SOVA Innovation Hub — bridging the technology gap in Southside Virginia

Sparks are flying in rural Virginia. Region 3’s newest grant is studying the feasibility of increasing access to technology for southside businesses and computer-science training for area students through an Innovation Hub. The initiative is being spearheaded by Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) Corporation, in partnership with Magnum Economics, Impact Makers, and Price, Simpson & Harvey.

The recently-approved grant, which includes matching funds from GO Virginia and MBC, will explore the feasibility of a SOVA Innovation Hub, a multi-use facility that could potentially be built in Halifax County. Its primary service area would be a five-county region including Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg and Mecklenburg counties.

“When GO Virginia announced the enhanced capacity grant option, it seemed like a good fit,” MBC’s Director of Economic Development & Community Engagement Lauren Mathena says. “This is a project MBC has been discussing for a while. The GO Virginia capacity building grant allows us to dedicated time and resources to exploring it.”

The Innovation Hub has several points of focus.

“One piece, digital transformation, would help interested businesses or even nonprofits integrate technology,” explains Mathena. “We’re hoping to provide a high-tech work space for an existing business or new business that could start operations at the Innovation Hub before expanding to its own place.”

Innovation in education is also a major focus.

“We are focused on enhancing digital skills and creating career pathways,” Mathena adds. “We are working with our local schools and higher education partners in the area to see if there are any gaps we can fill. For example, the Innovation Hub could provide a convenient place for training teachers, who in turn provide various computer science education to students in schools,” Mathena comments.

Collectively these components create a perfect formula for workforce success.

“The business-education connection is huge when you’re trying to attract new industry or businesses,” Mathena says. “We need to be able to demonstrate a technology talent pipeline competitive with other areas currently far ahead of us.”

Aside from a workforce and economic development focus, the proposed Innovation Hub would potentially also offer community meeting space for group training, workshops, conferences and corporate team-building activities.

The feasibility grant, approved in August 2018, held its first committee meeting mid-January, and another is set for February 19, 2019.

“We have 24 months to complete the study, but we don’t think it should take that long,” Mathena adds. “We’re hoping to wrap it up mid-May. We are not attempting to reinvent the wheel in this process, but instead we are facilitating conversations and engaging partners in the region that have programs that could be enhanced or expanded as part of the potential Innovation Hub.”

“We see the Innovation Hub as a connector between business and workforce,” Mathena concludes. “A ‘hub’ implies connection; Mid-Atlantic views this project as a bridge to future growth.”