“We can access markets anywhere just as well as anyone else. We now have the capability and the tools to do it.”Rusty Justice
For former coal miners Rusty Justice and Lynn Parrish, the industry's decline hit home hard. "About 12,000 miners in our part of the world lost their jobs," Lynn recounts. "But we recognized that there was a really talented workforce here. We just needed to find an industry with equivalent demand for work and earning potential.” In 2014, the two joined an Eastern Kentucky workforce committee dedicated to developing entrepreneurial solutions for the region; it was there that they discovered coding. “We realized that coal miners and coders weren’t that different,” says Rusty. “The coal miner, like the coder, is a technology tradesman—he just happens to work in the coal industry.” With this realization, Rusty and Lynn partnered with local software developer Justin Hall to design a coding curriculum for ex-miners. And in 2015, with a team of 10 miners-turned-coders, Bit Source went live.
Bit Source builds websites, mobile applications, and software solutions for other businesses. It’s a service that, Rusty describes, “can be done in the mountains and be sold around the world.” AdWords, Google's advertising program, helps with reaching clients beyond Central Appalachia. “If we want to grow, we have to break out of this region and get into broader markets. Tools like AdWords help us do that,” explains Rusty. The company uses Google Analytics to see what services are trending in the software development industry, and to optimize their ad campaigns and landing pages accordingly. “We also incorporate Analytics into all of our clients’ websites to show them the value that our websites provide,” he adds. And G Suite tools, such as Gmail, Docs, and Drive, facilitate their internal communications and business operations.
With revenue up by 120 percent from 2016 to 2017, Bit Source today is a source of hope for not only the team but also the broader Pikeville community. “That’s the most gratifying part of all this. In a time of real economic despair, Bit Source was hopeful,” shares Lynn. “And we’re still hopeful that someday we’ll be part of a robust and diversified economy here in the heart of Central Appalachia,” adds Rusty. “There’s a guy here who doesn't think of himself as an ex-coal miner anymore. He thinks of himself as a software developer. All of our team does that. They’re software developers now. This is what they do.”