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LaunchCode to open new center in north St. Louis

LaunchCode, community center, tech jobs
(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)

A former state unemployment center on St. Louis’ north side could soon become LaunchCode’s new community center.

The non-profit that focuses on training people in technology and placing them in jobs, made the announcement Friday at the former Nathaniel J. ‘Nat’ Rivers State Office Building at 4811 Delmar Avenue.

"Take a look at this building right now," said LaunchCode co-founder Jim McKevley while pointing to the beige walls, "then come back in a year, and I guarantee it will not look like this."

McKelvey is well-known for co-founding Square with another St. Louisan, Jack Dorsey. Part of helping connect people with technology jobs, he said, is not killing the fun. LaunchCode has placed 175 people with jobs in the last 18 months and is working with 300 or more companies in both St. Louis and Miami.

It’s definitely gaining attention. President Barack Obama highlighted LaunchCode and one of its success stories, LaShana Lewis, while announcing his new TechHire initiative. St. Louis is one of 21 cities taking part in the $100 million pilot program to help close the tech/talent gap.

On Friday, the president’s chief technology officer and assistant, Megan Smith, attended LaunchCode’s announcement. She said 500,000 tech jobs in the U.S. remain unfilled, while many would require just a few months of training.

"St. Louis has been in the front of the pack," Smith told the audience.

While federal money is expected to come to St. Louis through TechHire, so far LaunchCode’s new community center is getting state funding help. The Missouri Department of Economic Development donated the building and is giving the center $250,000 in tax credits. LaunchCode is hoping to raise $500,000 in donations with those credits.

Co-founder and executive director Brendan Lind said the center will help the program reach a more diverse group. He said since Delmar has long been the dividing line both racially and economically in St. Louis, it’s the right place for the center.

"Here on the north side of Delmar we have potential to help bring people together for a collective purpose," Lind said. "That’s ensuring as many residents as possible have access to economic opportunity and upward mobility."

Lewis said she's sure young people will flock to the center. She remembers herself as a girl growing up in East St. Louis who loved computers.

"To think that now, that 17-year-old would have a place like this, that I could go to, that I could be with other people who look like me, that come from the same background as I have and still have the same passion just means the world to me," she said.

The building also will be shared with the NAACP and Chicago-based coding bootcampBlue1647.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.