WILKESBORO, N.C. – NC Tech Paths was officially unveiled to the community on January 27, 2022, in Wilkes County. NC Tech Paths is a new nonprofit serving Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany counties and is devoted to connecting residents of Northwest North Carolina with high-growth jobs in technology. NC Tech Paths is partnering with companies across North Carolina to develop programs that allow individuals to live, train, and remain in their home counties while working in the digital economy and breathing life into the region’s beautiful downtowns.
In this digital age, every company needs technology employees. Right now, there are over 46,000 open tech jobs in North Carolina, ranging from IT Support and Network Management to Cybersecurity and Software Development. As the numbers continue to grow, companies are increasingly looking to hire remote workers – that is, employees who work where they live, instead of where the company maintains its home office.
The northwest region of North Carolina – especially Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany counties – are well-positioned for remote work with gig-capable fiberoptic internet covering around 90% of the region thanks to rural utility cooperatives such as SkyLine Membership Corp., Wilkes Communications, and Blue Ridge Energy.
NC Tech Paths is helping the region leverage this asset by cultivating a rural tech ecosystem. The tech ecosystem includes employer partners willing to hire specialized tech talent prepared by education partners in the region for remote tech jobs that allow workers to live, train, and remain in Northwest NC.
NC Tech Paths will also own and upfit a building in North Wilkesboro to accommodate groups of tech employees, freelancers, and tech entrepreneurs. “Our primary objective is adding high-quality jobs to Wilkes County, as well as Ashe and Alleghany, and expanding opportunities for more of our young people to earn a living wage,” explained Lee Herring, president of the Leonard G. Herring Family Foundation, the provider of $2 million of initial funding to establish NC Tech Paths. “But the ability to put more jobs and foot traffic downtown is another key benefit, and our focus on helping companies have pods of talent at scale differentiates us from other co-working spaces that focus only on freelancers and entrepreneurs.”
Wilkes Community College (WCC) has been a central partner in the launch of NC Tech Paths. “We see this as a game-changer for our students and our region,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, president of WCC. “Our purpose as a community college is to bring educational resources to our neighbors so they can thrive in an ever-evolving economy. The digital economy, the increasing relevance of digital skills, and the rise of remote work are all part of the latest wave of innovation that requires us to adapt and think creatively as an institution.”
In addition to local pathways to 2-year and 4-year degrees via Wilkes Community College and Appalachian State University, NC Tech Paths is promoting its bootcamp partnership with WCC and Per Scholas. “The Per Scholas path provides a tuition-free route to a living wage in 12-18 weeks and will help us reach our neighbors who aren’t considering a 2-year or 4-year degree path,” noted DeLucia. “Our employer partners will interact with the students from orientation through mock interviews and professional development, helping make sure these learners are workforce-ready upon graduation.” The current Per Scholas cohort at Wilkes Community College includes 17 learners who are studying software engineering, with future bootcamp offerings planned in IT Support.
“Our goal is to have something for everyone interested in a tech career,” explained Zach Barricklow, executive director of NC Tech Paths. “Over the coming months, we will share updates on new partnerships, education programs, and facilities that support our ecosystem. There is much work to be done! We are thrilled to launch this new organization at a time when North Carolina is establishing itself as a mecca for tech career opportunities.”