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1A Remaking America: Fresno moves beyond Bitwise

In this aerial image taken the Cedar viaduct stands during construction of a high-speed rail project over State Route 99 through the Central Valley in Fresno, California.
In this aerial image taken the Cedar viaduct stands during construction of a high-speed rail project over State Route 99 through the Central Valley in Fresno, California.

Fresno, California, is traditionally known for its role in the agriculture industry and proximity to Yosemite National Park.But over the last decade, the city has become synonymous with one surprising tech startup, Bitwise Industries.

The company offered workforce trainingand helped to revitalize buildings downtowntocreate co-working spaces.The company then expandedbeyond Fresno to other“underdog cities” like El Paso, Texas, Buffalo,New York, and Toledo, Ohio. 

Their promises to make tech moreinclusive and rival Silicon Valleydrewthe attention of national mediaandelected officials. It also brought in governmentdollars.

But soon, the dream Bitwise was selling began to unravel. In November, prosecutors announced charges against Irma Olguin Jr. and Jake Soberal for conspiring to commit wire fraud and taking more than $100 million from investors. And Fresno has been left picking up the pieces. Over the summer, the company furloughed all of its 900 employees and filed for bankruptcy

We traveled back to Fresno as part of our Remaking America collaboration with six partner stations across the country, including KVPR. Remaking America looks at the state of our democracy and rebuilding trust after the pandemic. 

We hosted a community conversation about Fresno’s efforts to move beyond Bitwise and what lessons the rest of the country can learn. 

This show is part of 1A’s Remaking America collaboration with six partner stations around the country. Remaking America is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Anna Casey