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Nonprofit wants to bring tech workforce hub to Greater Grand Crossing with help of $10M prize

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An empty block in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood is set to become a busy high-tech educational center.

Comer Education Campus wants to construct a 50,000 square foot building, dubbed “The XChange”, in the 7300 block of South Chicago Avenue.

About 7,000 people would be trained in the first 10 years at the innovation hub for technology jobs, such as cybersecurity technicians and software engineers, officials said.

The South Side organization wants to complete the project with the help of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation’s 2022 $10 million Chicago Prize. The prize is part of a larger $30 million commitment by the foundation to increase development over the next three years on the south and west sides. .

Comer Education is one of six finalists for the award. The winner will be announced in December.

Whether or not Comer Education wins the award, construction of The XChange will begin next summer. But the prize money would “accelerate both the scale and the speed” of the project, said Greg Mooney, president of Comer Education.

Other educational sites are in the area. Comer College Prep School is in the 7100 block of South Chicago Avenue. A library and the Comer Youth Center are nearby, as well as an urban farm.

“It’s really an opportunity to expand that education corridor and turn it into an innovation education corridor,” Mooney said.

The planned development is also a way to ensure the south side has ties to technology, project officials said.

“What we learned from talking to students and their families is that they really want a sustainable future,” said Rhonda Hopps, executive director of Comer Education. “And they want to have a clear path so they can see a line of sight between the work I’m doing today and what my future might be, and not have to be theoretical.”

Bitwise, a Chicago-based technology company that partners with Comer Education, will help participants find jobs for Bitwise or other companies.

The barrier to entry into the tech field is relatively low, XChange organizers said. Participants do not need a four-year degree. In some cases, they might not need a high school diploma, organizers said.

But those who want to enter the tech field must take courses and undergo about 2,000 hours of training as apprentices, which are paid positions, they said.

“To get your foot in the door with technology, you just need supportive skills, training, and then comprehensive services that can help alleviate any challenges that might get in the way of learning,” said Beth Mily. , president of Bitwise Industries.

Brad Henderson, CEO of P33, a nonprofit focused on Chicago’s tech future, said his organization is partnering with Comer in part to help improve the abysmal diversity of Chicago’s tech workforce. the city.

“In Chicago, there are tens of thousands of open positions that pay $85,000 a year,” Henderson said. “We have this crazy data that basically says Chicago is about 63% people of color and its tech workforce is about 14% people of color.”

The Chicago Sun-Times receives funding from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.

Mariah Rush is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.

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