Firm seeks to link urban companies with rural workers
In 2017, Dario and Wendy Marquez were set to retire and leave their McLean home for a big road trip.
A shorter trip to Big Stone Gap that year, however, derailed their plans. Instead of retiring, they started Wize Solutions, an IT firm that aims to connect big-city firms to qualified workers in rural areas.
The Marquezes were on the way to Big Stone Gap because of their support of the Origin Project, a writing program that serves students in four Southwest Virginia counties. On the way, the Marquezes and their traveling companions talked about the need for more jobs in rural areas. Why not, someone said, “rural source” instead of outsource?
“That was like a eureka moment,” Wendy says.
Instead of outsourcing IT jobs to India, they thought, why not hire people in Southwest Virginia? That is the idea behind Wize Solutions, a company offering cloud consulting, data management, platform integration, software quality assurance and cybersecurity services. Dario describes it as an economic bridge between urban companies that need workers and rural workers who need jobs.
“We’re going everywhere,” Wendy says, “spreading the gospel and telling them about the great opportunity and benefits of rural sourcing.”
For two decades, she was vice president and general manager of ZGS Broadcast Holdings, which operated Spanish-language television and radio stations in the U.S. For a decade after that, she was president of Onyx Media Group, a film production company.
Dario, a former Secret Service employee, founded a security firm called MVM that expanded into IT. He sold MVM to his son Kevin and then started the Silver Eagle Group, a tactical-training company that he sold to another son.
Wize Solutions now employs five people — four IT engineers and a vice president of operations — in Abingdon’s Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator. The company plans to have 50 employees by the end of the year, at least 150 employees in two to three years and more than 200 in three to five years.
That 150-employee threshold is important, Dario says. At that point, the Marquezes plan to begin transferring ownership of the company to its employees.
Dario believes a community needs a “macrostrategy” to attract large companies and a “microstrategy” to develop small companies.
“The core for us of developing that microstrategy is not only developing a business,” Dario says, “but having it headquartered and functioning and owned in the community, not be owned by people in a different region that kind of telecommute there or visit there but really are vested in the community. We think that’s important.”
If that strategy works, Dario says, then he and Wendy plan to attract more investors and do the same thing in another rural Virginia community.
“What we’ve found is there are tons of talent,” Wendy says. “What these communities are lacking are job opportunities. … The talent is there. The work ethic is impressive.”
The challenge isn’t convincing Northern Virginia companies that they can get qualified IT workers in Southwest Virginia, the Marquezes say. The problem is convincing these firms that there’s an advantage to outsourcing in-state rather than overseas.
“If you outsource, there are hidden costs,” Wendy says. These costs include time differences, cultural and political nuances and travel to remote sites, she says. And some companies are reluctant to turn work over to anyone who’s not on-site.
“The challenge we have is for the people to understand that the work can be done remotely,” Wendy says. “We’re living in an age where we can work anywhere, and yet some of these technology companies have a hard time understanding that.
“It’s a new concept. Like anything that is new, it takes time for people to understand it and support it.”
People around Abingdon seem happy with the Marquezes’ idea.
“We are thrilled that they’re willing to make this kind of investment in Southwest Virginia,” says Tonya Triplett, Abingdon’s community development coordinator. “We just think it will be a win-win for everyone.”