Since the dawn of the 20th century, eastern Kentucky’s economy has been dependent upon the coal industry. Coal was mined and utilized much earlier but could not be transported far on wagons maneuvering through difficult terrain. The only mines that could get coal to markets beyond their local communities were those situated along navigable rivers and waterways.

After the Civil War, railways began to make their way into the area, inching ever closer to the abundant coal reserves located in the remote areas of eastern Kentucky. Industry expansion followed, and the Kentucky coalfields became a key supplier of bituminous coal – the preferred energy source for a growing nation. The region’s economic health has been directly linked to the mining industry ever since.

Mining methods evolved through the years and the industry was transformed by technology and mechanization. High tech sensors and monitors replaced the iconic canary, and sophisticated machinery made relics of the pick and shovel. A single remote-controlled machine can now mine in one minute what it took a miner in the 1920s an entire day to produce.

Changes in mining methods reinvented the modern day coal miner. Every stage of today’s coal mining operations from preliminary planning to final reclamation requires workers adept at operating computer controlled systems. Machines used for mining are some of the largest and most complex in the world and are operated by highly trained and skilled men and women. Only the best mechanics can assemble, piece by piece, enormous components of equipment that were lowered down mine elevator shafts. Surveyors and mapping specialists, electricians and ventilation engineers – these and many more high tech specialists make up the well compensated workforce of today’s mining industry.

A convergence of events has brought about a reset to a new normal.

The people of eastern Kentucky are accustomed to rising and falling along with the up and down rhythms of the coal industry. This time is different. Many mines across the region have closed due to weakened demand, depleted reserves, increased production costs and a lower sales price. Thousands of men and women have lost their jobs. Increased governmental regulations make it unlikely that the industry will rebound.

A workforce made up of intelligent, highly-skilled men and women with a strong work ethic are now unemployed or underemployed. There are few jobs in the region that pay the wages previously earned and no way to maintain their standard of living without moving away. Most of these men and women do not want to move. Eastern Kentucky is home and they have strong ties to the region, its culture, and to their communities. Many have extended family who have been here for generations.

A new day. A new way.

A tremendous entrepreneurial opportunity exists – a labor pool of intelligent men and women who possess proven abilities and a strong work ethic. The challenge is to create a business that can utilize those characteristics and provide jobs to support a standard of living equal to that previously provided by the coal industry. If such a business is established in eastern Kentucky, new skills will be learned and high wages earned without relocating from the region.

Bit Source, LLC is a for profit business linking this opportunity and challenge. The business concept and plan is to transition a workforce from one that exported coal from the region to one that exports CODE (#exportCode). The geographic barriers to the region’s economic development will have little or no impact on this venture. The World Wide Web travels through eastern Kentucky like a four lane highway with easy access to connections and that is the only requirement to export code.

The task is twofold:

  • To develop the workforce

  • To enter the marketplace

We are on a parallel track. We are identifying workers and developing the skills training process while simultaneously exploring markets and business strategies that will provide sustainable jobs into the future. We are doing this at the speed of business. We have established facilities in downtown Pikeville, hired staff and purchased state-of-the-art equipment needed for individual and group instruction. We are identifying markets for the skills we are developing. Once trained, our workforce will be qualified to create source code for websites, mobile apps, computer games, databases and more. We are bringing the coding revolution to eastern Kentucky by establishing a digital hub in Pikeville, Kentucky.

One thing is certain, our initial evaluation of the labor pool as capable and eager to work and learn new skills is proving to be accurate. In less than a month from the date Bit Source, LLC was introduced to the public, we received more than nine hundred inquiries from local men and women who want to take advantage of this opportunity, many of whom are skilled workers who lost their jobs in the mining industry. Initial evaluations and aptitude tests confirm that, for many, the logic-based skills required to be successful in their previous jobs are ideal for the tasks at hand.

It will be a long time before the success of this enterprise can be measured. There is much to learn, mistakes to be made and, hopefully, success stories to savor. It is hoped that through collaboration, hard work and ingenuity, the venture will be successful. Whatever the outcome, one thing is undeniable: Nothing can be accomplished without trying. The hardworking residents of eastern Kentucky do not want welfare; they want work. They want well-paying jobs to support their families and to live well. It is our goal to provide these jobs and positively impact the future of these people and the economic health of the region.

You can follow us on Twitter @bitsourceky and like our page on Facebook to get updates on our progress.