Provalus is training rural Alabama workers for its high-tech jobs

Provalus is training rural Alabama workers for its high-tech jobs
Provalus chose Brewton for its flagship approach to create high-tech jobs in rural areas -- and it's working. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

Brewton may not be the first place you would expect to find jobs in software development, website design and technology help desk staffing, but Provalus is finding great success in this south Alabama town.

Atlanta-based Optomi launched Provalus with the intent of growing technology jobs in rural areas. Brewton was announced as the flagship for Provalus last summer with plans to create more than 300 jobs.

Eight months later, the company has set up shop in temporary space while its new facility is under construction. But it’s not passively waiting – it’s adding jobs and changing lives.

The company just completed its fifth boot camp – a nine-week intensive training program that teaches applicants to become software developers and programmers.

Provalus is finding talented workers for high-tech jobs in rural Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Nearly 40 people have already been hired.

“We’re projecting to be probably close to 75-80 towards the end of 2018, so that’s pretty exponential growth,” said Daniel Guelzo, general manager with Provalus Brewton. “That’s targeted to 300-350 within the next couple of years.”

Will Ruzik, executive director of the Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance, said Provalus is finding such success in Brewton, he wouldn’t be surprised to see that number grow.

“Three hundred jobs is where the mark was set,” he said. “This could be 400, this could be 500. They are growing so fast right now and they’re having success in finding their talent, so this could be endless as to where they end up.”

Why such early success?

“What they found here was work ethic,” Ruzik said. “I know they’re testing for aptitude, but what they have found are people who still believe in putting in a hard day’s work.”

Johnathon Bell was part of the first boot camp at Provalus Brewton and is now a programmer who helps train applicants.

He graduated second in the first class.

“I’ve always had a passion for development,” Bell said. “I started out as an independent game developer and just sort of fell in love more with the programming side than the game development side.”

After moving to Pensacola to try to find a tech job, Bell heard about what Provalus was doing back home.

“It’s actually way more than I expected,” he said. “At first, when I heard about it, I was just kind of baffled. I couldn’t imagine a tech company coming to Brewton. But when I actually explored and found out what was going on, I was all in.”

Now he feels like he’s part of something bigger than a job.

“I’m really proud of this,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of a startup, especially something that’s going to bring so much to the community. Just the giving nature of this company, I’m just thrown back by it.”

Guelzo said that’s the kind of impact Optomi envisioned with Provalus.

Provalus is proving that with the right training, rural workers can fill high-tech jobs. (Getty Images)

“We looked at Brewton not because we would find a lot of software developers, we just knew that there was a lot of intellectual capital here and we were correct,” Guelzo said. “There are a lot of bright people, just underemployed and given the right training and opportunity, it’s amazing what comes out of that.”

Guelzo said people are coming from an hour or more away for these jobs, including larger cities like Mobile and Pensacola. The company has put the word out to military bases and junior colleges in hopes of hiring veterans and those with a two-year degree.

“These are scalable technology jobs,” Guelzo said. “Technology rolls at lightning speed. Every six months, there is new world out there, a new technology for them to learn. In the next four or five years, they’re going to eat as much technology as they can.”

D’Andre Wright, economic developer with Alabama Power, said Provalus’ success bodes well for what companies of any industry can expect to find in smaller towns in Alabama.

“As we look to be creative in dealing with workforce challenges, the success Provalus is having certainly offers a great example of what’s possible when a company looks outside the obvious metro areas,” Wright said.

It’s the kind of game changer Ruzik had hoped Provalus would be. The Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance focuses on job growth and investment in Choctaw, Clarke, Escambia and Monroe counties.

“When we first started having contact with this company, we really, really were beginning to pinch ourselves and thinking that maybe this was too good to be true,” Ruzik said. “But as we began to talk to the company and understand their mission, we realized this could be something really special.”

It’s made special by what Provalus sees as its mission, he said.

“What we realized early on in talking to this company was that this was much more than just about jobs,” Ruzik said. “We realized that these folks are out to transform communities. They have a real passion and a mission for transforming lives.”

It’s becoming obvious as the company gets established in Brewton.

“We knew that early on and we’re excited that other people are starting to see that,” Ruzik said. “This company is going to touch every community within our region and even outside our region.”

It’s already touched the life of Jernigan Nordmeyer, a graduate of the most recent boot camp.

“I’ve always kind of had a passion for development, but never really had the way to get to that,” she said. “This provided that for me and to be closer to my family.”

She was in school at the University of West Florida when she learned about Provalus and a chance to bring her kids home to Brewton.

“It’s been very challenging, for sure, but I’ve definitely learned so much,” Nordmeyer said of the boot camp. Her final project was to develop a website for a massage therapist in town.

“It has been more than I thought it would be,” she said. “The resources were way more than I expected them to be and the challenges were way more than I expected them to be as well. It was very fast-paced.”

Like Bell, Nordmeyer said she can’t wait to see what the company will mean for her hometown.

“I cannot wait to see what good this does for the community of Brewton and the employees as well,” she said.

Brewton is the flagship for Optomi’s Provalus business. (Provalus)

That commitment is another attribute Ruzik said Provalus has found in the process.

“What this company realized as they moved out into the rural area is they’re training folks who want to be here,” he said.

Guelzo said the focus of the first five boot camps has been on programming and development. Provalus will also train applicants on help desk, technical support, data reporting services and business processing.

“We’re working in most Fortune 2000 companies – a wide spectrum of industries and technologies, anywhere from financial services to software to healthcare,” Guelzo said.

Ruzik believes Provalus and other companies could replicate this approach to other rural areas in Alabama.

“It helps us understand how we need to market our rural area and how we can compete with some of the metro regions – understanding that we still have work ethic here,” he said. “We just have folks that may not have had the same educational opportunities or even the same training as folks may get in metro areas. But for companies that are willing to train, the work ethic, the aptitude it’s all here in rural America.”

Guelzo praised the backing Provalus has found in Alabama.

“I think this has been a great marriage, especially for the city of Brewton and for Provalus and for the state as well,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of support. Any initiative this size takes a lot of people to get going.”

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