The Build Back Better Regional Challenge was a $1 billion US Economic Development Administration program funded by the America’s Rescue Plan Act. Despite a valiant effort and selection as a national finalist, a consortium of 50 Southwest Virginia organizations led by Virginia Tech failed to secure the challenge and millions in federal funding.
The proposed Tech-led proposal is in areas where the university and its affiliated companies and partners are already leaders, such as developing automated and electric vehicles and transporting unmanned aerial vehicles. The fact that the proposal did not take home the gold when the winners were announced on September 2 mainly shows that there are no guarantees when the competition is tough.
Notable: One of the winners was a Richmond-Petersburg-based project, the Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Cluster, which officials from partner Virginia State University said would “expand the domestic supply chain for essential drugs and critical active pharmaceutical ingredients” — so Virginia did. Get at least $53 million out of $1 billion.
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Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, cited Tech’s run on that test as an example of the corporate experience needed to compete for one of the 20 regional tech hubs planned to be created by President Joe Biden’s CHIPS and SCIENCE Act. Signed into law on August 9. The bill allocates $10 billion to these centers, which do not need to be related to semiconductor chip manufacturing.
The White House said in a statement that these centers are the result of partnerships between state and local governments, universities, businesses, labor unions and community organizations that promote innovation in areas such as clean energy and artificial intelligence.
Unspoken but unclear, these centers are planned in areas outside of urban coastal cities where high-tech industries are concentrated.
They are not just loud words
The founder, president, chairman and former CEO of one of New River Valley’s high-tech companies sees an opportunity for Southwest Virginia to develop precision agriculture, featuring advanced technology that allows for minute adjustments. Multiple plots of soil in one field. This allows many different types of crops to be grown on distributed “microsites” rather than mechanically cultivating a few crops on one large tract. The methods can be applied to animal husbandry and forestry.
Entrepreneur Steve Critchfield of the downtown Pulaski climate technology company MOVA Technologies focuses on precision agriculture, which is identified as a field in the CHIPS and SCIENCE Act, to be supported.
MOVA recently received a $174,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund an air filtration system to capture harmful chemical emissions from agricultural processes and not only clean polluted air, but separate it and recycle it into forms that can be reused or sold. Put them on. MOVA is developing this system through a public-private partnership with Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture — the company’s fourth with Virginia Tech.
“Climate technology, sustainable green technology is no longer a buzz word. This is the path to economic growth, and our future,” Critchfield said. He hopes to see similar businesses drawn to the region through MOVA’s work, aspirations not unlike the Roanoke region’s dream for the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
Developing a growth center
Critchfield said the CHIPS Act Technology Center will provide recommendations in 2019 based on recommendations from the Brookings Institution and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
The authors of “The Case for Growth Hubs” focus on a handful of major coastal cities where high-tech innovation has fueled our nation’s economic and political diversity, with 90% of growth from 2005 to 2017 occurring in just five cities. says the report.
That disparity doesn’t just apply to tech R&D industries. The study found that every industry sector benefited from proximity to the growth of the innovation sector – an economic advantage that most people have no access to.
In order to increase economic opportunity and reduce inequality, the study urged the federal government to “put together a major package of federal innovation resources and support to expand the innovation sector in metropolitan areas away from existing technology centers.” The report also found that “many urban areas in most states have the potential to become America’s next dynamic innovation centers.”
He may find it disappointing that none of these potential locations identified in the report are located in Virginia. But Critchfield said it’s no secret that Southwest Virginia has that potential.
“If we were where we are now when the report came out, we would be on it,” he said. In a region that includes Botetourt, Roanoke, Montgomery and Pulaski counties, other counties to the west and east, and the cities and towns within, there’s plenty of potential for a tech hub attraction like the Virginia Tech Carillion Healthcare Partnership, Virginia Tech. Corporate Research Center and “Large Educated Workforce and Population”.
Critchfield’s optimism and enthusiasm is contagious. As with the Build Better regional challenge, it may not be considered a sure thing for Southwest Virginia’s tech hub, but the team effort under way has a fighting chance. Even if we don’t find the center, its potential to turn it into a high-tech growth center will continue to grow.