You Can’t Teach a Coal Miner to Code—Or Can You?

Every cross section of the country has its staple industry. In Kentucky, it’s coal mining, and in much of rural America, it’s agriculture. Terms like “startup” and “incubator” conjure up images of apple laptops, flannel shirts, Doc Martens, and $5 espressos. As these staple industries go through a transformation, however, there must be ways to keep jobs and industry in rural America (in this case, Appalachia). What makes a great innovation center or incubator hub? Does it have to be in the center of a bustling urban metropolis to work?

As these staple industries evolve, they will die or thrive based on how well they connect to the new digital economy. Farmers will move towards connected devices or M2M, mining may shift to robotics, and rural manufacturing will need access to cloud-based tools and technology. Technological innovation can come from anywhere, but it has some basic components:

  • Broadband enables people to interact with educational content and other groups like them
  • It gives students the ability to utilize cloud-based tools and tech
  • It connects people to the global marketplace to get jobs/projects. You can create things locally and sell them globally.

In Appalachia, a group of former miners known as BitSource is learning and teaching other miners how to code and build websites. Recognizing that coding can be taught like any other trade, there’s no reason perfectly intelligent, driven, and logical workers such as miners can’t participate in the new market. Coal mining may soon be something of the past, as news stories regularly highlight global conservation plans eliminating the use of coal as well as mine closures all over the country, but these workers need not depend on unemployment or a failing industry to survive.