- Renovation of the 45,217 sq. ft. space will begin this year and be completed in the next two years.
- Bitwise Industries is a California company that puts technology training and employment hubs in cities that are often underserved or overlooked in the tech industry.
- All Bitwise courses are taught twice a week on weeknights from 6 to 9 pm
- Bitwise has trained more than 10,000 nontraditional tech students.
LAS CRUCES – A Fresno, California-based tech hub announced in early October it has purchased the Bank of the West building at the corner of Church Street and Las Cruces Avenue.
Bitwise Industries plans to transform the location into a training ground for web developers. A company official said the Bitwise tech hubs are largely aimed at getting people with low incomes and no college degrees into the industry.
The company announced in March it would be expanding to five states beyond California, adding locations in New York, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. The only New Mexico operation will be in Las Cruces, while the only Texas location will be in El Paso.
Remodeling of the 45,217-square-foot space will begin this year, the company stated, and be completed in the next two years.
What is Bitwise?
Bitwise Industries is a California company that puts technology training and employment hubs in cities that are often underserved or overlooked in the tech industry. The goal is to provide affordable (or free) access to education and placement services for students who may not otherwise be able to access such education.
Bitwise offers six-week classes, at a cost of $250, in several technology skills coupled with a one-year, paid apprenticeship program that feeds into Bitwise’s technology consulting business — all aimed at providing jobs in the tech industry to underserved people in so- called “underdog” cities.
The tech hubs in Las Cruces and El Paso will be modeled after Bitwise facilities in Fresno and three other California cities: Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland.
“Bitwise was founded in 2013, so we’re a little more than nine years old,” said Tammi Sherman, vice president for the company’s Toledo, Ohio campus and a regional vice president supporting the new locations in Buffalo, New York, El Paso and Las Cruces. “We’ve been really on a mission of finding places where stories of poverty are surfacing — really looking for opportunities and spaces where technology can grow.”
Sherman said the company focuses on underserved communities — including people of color, LGBTQ+, veterans and people who grew up in foster care, for example.
“We try to eliminate barriers for those who may have grown up in certain situations — folks who likely would not have access to the tech industry because of their background, or even the city that they’re in,” Sherman said.
Sherman added that each site’s local workforce is just that — local.
“It is the folks from that city, from that neighborhood, that community,” she said. “We don’t bring folks from California in and then just do the Bitwise deal. We find the untapped talent that is already there. We train and develop them in tech, hiring the majority of them into this space to develop and create our world-class software.”
By creating a stronger technology sector in the city, Sherman said the company hopes it can attract future companies to Las Cruces.
What sort of classes does Bitwise offer?
All Bitwise courses are taught twice a week on weeknights — either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays — from 6 to 9 pm
The four course offerings include:
- Sites for Beginners
- Mobile friendly websites
- React (a tool used in web development)
Each six-week course costs $250, however Sherman said most students qualify for scholarships that cover their tuition.
“The majority — and I mean the majority — of the students do not pay. We scholarship them in, through our philanthropic work and some government work,” Sherman told the Sun-News.
Bitwise has trained more than 10,000 nontraditional tech students, with 80% of those getting jobs in the technology industry, according to a company statement.
What’s next for the Bank of the West building?
Renovation construction is expected to begin before the end of the year on the recently purchased building. The building will be modeled on existing Bitwise locations and will likely offer reservable conference rooms, private office space for lease (including current tenants), daycare services, murals from local artists, classrooms for tech training, a coffee/juice bar, spaces for community gatherings and more.
“We’re really excited that we’ve partnered with some local investors to call that new location home,” Sherman said. “If you take a look at all of our buildings, they are all very unique, with Bitwise personality. We use murals, we use local artists to help decorate them, because we want to be respectful of the location — if it’s historical, we want to help preserve it. But, we also want it to be a reflection of what’s happening in the community.”
Sherman said the details are still being ironed out for the renovation, but said she assures that it will be “very unique to Las Cruces.” Plans are underway for a café, which will be open to the public. The childcare services will be offered for free to the company’s employees, Sherman said.
“The sky is really the limit on what could be in the building,” she said. “One of our locations might have an arcade — but, whatever it is, it’s intended to be a ‘collision space’ for all of the folks who are in the building to come together, interact and have an amazing experience while they’re working and serving the community.”
‘We welcome everyone’
Sherman told the Sun-News that the Bitwise spaces are open to everyone — in alignment with the company’s mission of removing barriers to employment.
“First of all, we welcome everyone,” Sherman said. “Our campuses are designed to be open to all. Whether you’re doing business or not, we have free Wi-Fi in the space. There’s a cafeteria or a cafe. And there are spaces to lease out to potential tenants.
In addition to scholarship initiatives and childcare benefits, the company also pays for healthcare benefits and offers unlimited paid time off for its employees, Sherman said.
“The ultimate goal isn’t to keep them at that level. We are really, primarily, trying to push them into paid apprenticeships,” said Santiago Villegas, a Bitwise spokesman. “And that really moves people from learning to actually earning.”
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima praised Bitwise for helping to grow the city’s technology sector while tapping into the community’s untapped resources.
“I appreciate Bitwise and how they will not only train our future workforce through technology, but these team members will also receive a competitive salary while they learn,” Miyagishima said. “What an incredible opportunity.”
Similarly, Davin Lopez, President & CEO of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, hailed the possibilities that Bitwise could bring to the region.
“We are very excited to welcome Bitwise to Las Cruces and the investment they are making in our downtown,” Lopez said in a news release. “Their innovative apprenticeship program to train, grow and employ local high-tech talent will not only provide new career opportunities for our residents but will additionally foster an ecosystem that is attractive to future companies looking at our region for growth.”
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Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, [email protected] or @DamienWillis on Twitter.