~by Noah Rohlfing
The Forge in Jefferson is starting to come together.
As Linc Kroeger enters the building from a back entrance, work can be heard being done on the second floor of the building, with drills whirring and hammers pounding. On the ground floor, things are quiet for the time being. Chris Deal, a Jefferson native who is part of the project, said they hope for the base construction to be done by early August.
If the company’s rollout goes as Kroeger hopes, then the Forge Jefferson could be a complete game-changer for rural Iowa and its young workforce.
The Forge is the workplace of Pillar Technology, a smart embedded software company owned by Accenture.
One of the main goals from the Forge — which will open on Sept. 7 with a grand set of guests including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Silicon Valley congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA), an outdoor barbecue, and tours of the building’s interior for young students with interest in a program supported by Des Moines Area Community College and Iowa Central Community College.
The program, with $275,000 in scholarships funded by Corteva and The Tech, will provide participating students with 10 classes in the software field and a chance to apply for the Forge Academy apprenticeship, which is free to those who qualify.
The apprenticeship will also give students a chance to experience the real world of software development, something Kroeger says many college courses might not provide.
“In college, you learn to write software, and in the Academy, you learn how to write commercial software products,” Kroeger said. “There’s a big difference between the two.
“We can work on these education plans and make sure that they are top level.”
Going over the layout for the building, Kroeger said it will follow the pattern of the other Forge buildings, with a training area on the first floor — equipped with everything the apprentices will need to succeed in the world of top-tier commercial software.
Deal and Kroeger both encouraged people of Greene County to come out for the grand opening of the Forge.
“People are watching this closely and really want to see it succeed,” Deal said.
The idea for building a new Forge in Jefferson, after the prior Forges were in large cities such as Des Moines and Columbus, came in part from Deal.
Deal was working with Kroeger on the Des Moines Forge, and when Kroeger began searching for a rural site for a Forge, Deal kept mentioning Jefferson. At first, Kroeger was hesitant due to a few limiting factors. But then, Deal got to work making his case.
“Eventually, he got it down to where there was no reason not to,” Kroeger said. “He kept removing those blockers.”
Kroeger said that one fulltime worker has already relocated to Grand Junction, and he hopes this is the start of a new period of growth and relevance for the area.
“If you bring the right ingredients, you’ll get the right output,” Kroeger said. “There’s actually something you can do to turn around the rural trajectory.”
Deal said it was an honor to bring an enterprise with so much promise to his hometown.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope surrounding this initiative,” Deal said. “There is this sense of momentum.”
The Forge in Jefferson is located in the former Odd Fellows hall, built in the 1890s. Deal is developer on the $1.7 million renovation. The building is set to receive $423,652 in state historic preservation tax credits, and the city of Jefferson obtained a $100,000 Community Catalyst grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the project.