Anticipation was in the air as dozens of Bakersfield business and political leaders jammed into a small room on the second floor of the Padre Hotel Wednesday morning for what was sure to be a big announcement.
Once things got going, levity took over. The two presenters, one of whom stood in front of the crowd while the other spoke via video link from Fresno, made little jokes and took friendly jabs at each other.
The day's big news, as The Californian reported Wednesday morning, was that downtown Fresno-based tech hub Bitwise Industries had raised $27 million that, among other things, would help pay for the company's expansion into Bakersfield.
Bitwise's plans call for coding classes, shared office space and other forms of local investment. Initial operations are expected to begin by early next year, followed by the purchase of a permanent space downtown for Bitwise's new second home.
There were questions from the audience, naturally. Someone asked why the company chose to expand into Bakersfield as opposed to some other "underdog" city.
"The answer is, we were terrified of what you'd do if we didn't" come to Bakersfield, quipped Jake Soberal, Bitwise's CEO and co-founder.
There's truth in his jest: The company has talked for about two years with local leaders anxious to bring Bitwise's brand of tech culture to downtown Bakersfield. By now, anything less would have been a big disappointment. Instead, people in attendance saw the news as cause for celebration.
"My initial feeling is this is literally game-changing for the community," said Kern County's administrative officer over workforce development, Teresa Hitchcock.
She linked workforce development, a key focus for Bitwise, with local economic development. Her prediction was that local companies will quickly recognize the value of having a training entity come to Kern, and that other individuals will see the value later as they begin to benefit from expanded opportunities.
Bakersfield businessman Morgan Clayton saw substantial promise in Wednesday's announcement.
"Bitwise has validated we have a starting point," he said. "We are now connecting to the millennials," he added, referring to 20- and 30-something-year-olds who have largely embraced digital innovation and its associated business opportunities.
Local economic development chief Richard Chapman, president and CEO of Kern Economic Development Corp., traced the news to a tour he and others involved with KEDC took to Fresno in 2017. That's when Bakersfield leaders learned how tech hubs can spark new businesses and good-paying careers.
He expressed hope Bitwise will attract other tech companies, which will, in turn, offer internships for local youth with computer programming talent.
David Anderson was optimistic for different reasons. The Bakersfield financial advisor and managing partner at Moneywise Guys noted that downtown has added positive amenities in recent years that could be attractive to tech companies and the kind of people they employ.
Bringing Bitwise into the mix, he said, "takes downtown to the next level."