JEFFERSON, Iowa — Saturday’s rain might have moved festivities indoors, but it did nothing to dampen the enthusiastic celebration of the opening of the Forge, a software-development enterprise aiming to make this rural Iowa town an “epicenter of collaboration, creativity and tech” and a hub of training for high school coders through a career-academy partnership with the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and Iowa Central Community College.
Jefferson engineer and entrepreneur Chris Deal and Accenture Senior Manager Linc Kroeger have put three years’ effort into opening the Forge in the former Odd Fellows Lodge, just off the square at 204-208 E. State St. in Jefferson. Deal acquired the property for $1.7 million, with another $1.8 million poured into renovations to create the Forge workspace, while Kroeger has forged key corporate partnerships with Corteva Agriscience and Facebook and with area schools and community colleges.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the Forge a “shining example of Iowa’s brand of collaboration,” and said the project illustrates the success of her state initiatives, such as Empower Rural Iowa, Future Ready Iowa and Digital Iowa, and the strength of the state’s work-based learning and STEM education.
“Just think about it,” Reynolds said. “Thirty-nine rural Iowa communities and 11 school districts will feed into the Forge, demonstrating real, meaningful impact for the entire region of Iowa.”
Kroeger has developed Forges in a half-dozen major cities across the U.S., and now it is rural America’s turn, he told the 300 people filling the Jefferson Community Center gymnasium. He said his goal with the Forge is to “revive, rebuild and restore our rural communities” by means of creative innovation in software design.
“The whole funding idea here,” he said, “is how to connect digital-era technology and communications with jobs, so people don’t have to leave their hometown to be part of that.”
The Forge aims eventually to employ as many as 40 software developers, at annual wages ranging from $55,000 to $75,000, working to assist businesses in bringing digital technologies to bear on core industrial operations. The Forge will also offer training opportunities for graduating high school students to take software-development classes through DMACC.
Jefferson native Deal said he has “been privileged to work with Linc and the Accenture team to take this crazy idea and bring it to a reality. Today is a fun day to step back and celebrate what we’ve accomplished thus far.”
Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, was born in 2001 when the consulting wing split off from the accounting wing, Arthur Andersen, and shortly before Arthur Andersen was embroiled in the collapse of energy giant Enron and ultimately convicted in 2002 of obstruction of justice, a conviction later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Deal listed some of the organizations with a hand in forging the Forge, including Accenture, the Greene County Community School District, Iowa Central Community College, Des Moines Area Community College, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Midland Power Cooperative and the Iowa Area Development Group, the state of Iowa through the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and a number of local public and private partners, including the city of Jefferson, Greene County Development Corp., Home State Bank, Jefferson Telecom and others.
Deal also thanked a few of the numberless volunteers along with the designers, architects and contractors on the project.
“We’ve got lightning in a bottle right now here in Greene County,” Deal said. “Our challenge is to take full advantage of it. We need to find ways to continue to set a precedent for how a rural community can thrive.”
The grand opening was also marked by the announcement of new investments by two of the Forge’s major corporate partners, Corteva Agriscience and Facebook. A major global supplier of agricultural chemicals, Corteva Agriscience was born in 2018 from the merger of DuPont-Pioneer and Dow Chemical. In June the company partnered with DMACC and pledged $187,500 toward creation of the Corteva Rural Scholarship Fund for DMACC students at the Forge.
Corteva Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Debra King was on hand at Saturday’s celebration to introduce the first recipient of a $7,500 Corteva Rural Scholarship: Safura Khan, 21, of Glidden. Khan said she aims to apply the software and technology skills she acquires at the Forge to her career in engineering.
In addition, Facebook Vice President for U.S. State and Local Policy Will Castleberry said his company will extend its working relationship with DMACC to the Carroll campus, increase the number of two-year scholarships and begin offering four-year scholarships as well as one-on-one career training and job placement.
To further illustrate the opportunities the Forge brings to young STEM students in rural Iowa, 2018 Greene County High School graduate and University of Iowa computer science student Regan Lamoureux of Jefferson shared the story of her journey from high school coding to interning at tier-one research corporations.
Completing the round of speakers was first-term California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents a large part of Silicon Valley in Northern California. When Khanna last visited the Forge, he brought along a delegation from Silicon Valley to view the project.
The Forge matters, said Khanna, who is also a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. “It matters because, especially being in Washington these days, it seems like so much is fraught in our country, so much is negative, so much is divisive, and you’re offering this country a model of hope,” he said.
The applause was loud and sustained for the congressman, who compared the journey of Iowa’s governor, who earned her bachelor’s degree as a 57-year-old grandmother and then proceeded to be elected the state’s first female governor, with his own circumstances as the son of immigrant parents from India who rose to a seat in the U.S. Congress.
“Our nation,” Khanna said, “is still a land where dreams are more possible than anywhere in the world, and Jefferson, Iowa, is showing us that.”