Coal to coding, tech company changing economic landscape in coal country

PIKE CO., Ky. (WKYT) - BitSource is a computer coding company. It's the first of it's kind in Pikeville. It sits inside the old Coca-Cola bottling plant downtown. There are ten coders. Each of them worked on a coal mine not long ago. "We thought maybe we can get some people interested in this, maybe 50 applicants." Co-founder Rusty Justice said. They ended up getting 350 applicants.

"I feel like the world is on fire and we have a squirt pistol," he told WKYT's Miranda Combs. "That's really how I feel."

Jamie Adams was one of the applicants. He's been learning and working code for the past year. "Knowing that this right here is probably going to change the area, I'll be proud to say I was one of the first ones to be here and hopefully be able to pass this along to my kid," Adams said. He was a scoop driver at a coal mine. He was laid off when the mine closed and thought he would have to leave the area to find work, like the many other coal miners he spent his days with. "I worry every day for them. There's more and more losing their jobs and moving away from here."

Justice said they started looking into the concept of teaching coal miners to code when coal jobs were becoming hard to come by. "We could see a downturn coming in the coal economy," he said. "We did not see the total collapse. We did not see that."

But they quickly learned that teaching tech work to coal miners was a simple transition. Coal miners, they said, are technical workers, problem solvers. President of BitSource Justin Hall said, "We've exported coal forever. It's what we're known for. So now what we're going to do is export code." Hall has a background in coding and was hired by Justice and his partner to run the company and teach the ten employees to code. "So when they asked me about it, it was, 'Can we teach a coal miner to code?' And for me and anybody else in the industry, 'Of course!'"

BitSource was forged from the SOAR Initiative. Justice and Hall said it will work, because it's on of the few industries where mountains don't matter. "We have a lot of hurdles. We have a perception from the outside world that we are not smart enough to do this. That's a struggle we face," Justice said.