A nonprofit group is poised to serve as the quarterback in a game plan to enhance the technology ecosystem in the Roanoke, New River and Lynchburg regions.
The Valleys Innovation Council will coordinate the efforts under a proposal endorsed Thursday by a GO Virginia regional council, which recommended the organization receive nearly $300,000 in a state grant for the entrepreneurship program.
The project, which includes another $150,000 in matching funds from local supporters, now goes to the GO Virginia state board for final approval.
GO Virginia was created by the General Assembly in 2017 to spur private sector growth and high-wage jobs, giving nine regional councils the ability to disburse more than $33 million in state funds for workforce development strategies in their areas.
The funding recommended by the initiative’s Region 2 Council — which covers 18 cities and counties stretching from the Lynchburg area to the New River Valley and north to the Alleghany Highlands — was under a special mechanism for regional entrepreneurship coordination.
While the area tops state and national averages for academic research expenditures, that has failed to translate into economic growth at the rate desired by organizers. Region 2 has a 5% rate of new business formation, compared to 7% for Virginia and 8% for the United States.
The Valleys Innovation Council, a Blacksburg-based nonprofit formed last year, will facilitate coalitions and stakeholder engagement. It will convene a steering group to oversee efforts in three sub-regions: the New River Valley, the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Highlands, and the Lynchburg area.
The council will help develop a pipeline of projects, with one measurement of its progress being the number of grants from GO Virginia and other sources to support business startups and other innovation and entrepreneurship efforts in the region’s industry clusters.
Fields include advanced manufacturing, life science and health care, and emerging technologies such as autonomous systems, blockchain and cybersecurity, said Greg Feldmann, interim executive director and CEO of Valleys Innovation Council.
A timeline from the Valleys Innovation Council outlines a number of steps to be implemented on a quarterly basis through the end of 2021.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting project, and a complex one,” said John Williamson, a former Botetourt County supervisor and Roanoke Gas Co. executive who serves on the 25-member Region 2 Council.
The Valleys Innovation Council will receive a $299,995 grant under the proposal approved Thursday by the Region 2 Council. Another $150,004 in matching funds will come from Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, the city of Roanoke, Roanoke and Botetourt counties, Delta Dental of Virginia and Tech’s Corporate Research Center.
Since its inception, the Region 2 Council has awarded a little more than $3 million to 15 projects, according to John Provo, director of Tech’s office of economic development, which provides administrative support for the group.
There’s a balance of about $617,000 for the current fiscal year, but council members say they are being careful to dole out the money only to worthy applicants.
“I think we need to be really careful that we don’t dilute GO Virginia’s mission,” said William Fralin, a former state delegate from Roanoke.
Other grants approved by the council Thursday were $225,000 to the public school systems in Montgomery, Floyd and Giles counties for an internship program to match high school students with information technology opportunities with five local employers, and $100,000 for a study of the best future use of the Central Virginia Training Center, a state hospital complex adjacent to Lynchburg that will close next year.