Pax8 Championing Economic Opportunities, Diversity With Rural Empowerment Program
Brian Watson, senior manager of vendor alliances for Pax8—and a rural-based employee—says the program is ‘breathing new life’ into rural communities, which he believes will have a multigenerational impact. ‘Being exposed to such a wide diversity of ideas and smart people has made a tremendous impact on my life and has helped me to see opportunities I never thought were possible,’ he tells CRN.
John Street was ahead of his time.
“I tried to do remote work in 2000,” Street, CEO of Pax8, told CRN. “We actually built the company from the beginning assuming remote work could take off. I really thought the real tipping point would be global warming where people didn’t want to commute and burn gas to get places. Here comes the pandemic, which nobody saw coming, and it really was a fundamental shift in how we work.”
Before the pandemic, the Denver-based cloud distributor didn’t just want to offer remote work. Rather, it wanted to reach rural communities and train them to create high-paying tech jobs within the company, all while staying in their hometowns if they chose.
In 2019, Pax8 received an $18 million incentive package from the Colorado Office of Economic Development to create 1,800 jobs in the state by 2027, with 45 of those jobs being in rural communities. To streamline that, Pax8 began a rural hiring initiative in partnership with the Fremont Economic Development Corporation TechSTART program and its Emergent Campus in Fremont County, Colo.
“I thought for years that the service-layer economy would lend itself towards more rural and have people work in more rural environments,” Street said. “In fact, I wanted to tap into the DNA of the friendliness of smaller cities.”
The initiative, which was officially named the Pax8 Rural Empowerment Program, was to “contribute to sustainable economic development through investment and partnership with rural communities, while expanding the diverse and talented employee population at Pax8,” according to its website.
Then COVID-19 happened.
“The pandemic threw a loop into everything,” Street said. “The original plan was to do small support centers and be able to employ people where they live.”
But even though the pandemic was a setback, it didn’t deter the initiative.
Diversity At Its Core
In fact, the program today includes a hybrid/remote work environment for 45 Pax8 employees who live and work in eight rural Colorado communities. Of the 45 employees, 17 percent are people of color and 36 percent are women.
Brian Watson, senior manager of vendor alliances for Pax8—and a rural-based employee—said the program is “breathing new life” into rural communities, which he believes will have a multigenerational impact.
“The biggest advantage and impact that I’ve had since working with this program and Pax8 comes from the incredible people that I have had the opportunity to work alongside,” he told CRN. “Being exposed to such a wide diversity of ideas and smart people has made a tremendous impact on my life and has helped me to see opportunities I never thought were possible.”
Satellite offices were also set up in these rural communities with a goal to create events and bring people together.
“The goal is to create this fear of missing out,” Street said. “If you don’t show up, you’re not going to really get involved. Rather than us coming to the office sort of randomly, let’s just go full in where we create an experience that people want to come.”
The program will eventually branch out into other remote areas around the country, and outside the country, where regional event centers will be built to get everyone together.
“We consider our community involvement as one of our pillars of success,” Street said. “We’re very focused on being a good corporate citizen wherever we are. Our business is truly servant-leadership oriented. If you build it into the DNA of the company, then your customers just get a great experience.”
Technology Jobs Economically Impacting Rural Communities
The initiative has created 265 secondary jobs with an average annual salary of $71,000, invested $3.2 million in rural Colorado and has had an economic impact of more than $10.2 million to the state, according to the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Brent Yax, CEO of Troy, Mich.-based Pax8 partner MSP Awecomm, said it’s important to create opportunities wherever it’s possible.
“Everyone can work remotely now, so why not do it in Colorado?” he told CRN. “It’s a great way for them to get a ton of incentive to bring jobs to Colorado.”
He believes Pax8 found a way to tap into a market and he wouldn’t be surprised if the company rolls it out to other states that have similar incentive programs.
“They’re expanding, they’re growing really fast,” he said. “They need people, so they’re trying to figure out where and how they’re going to get these people. And if you get some incentive along the way, it’s great.”
One data point that stood out to him was that 36 percent of the 45 rural employees were women.
“I think that’s a pretty phenomenal number because that’s way above average anywhere else,” he said. “When you look at women in tech, it’s a very, very low percentage. I would love to see programs out there that do the same thing in different areas. We really are short in women that want to be in tech, that we’re seeing, and those programs are powerful.”