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Economy

West Virginians Finding Better Pay With Tech Talent Company 

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Jessica Lilly
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Rebekah Lilly found a better paying job working from home after going through tech training.

Tech companies looking for cheap labor are finding it in West Virginia. A Huntington-based company called CentralApp is helping to make the connections. The company offers training and even job placement for West Virginians looking for new opportunities and work. CEO Todd Cope of Putnam County says CentralApp is also helping to keep jobs in the U.S.

“I always felt that there [were] talented people everywhere, but opportunities were not equally distributed,” Cope said. “I felt that there was a real opportunity for the people of West Virginia, particularly, to contribute to the national economy. I think that it's a tremendous resource that has not been fully utilized nationally, or for the people of Appalachia. I felt that I could be that bridge, having had one foot in Silicon Valley for a long time and obviously, my roots in West Virginia.”

Cope studied electrical engineering and spent time in California before moving back to West Virginia.

The company provides training on software called Salesforce. The technology is used by companies across the country. Salesforce is a cloud-based company in San Francisco that is looking for affordable labor.

“There are millions of opportunities for people in that ecosystem to help administer [Salesforce],” Cope said. “We help people get those certifications and then we help people find those opportunities and match them with companies around the country to use their skills.”

Cope admits he never expected to return to West Virginia. Now, he works with a company helping people to stay in the Mountain State.

“We have several people that would probably have left the state if they didn't have the opportunity to work remotely from West Virginia,” Cope said. “It's a great place to be right, if you're not driven out by economic necessity. A lot of people love to stay [in West Virginia] and I am thrilled to help facilitate that.”

On CentralApp’s website, the company promotes “affordable tech workers in Appalachia.” Cope says pay starts at $20 per hour; compensation that’s not competitive in San Francisco but is a good starting wage in West Virginia.

“It's a resource the country is missing, which is affordable tech labor,” Cope said. “We can service, remotely, companies in San Francisco, at a very good rate for McDowell County. But it's not a good rate for someone in San Francisco.”

“Our secret sauce is we help people cross the apprenticeship gap … We pride ourselves on pairing a brand new certified worker with a mentor in the first few projects, certainly they're still paid.”

For people like Rebekah Lilly, it was a way to move forward in the tech industry. She has a degree in Computer Science but earned it more than 25 years ago.

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Jessica Lilly
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Rebekah Lilly works from her home in Raleigh County.

“Problem [was], I was not gaining any new skills,” Lilly said. “I didn’t realize how quickly that internet and the software was advancing.”

In 2020, Lilly signed up for training with CentralApp and received her Salesforce Administrator and Salesforce Platform Developer certification.

Lilly admits that it wasn’t easy, but worth it.

“One of the things people constantly say is, ‘I don’t have the opportunity. I can't afford to go to school,’ maybe transportation is an issue and I realize those are problems,” Lilly said. “But I do think there are opportunities out there. I think a whole of it is being willing to just learn and do the work.

“It’s not always going to be easy. You’ve just got to do the work.

“In order to do this technology they will find that the pay is probably significantly more than what they will make in an office in this area.”

Contracted through CentralApp, Lilly is now working for HydraForce, a company based out of Illinois, from the comfort of her home in Raleigh County.

“I’ve worked with people who live in Boone County who are working for international companies,” said Lilly. “To me that’s kind of like me living in Beckley and working for a company in Chicago. It doesn’t even seem to be possible.”

The training was free. CentralApp makes money by charging the tech companies a bit more than the employees.

“So the hourly rate that our staff gets is lower than what the company pays us,” Cope said. “We're helping make that connection. And then it's really wholesale retail pricing. If you want to think of it that way.”

Cope says it’s been rewarding to help make the connection for people in his home state.

“What gets me up in the morning is the ability to help facilitate the people in West Virginia get the most for their efforts and talents,’ Cope said.

“I think that it really is the future. It's not that we're all limited to this one particular segment of technology either. I'm envisioning that there'll be an atomic exchange of over 1,000 people that have opportunities in lots of different tech areas that we helped facilitate.

“One thing I come up against sometimes with people in West Virginia is they get intimidated by a tech job,” Cope said. “I would encourage people not to sell themselves short.”


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