BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — If you haven’t driven through downtown Bakersfield in the past few months you may not have noticed, but there’s a major renovation underway at the corner of 18th and H streets that’s starting to take shape.

It’s called Bitwise, and it could help transform the economy and culture of the entire region in ways no single player has done in a generation.

Bitwise is a combination software developer, high-tech academy and workspace host that happens to be situated at what would seem to be the right place at the right time. It occupies most of a half block of 18th street from H street — that’s the old Turk’s building — almost all the way down to G Street as far as the old Vincent’s Cyclery.

It’ll be the second of three campuses that the Fresno-based company, founded in 2013 by Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin, will have opened — and like the Fresno campus — which energized its neighborhood on and around Van Ness Avenue with restaurants, pubs and boutiques — it promises to bring a new dynamic to the intersection it shares with the Padre Hotel.

Heading up the Bakersfield campus is homegrown Amy Thelen — a Bitwise vice president.

“The stories we see come out of Bitwise, for example, (are noteworthy). You have somebody who didn’t know anything about technology, takes our classes, becomes a developer, comes up with an app idea,” Thelen said. “These are actual bitwise stories: Maybe (he or she) gets a rental of a co-working space from us, hooks up with somebody there that, let’s say, does digital marketing or something like that. There’s this collaborative piece. They start a company. They then go from renting just the shared office space to actually starting their own company within a bitwise building and having their logo on the door and their own key card.”

Bakersfield City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose second ward includes virtually all of downtown, says Bitwise will push the local economy in a new and welcome direction.

“Bitwise opens the door for many people to engage in the tech industry in ways that may not have been possible otherwise,” he said. “The fact that they have the Bitwise academy that is targeting families and individuals from underserved neighborhoods — Latinos, African Americans, and others who were in poverty. The fact that they now have a pathway to enter this sector.
The fact that they come from the Central Valley, they come from Kern County and they’ll have this opportunity. That is monumental.”

The exterior of the building is just about finished but the interior has several weeks to go — which is just as well, considering that the pandemic won’t run its course for some time.

Thelen’s best guess — a midsummer grand opening.

It’s hard enough in the best of times to visualize bustle on the streets of downtown Bakersfield — but right now nothing looms as hopeful as what’s behind Bitwise’s construction fence on 18th Street.