Prime Digital Academy, the employer-driven software-training certificate program, will move from Bloomington to expanded quarters in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange in January.

The century-old building has evolved into a favorite home for small software and other technology firms, the Minnesota High Technology Association, and Coco, the shared-workspace pioneer that opened on the former trading floor.

Coco also is underway on an expansion that will include the build out of team and individual work spaces and suites that will double the number at the Grain Exchange after the new space opens in December. Up to 200 employees already work at Coco’s downtown site.

Prime Digital has outgrown its leased space in Bloomington and wanted to relocate to a transit-oriented central location that also is a hub of the Twin Cities technology community. Prime Digital was hatched by the Nerdery, the Bloomington-based software designer and developer, with support from other businesses that need tech help. It offers an accelerated learning program for those without technology backgrounds to train for software work.

“We’ve had really strong demand from employers and students,” said Prime Digital President Mark Hurlburt, a former Nerdery executive. “We’ve had more than 2,000 people start applications, and we’ve accepted a little over 300” and graduated 160 who work for about 100 Twin Cities companies.

“A big part of the program is interaction with the community and this includes mentors and mock interviews, employer events … and internships,” Hurlburt said. “And having a more central location makes it easier to do.”

Prime Digital will take the fifth floor of the Grain Exchange’s north tower, about 14,000 square feet, for a staff of 14 and four classrooms that each will serve up to 18 students. Prime Digital tuition is $12,000 for an 18-week program that often is capped with a paid internship and a job. It was launched two years ago as a lower-cost way to develop software workers than through a four-year degree program or higher-cost private schools. A couple of those have failed recently thanks to a high number of federal loan defaults.

Prime Digital, which boasts that one-in-three students are women and nearly one-in-five are a minority, also provides public-and-private scholarship assistance to needy students. And it is part of the TechHire initiative of private training organizations recognized by the White House and city.

“It has been a tremendous pleasure working together to grow the pool of tech talent in Minneapolis,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement. “There is a great deal of work to be done, and having Prime Digital Academy growing in Minneapolis will help us realize even greater results.”

Prime Digital will launch a new “UX” design program on top of its existing software engineering program, including a focus on integrating technical and communications skills, or “soft skills,” in a real-world business environment.

Prime Digital graduates are hired at salaries that average $55,700. The placement rate has averaged 90 percent with companies such as Target, Best Buy, 3M, Olson Tech, C.H. Robinson, Leadpages, Mayo Clinic, SPS Commerce, Stratasys, Walker Art Center and the Nerdery.

Meanwhile, IT-Ready, a training program of industry-backed Creating IT Futures Foundation, said 90 percent of its certified graduates in the Twin Cities over the past four years were still employed in the IT industry one year after leaving the program. Also part of the city’s TechHire initiative, the free IT-Ready program trains, certifies and places unemployed and underemployed adults in their first jobs in the IT field.

“We attribute our success to a five-part strategy to recruit, assess, train, certify and place students with more than 60 local employers,” said CEO Charles Eaton of Creating IT Futures. Classes are held in Edina. More information: www.ITready.com.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.