The California-based company is revitalizing the city’s workforce and the massive Jefferson Center building
Across Ohio, there are plenty of amazing companies hiring skilled tech workers. But not many of those companies are helping generate the talent on their own. That’s what Bitwise, one of the newest tenants of Toledo, has planned. The company is one of the largest tech apprenticeship providers in the country, and leverages public-private partnerships to provide paid training to students who learn tech skills and are connected with meaningful tech opportunities. The company puts a major focus on local communities, which is how it came to hire Tammi Sherman, VP of the Toledo project who is a native of the city.
“At Bitwise, we create tech economies in underserved communities,” she said. “We go into spaces where there may be a dying industry or a lack of tech presence, with a focus on the disenfranchised and we prioritize providing them a barrier-free path to technology. No matter what your background is, we have a path for you without having to leave to find a great career. We go into a city, find blighted buildings like the Jefferson, and create a space of belonging and a place to go. We’re providing the skills needed to enter this industry, and we hire everyone here to do that. We’re not bringing in talent from elsewhere.”
In Toledo, the headline of Bitwise’s investment will be the transformation of their new home. The company bought the historic Jefferson Center building in downtown Toledo, with massive renovation plans for more than 100,000 square feet of space that has sat vacant for several years. The building was originally a sorting post office and later became a Toledo Public Schools building used for a variety of purposes, from specialty training like welding and cosmetology to a location for differently abled students. As someone who grew up near the school, Sherman said the building’s new purpose couldn’t be more meaningful.
“This building has been used to support children who had some struggles, whether they were young teens who were pregnant or who maybe had educational barriers,” she said. “Now, we get to use this rehabilitation center – which is what it was once called – as a different kind of rehabilitation center. I recall this building as a place for juveniles who couldn’t go to school with the rest of us. So to take it and change it and revitalize it to be something different means everything.”
There’s plenty of work to do on the building, which won’t open until 2023, but it’s clear to see the potential of the historic space. Be sure to watch the video above, where TechOhio visited the building for a first look. Even beyond the building, Sherman said Toledo is a perfect fit for Bitwise’s mission, which will aim to revitalize the community in addition to the Jefferson Center.
“Bitwise is an organization that removes barriers, and the Toledo community fits right into the mold of who needs that support and who needs this access,” she said. “Having a tech presence here gives the disenfranchised worker here access to a career that they may not have had before. They don’t have to leave Toledo to find opportunity, and the jobs Bitwise creates positions for people that can translate to anywhere in the world.”
That progress has already started, with the company’s first remote class that began on Sept. 1. That 12-person class exceeded expectations, and the next round — which began Nov. 1 — will have even more students. To Sherman, it’s an indication that Bitwise’s Toledo project is on the right track.
“It was so exciting,” she said of the first class. “The groundwork had been laid with the announcement that we were coming, and when I got here we quickly started working with community organizations. We started the program and had 12 people just like that, which is great to see. And it’s all been spreading through word-of-mouth. Students leave the class and talk about it on social media. The word is out and people want to be a part of it. I’m so excited for what we can build.”