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LaunchCode celebrates 5-year anniversary, continues to chip away at St. Louis’ ‘huge tech shortage’

Jim McKelvey is the co-founder of LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based company celebrating its fifth anniversary this October.

LaunchCode, an organization headquartered in St. Louis, celebrates its five-year anniversary this week. The nonprofit helps people enter the tech field by providing education and job placement services.

“We’ve got over 1,400 careers that we’ve launched so far in the five years that LaunchCode has been [in St. Louis], but that doesn’t count the people who have taken our training and gotten placed elsewhere,” explained entrepreneur and investor Jim McKelvey.

Along with fellow St. Louisan Jack Dorsey, McKelvey is the co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode, a company McKelvey started because St. Louis lacked a skilled workforce adept at programming.

“When we launched Square, we saw this shortage of programmers [in St. Louis],” McKelvey said. “We didn’t have the ability to do anything about it at the time, but I made it one of the things that I wanted to address when I came back to St. Louis from San Francisco – to address that problem and that’s what started LaunchCode.”

McKelvey joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh in advance of the LaunchCode GeekGala on Thursday.

Citing a tremendous demand for programmers, McKelvey said that many people don’t realize that every company these days is a technology company.

“We definitely have a STEM shortage in the United States and frankly worldwide, but it is profound in the United States,” he said. “We’re trying to hire engineers now at Square in St. Louis and we see the job market, although it’s not as bad as I think it was seven years ago when Jack and I decided not to have a technical office here in St. Louis.”

While LaunchCode is part of the solution as well as developments in the Cortex Innovation District, the tech shortage remains acute in the area.

“There is a huge tech shortage,” McKelvey said. “It is so huge that literally it is constraining the growth of every corporation in St. Louis.”

McKelvey said he is optimistic about the growth of St. Louis’ workforce.

“The people in St. Louis have a great attitude,” he said. “What we find in St. Louis, it’s a much more forgiving environment. Not to say that it’s cheap but a dollar goes farther and then we are building an ecosystem and that ecosystem is important.”

“We have programmers in San Francisco that are making well into six figures who have five roommates. It’s becoming very difficult to start a company in a high cost location,” McKelvey said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan, and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.