75,000 per scholarship, and all books will be paid for.
Lt. Gov. Gregg said it was incredible to see everyone working together to bring a large development to rural Iowa, and he added that The Forge can serve as a model for the state and the nation.
“Sometimes we focus on the things that we lack in rural Iowa,” Gregg said. “We really ought to focus on the things we have to offer.”
Gregg is the co-chair of Reynolds’ Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, and he said the project exemplified the goals of the initiative.
As the president of the Silicon Valley tech non-profit The Tech Initiative, Ritchie said the company was ready to bring technological jobs to the area.
“The world’s great needs are Jefferson, Iowa’s great opportunities,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie also added that the challenge Jefferson faces is having an education system equipped to handle the complexities of the program, but that the scholarship program will bridge that gap.
The word echoing through the rotunda of the courthouse Wednesday was “opportunity.” Jefferson — and rural central Iowa as a whole — has just been given the opportunity to make its mark on the ever-changing world of technology.