Kuemper Catholic Schools President John Steffes (left) talks with Linc Kroeger, a top official with Pillar Technology in Iowa and a national leader in extending the digital revolution to rural areas. The two were part of program at the Des Moines Area Community College Carroll campus on Tuesday.
Kuemper Catholic Schools President John Steffes (left) talks with Linc Kroeger, a top official with Pillar Technology in Iowa and a national leader in extending the digital revolution to rural areas. The two were part of program at the Des Moines Area Community College Carroll campus on Tuesday.

January 10, 2019

A new computer language program is being developed at Carroll’s Des Moines Area Community College with an eye toward helping to populate a growing software company’s new branch in Jefferson — and potentially luring that business, Pillar Technology, to Carroll with a location here as well.

“We’re so excited to have an employer in the area who is committed to rural Iowa,” said Joel Lundstrom, provost of the Carroll campus of Des Moines Area Community College.

Lundstrom hosted dozens of educators Tuesday morning from area high schools for a session at his campus featuring Linc Kroeger, one of Pillar’s top executives and an Independence, Iowa, native who is leading a national effort to extend the software and digital revolution to rural areas.

Pillar, with a 70-person location in downtown Des Moines, plans to open its Jefferson branch, what the company calls a forge, by June and employ 30 to 40 people in software development, with clients that include the San Francisco 49ers professional football team. The planned Pillar starting wage in Jefferson: $65,000.

“People from Carroll can hopefully commute to Jefferson,” Kroeger said.

Iowa Central Community College is building a campus in Jefferson to, among other things, serve as a primary feeder to Pillar.

But Kroeger’s ambitions for rural Iowa are bigger.

He wants to fill the Jefferson slots quickly and expand to other rural cities. He scouted sites in Carroll on Tuesday and is interested in a raft of other communities, including Denison.

“My heritage is in northeast Iowa,” Kroeger said. “The problem is there are no clients in rural Iowa and no trained people in rural Iowa.”

In Jefferson, Pillar will begin working with potential software developers as early as grade school.

The Carroll DMACC program, which could involve a shared software instructor with the college’s Perry outpost, would allow students from Carroll High School and Kuemper Catholic High School and students from a broad reach around Carroll to take classes as soon as junior year and earn an associate’s degree or needed certification to advance right after high school or shortly after to a six-month Pillar training program.

“We want to be early and involved,” Kroeger said.

The beauty for high school students: There would be no tuition, as the program would function like the current dual-credit system does with Iowa community colleges.

Lundstrom is working to get the program running by the fall in Carroll and earned commitments from area educators to work to fill a 20-student computer languages learning program — with perhaps three to five students each from Carroll and Kuemper and one to two from schools like Coon Rapid-Bayard, Audubon, Ar-We-Va and others.

“An employer like Pillar is really, really exciting for these kids,” Lundstrom said.

Leading technology figures from household Silicon Valley brands like Microsoft and LinkedIn agree.

They visited Jefferson on Dec. 8 for a landmark event organized by Kroeger to bridge rural America and prosperous reaches of the West Coast.

The event has garnered national attention.

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat who represents the Silicon Valley area of California in Congress, said 180,000 to 200,000 tech jobs that are being outsourced internationally can be done instead in rural places in the nation.

Khanna sees it as a way to reduce political polarization, much of which springs from a rural-urban divide.

“Mark down this night, because it is the start of a revolution,” DMACC President Rob Denson said that evening at a reception at RVP-1875’s History Boy Theatre in Jefferson.