Executives say they are now hunting for temporary quarters in El Paso but ultimately plan to renovate a tired Downtown property for cowork and classroom space as they have in other cities.
“We go into downtown areas and look for blighted buildings that have been left and abandoned for a while,” Mireles said. “Instead of going out and building somewhere further out of town, we look to bring buildings back to life.”
Mireles has lived in El Paso for two years and was hired by Bitwise earlier this year. She previously worked for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in El Paso, San Antonio and Austin.
Bitwise, which is headquartered in Fresno, operates in five communities where it has turned tired, forgotten buildings, some historic, into technology hubs. So far, the company has renovated a total of nearly 1 million square feet of downtown commercial space, executives say.
“What has been successful in our first five cities, will become part of these new regions’ stories of how investing in underestimated people and places can create a more inclusive and representative economy,” Jake Soberal, CEO and co-founder of Bitwise, said in a statement.
Bitwise was founded by Soberal, a native of Fresno, and Irma Olguin Jr., a third-generation Mexican American, in 2013. Forbes estimated in February that the company’s valuation was $200 million.
Bitwise’s business model has three parts: a tech academy that trains people in jobs ranging from salesforce administration to web development, a tech consulting business and apprenticeship program, and a commercial real estate investment business that operates collaborative spaces.
Bitwise has trained more than 8,000 students, with 80% going on to earn employment in the tech industry, according to the company.
On average, students enter the company’s program making less than $20,000 a year and go on to make more than $60,000 a year.
The tech sector in El Paso is small but growing. The economy is largely driven by the retail, government and health care sectors, and wages have long lagged national and state levels.
Still, over the past decade, there has been some growth in the tech sector, which community leaders have long hoped would create more high-skill, high-wage jobs in the region.
Startup incubators have been launched, including Pioneers 21 in Downtown and Technology Hub in Juárez.
In 2018, Microsoft chose El Paso as one of six communities to participate in its TechSpark program. Since then, the company has made multiple million-dollar investments in the region to support tech education in El Paso schools and business accelerators.
And the Medical Center of the Americas, a decades-long plan to grow the economy by transforming a tired area of Central El Paso into a medical and biotech powerhouse in the heart of the city, opened the Cardwell Collaborative biomedical research and technology commercialization building in 2016
“People are hungry and they are ready and they are excited and they see a new renaissance,” Mireles said. “It used to be a lot of times there were folks who couldn’t wait to move out. It was like, ‘Oh, I live in El Paso. As soon as I graduate, I’m going to move out.’ There’s a lot of people I’ve talked to that have actually come back to El Paso.”
Bitwise is offering virtual classes right now and, on Friday, graduated its first El Paso students from its six-week pre-apprenticeship program.
“We hope to get the temporary space up and running by the end of the year,” Mireles said.