Wanted: Person with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts to help design and create software programs; location: Dusty, Washington, population 10.
These are just the kind of person whom Jon Ochs, president, CEO, and founder of Eureka Software, Inc., may soon be looking to hire for the multimedia communications company he runs from his family farm in very rural Eastern Washington.
“We actually have four employees that are here all the time, so it is no longer a mom and pop business,” he says, sitting on the porch patio among his wife’s flowers and scratching the head of his large and rather relaxed dog, Amber. “And there is work for a bunch more.”
For generations, the Ochs family, whose ancestors emigrated from the Volga River Valley in Russia, has cultivated a 1,200-acre farm near Dusty, a tiny community that rests 34 miles from Pullman.
Ochs attended several universities in Europe and eventually earned a doctorate in mathematics at Washington State University in 1974 before he made his way back to the homestead to resume farming.
Then in the early ’80s, he developed a keen interest in computers and what they could do after a friend plunked one down on his desk one day and told him to check it out.
“We started tinkering with computers very early on, and our first serious work was doing a global communications piece which connected the Foreign Agriculture Service with an out-group of various agricultural cooperative groups in the United States.
”We were thinking it would be a great thing for agriculture . . . to find out what crops are like in Turkey and to follow out trade leads and things like that,” he said. “It was a little before its time.”
As technology became more advanced, so did the services Eureka Software was able to provide, including the production of Web sites, touch-screen kiosks, and publishing projects that integrate the Web and CD-ROM.
“We did a lot of CD-ROMs in the early ’90s,” he said. “We did The Complete World Bartender’s Guide, the Better Homes and Gardens CD Cookbook, and did Americans in Space.” So far, Eureka Software is responsible for the distribution of over 2.5 million CD-ROM units.
But Ochs didn’t stop there. He and his wife, Li, vice president and project manager of Eureka Software, put the farm into native grasses and are currently focusing their business on hydro-relicensing for large waterworks projects, knowledge management systems that aid re-licensing, online banking services, and Internet commerce.
And he runs it all from an old bunkhouse behind the main living quarters that he converted to a technologically-packed office hooked to the outside world by a satellite dish nestled inconspicuously among a few trees in the back yard.
“This is my grandfather’s place and my father’s and mine and so on,” Ochs said. “We are kind of too stubborn to leave.”
His success and tenacity caught the attention of Bill Gillis, director of WSU’s recently established Center to Bridge the Digital Divide, through WSU Cooperative Extension. Gillis decided to feature Ochs on the center’s six-part television program called Digital Pathways. The program is designed to show business, health care, education, local government, and civic leaders what can be done if broadband communications connections are brought into a community. On the first part, called “Stories from the Front Lines,” Ochs explained how he broke into the world of high technology and what others can do if they have even the most basic telecommunications connections.
“Jon is an example of the lone wolf concept,” said Scott Fedale, director of the Digital Pathways program and chairman of the information department in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics. “The community of Dusty didn’t bring connectivity in, Jon found different ways to do it himself.”
“It is true that there is a big digital divide, certainly in this state, between the east and west side,” Ochs says. “Somehow we have to build infrastructure so that we are not being third-world out here. Because there is a digital divide, there is also an economic divide in this state.”
But Ochs and others are proving that hope does exist for small communities struggling to survive and that they can be revitalized through the use of computers, the Internet, and modern telecommunications.
Many small communities are beginning to recognize this for themselves; and the Digital Pathways series, designed to air only in Washington, has become so successful that people are starting to watch it all over the nation.
“We had 19 states that paid to watch our ‘Rural Telework’ project because Washington has been a leader in this area nationally,” Fedale says.
Emmy Sunleaf (’02 Agri. Econ.) is a writer for the College of Veterinary Medicine.