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Efactory teams with Codefi on regional workforce network

Innovate SOMO is estimated to generate over 700 jobs in three years

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A collaboration between the Efactory and Cape Girardeau-based technology incubator Codefi LLC is creating what officials call the first-of-its kind regional network to spur digital workforce and economic development in Missouri.

The launch of the Southern Missouri Innovation Network, dubbed Innovate SOMO, was announced April 8 in Cape Girardeau. The network’s objective is to accelerate digital workforce development and job creation and to support the growth of new technology companies in 47 counties. When fully funded and implemented, the project is estimated to create over 700 jobs in high-wage occupations, including cybersecurity and software development, as well as launch over 150 new businesses in its first three years.

“We are excited to make our innovation and entrepreneurial community bigger and continue forward momentum with key strategic partners throughout southern Missouri,” said Rachel Anderson, director of Missouri State University’s Efactory business incubator, in a news release. “This new innovation network will connect, strengthen and add new resources and services immediately that would otherwise be impossible to build independently. I am more excited for the future and what’s next for our region than ever before.”

Codefi Foundation on Rural Innovation, Efactory and Crowder College in Neosho will receive nearly $1 million in seed funding from the state over two years for new and existing Codefi programs. The sum includes a $250,000 grant Efactory was awarded in March from the Missouri Technology Corp. Anderson said via email Efactory applied for the competitive grant in November, noting the amount it received matched the maximum award.

Programming progress
The Codefi programs that will expand in southern Missouri include Code Labs, a skills-based software developer training program that has prepared over 300 adults for entry-level development roles since its inception six years ago. Additionally, the organization will grow its Youth Coding League, a co-curricular education program that introduces fifth through eighth graders to computer science and coding.

Codefi co-founder James Stapleton said via email Code Labs is available to working adults with no prior technology background or education. They’re taught by the organization to complete skill development projects online in training teams.

“The first cohort in Springfield will begin the program this August, and we anticipate providing the training at multiple locations across the southwest Missouri region thereafter,” he said, adding Code Labs is also available to high school seniors.

Programs with high schoolers also are planned for August in Carthage, Joplin and Neosho, in collaboration with Crowder College.

Up to 30 people are admitted per cohort and there’s no cost to participants, Stapleton said.

Regarding the Youth Coding League, which involves 2,000 students in seven states, Stapleton said at least a dozen schools in the Queen City will have access to the program through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield. Additionally, Crowder College will aid in providing the program to 20 schools in the Joplin area.

“The program brings critically important, future-ready skills to students regardless of their traditional academic achievement – presented in an approachable, fully supported format for schools that runs each fall and spring semester,” he said, adding Efactory’s grant is covering the program’s cost in Springfield.

A pair of new Codefi programs also will be introduced later this year for technology startups and investor networks, according to officials. Participants will receive specialized training and software development resources that prepare them for early-stage investment. The investor network program is aimed to increase private investment in startups and small businesses in the region.

The launch announcement of Innovate SOMO was the first of two events planned between the two organizations, Anderson said. More details about the network and Codefi programs will come May 19 at the Efactory, she said, declining to disclose additional information until the event.

In the network
Efactory and Codefi officials say the network is being supported by dozens of companies and stakeholders in the region, including Missouri Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, Jordan Valley Innovation Center, Missouri State University, Southeast Missouri State University and Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc.

CFO President Brian Fogle said Innovate SOMO’s target area covers much the same footprint as the nonprofit’s near 60-county network, which also has 53 regional affiliates.

“If you’re going to have a viable small community, you need to have opportunities for making a living. We feel like being a part of this network will help us there,” he said.

For now, CFO plans to spread word of the network through its affiliates. However, Fogle said financial involvement is a future possibility as Efactory and Codefi officials seek out grant funding beyond the two-year seed investment.

“We can be a part of that to offer some of our resources for matching funds as required,” he said. “That’s a potential down the road.”

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