Rural Iowa communities are taking innovative steps to create jobs and encourage growth.

The City of Jefferson (population 4,200) in Greene County has gone high-tech thanks to an interesting new partnership with Accenture, a global company with more than 492,000 employees in 51 countries.

Called the Accenture In­­dustry X.0’s Rural Forge (or The Forge), the office in Jefferson opened Sept. 7, 2019. According to Accenture, it provides “a studio environment where they can deliver digital technologies to improve how companies engineer and manufacture products and services and operate industrial facilities.” Des Moines is also home to an Industry X.0 Forge location, as are Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Rural Forge in Jefferson, though, is the first of its kind and a part of a pilot program at Accenture.

“Our Industry X.0 Forges are locations where we fuse ideation, design, software and hardware to develop disruptive ideas and solve business problems for our clients, fast,” explained Linc Kroeger, a rural revitalization and inclusion executive at Accenture who is leading the Jefferson initiative. “We wanted our first rural Forge location to be within one and a half hours of our Forge in Des Moines, so we could leverage our existing employees to help.”

There is much more to this story, as it goes well beyond a global tech company simply deciding to open an office in a small Iowa community. It is about the partnerships that have been created to help develop and educate the workers that will be needed to eventually fill the space and service clients.

Partnering with Accenture in this unique endeavor are Corteva Agriscience and the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), both of which will play key roles in preparing Jefferson’s future workforce for the digital economy. Many of those who will benefit from this will be students from eight different school districts in the area, who will have access to the Forge Academy.  

“Our partners are integral to the long-term success of The Forge in Jefferson. This collaboration will enable both students and educators to learn technology skills, while remaining in their rural communities, which is a critical part of the talent pipeline that will feed into the Forge Academy,” explained Kroeger, who said a rural scholarship has been established to help make DMACC’s software development training program available to Forge Academy students. “Corteva has committed $187,000 to support 25 scholarships that will cover 100 percent of the program’s tuition, books and fees. The company also plans to create two-way learning and mentoring opportunities for Forge students and Corteva’s IT and software employees and formalize an IT internship program that will pull from the academy. These efforts will help create a talent pipeline and support for rural software design solutions.”

"It's a wonderful office space. You really feel like you are in Silicon Valley. And the community really came together to make this possible."
Chris Deal, Greene County Farm Bureau member

For Chris Deal, an area farmer and Greene County Farm Bureau member, this is great news for Jefferson. Deal played a key role in making this unique approach to economic development possible and has been involved from the start. His efforts included serving as the developer for the project and assisting with securing local, state and federal loans and grants to finance the project.

“It is a wonderful office space. You feel like you are in Silicon Valley. And the community really came together to make this possible, so it was very much a team effort,” said Deal, who indicated a number of other high-profile companies and executives are paying close attention to the effort. “As a community, we are grateful for Accenture, and we want to find ways to leverage this into something that is bigger than one company.”

Ken Paxton, executive director for the Greene County Development Corporation, agrees and points to the positives The Forge brings to the community, and the county.

“The Forge is critical in at­­tracting other tech companies to locate satellite facilities in our county. These companies attract new young families that work in the tech field or who want to work from home,” offered Paxton, who said both the city and county were very instrumental in getting The Forge established by providing tax relief, funding and other support.

According to Deal, the goal is to eventually transition graduating high school students into full-time, well-paying, high-tech jobs at The Forge, which he hopes will lead to more opportunities for the community in the future. Kroeger affirms this and said work is already well underway.

“The Forge in Jefferson is poised to create jobs — we hope as many as 30 over the next five years — depending on the demand for services that can be delivered out of our facility,” said Kroeger. “Currently, we have one employee who is working with local educators to implement the program and help make students aware of the opportunity. The first Forge Academy is forecasted to start in the summer.”

Yontz is a freelance writer from Urbandale.