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Downtown construction gets underway as Bitwise looks to build community

Blueprints for the future home of Bitwise Bakersfield, located opposite the Padre Hotel along 18th Street, show a tech hub with 9,500 square feet of offices, smaller areas for shared work space and computer coding classes plus a welcoming corner for beer and coffee sales.

That's the vision, anyway, for when the building opens in October. On Monday, the former Turk's Kern Copy building Bitwise owns at the corner with H Street was mostly quiet except for the workers sandblasting away paint from the rounded "barrel" ceiling of the 1930s-era structure.

Exactly how it will all play out — what kind of tenants will ultimately move in, what exactly the different spaces will be used for — remains to be seen, said Amy Thelen, Bitwise Industry's vice president in charge of local operations.

"There's kind of room for anybody," said Thelen, a Bakersfield High School and San Diego State graduate with 10 years of experience in software sales.

LOFTY IDEAS

If the plan for Bitwise Bakersfield sounds a little vague, maybe it is. But that's by design.

Bitwise Industries, the Fresno-based technology center that also owns a vacant structure two doors to the west, is letting overriding goals more than precise planning guide its local expansion.

For example, Thelen said everyone who moves in will have some sort of connection to technology or else be an entrepreneur.

But she quickly added that might not be the case at all, explaining that while no space has been leased, "a ton of people" have expressed interest in moving in.

A similar approach guides the operation's use of space. Thelen said certain rooms at the former Turk's building could serve multiple functions, from corporate training to teaching coding.

CREATING COMMUNITY

Another big-concept goal at Bitwise Bakersfield is the creation of community. Thelen noted that some 200 tech companies have moved to Fresno since the company launched in 2013, and that the goal for Bakersfield is to foster a similar tech community.

The way Bitwise has done this in Fresno, and hopes to do it in Bakersfield and Merced, is three-fold. The company leases out so-called coworking space, in which individuals or small businesses occupy desks or a modest office within a workplace featuring lots of common space where collaboration happens by design.

Bitwise also offers coding classes to beginners and more advanced programmers. Thelen said the company offers day classes and night sessions, courses for people recently out of prison and people in need of soft skills such as interviewing for a job.

Then there's the software side of the business, in which the company works with local companies to meet their computer programming needs, whether it's oil-related, agriculture-based or something else entirely, she said.

All three of those components — "education, place, industry," as Thelen describes it — are intended to work together to create community.

Sometimes, she said, things come together in unexpected ways: Bitwise tells its story and then brainstorms with local stakeholders to see how they might fit in.

BARC DISCUSSIONS

Bitwise's work with Bakersfield ARC is an illustration of that point. The two companies are considering an arrangement in which BARC's developmentally disabled workers would perform janitorial services for the tech company.

BARC President and CEO Shawn Kennemer said there's also a chance Bitwise will provide some kind of training for his workers. On top of that, the two organizations have discussed the possibility of Bitwise developing software BARC could use for scheduling workers.

He said the company seems to be open to deals that are mutually beneficial.

"They seem to be really community-oriented in the communities where they’re at," he said. "We’re really looking forward to them coming in.”

Thelen said the beer taproom reflects the same approach: Open to the public, let people see what's going on and maybe they'll get involved.

"We want there to be space for everyone," she said. "We really mean that."

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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