March 17, 2017

This Kentucky startup is turning coal miners into coders

Get inspired by these three stories of innovation and ingenuity across America

Software development company Bit Source works out of this office in Pikeville, Kentucky, where it also trains former coal minors. Photo courtesy of Bit Source

From coal to code: Tucked away in Pikeville, Kentucky, a town with a population of roughly 7,000 people, is a startup that’s helping coal miners transition into technology jobs. Kentucky used to be a major coal producer but since 2011, the industry has lost an enormous amount of jobs. Bit Source started when two Kentucky businessmen put out radio ads looking for unemployed coal workers seeking new jobs: they received 950 applications and trained 10 applicants. Bit Source has been getting a lot of attention—in NPR, Bloomberg, and most recently Wired, which asked: “What if the next big blue-collar job category is already here—and it’s programming?” That increase in attention may help diffuse certain stigmas surrounding Appalachia and the people who live there. “A lot of people look at us coal miners as uneducated,” Jim Ratliff, one of the programmers working at Bit Source, told Bloomberg Technology. “It’s backbreaking work, but there’s engineers and very sophisticated equipment. You work hard and efficiently and that translates right into coding.”

Sweet success: A community-driven awareness campaign in Maryland resulted in a drop in the sales of sugary drinks—without imposing a tax on soda. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, found that over the course of the campaign, “[regular] soda sales decreased by 19.7 percent, fruit drink sales decreased by 15.3 percent, and juice sales decreased by 15.0 percent, changes significantly larger than those observed in the control stores.” The Horizon Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit focused on health and wellness, used a variety of approaches ranging from in-person “soda-swapping” (volunteers encouraging people drinking sodas in public places to drink water instead), to radio and TV ads, to advocating for policies that would provide access to healthier alternatives to sugary drinks on government property.

Saving Seattle’s stories: Have you ever had to say goodbye to a favorite cafe or store? Then you’ll understand Jaimee Garbacik and Josh Powell, two Seattleites who are chronicling the changes happening in Seattle on an interactive map online. The website allows people to submit memories and stories about local spots. The project, titled Ghosts of Seattle Past, is described on its website as “an atlas of our memories, a collaborative map of places loved and missed in a rapidly evolving city.” On April 11, the project will be released as a book of the same name.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.