The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission and three federal government agencies have awarded more than $8.4 million for the benefit of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), a collaborative educational and economic development effort partnering Virginia Tech, Averett University, Danville Community College, and local government and community organizations.
The largest grant, $2.5 million for first year operating funds, is from the commission, and was announced after the state body met on April 24. An additional $2 million is for a 40,000-square-foot research facility addition for IALR and matches an anticipated $3 million in funds from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Another $1 million dollars was awarded to the City of Danville and Pittsylvania County for the express purpose of funding technology for the IALR. The tobacco commission is also contributing the $2 million it has pledged annually for debt service on loans being used to construct the original building, which will open later this year. The total funding for IALR and its operations from the commission equals $7.5 million for the coming year.
State Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Pittsylvania County and chairman of the commission, said IALR is an example of the commission's goal of funding projects that help to redefine the region's economy.
"This funding provides very important momentum for this initiative. We have many partners to thank throughout the region. The IALR research addition will help leverage research advances we'll be pursuing by providing space for companies interested in research partnerships, licensing new technologies, or being near this center of activity," said Tim Franklin, executive director of the institute and Southside outreach director for Virginia Tech. "We will pursue additional project funds to augment these start-up and capital resources so the IALR can fully develop its potential as a regional economic engine."
At a press conference on April 21, Congressman Virgil Goode, 5th District, announced three federal awards. A $250,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture will help to develop a new plant tissue culture lab where high value crop research will be carried out in the effort to help tobacco farmers switch to other lucrative crops. The second grant, $500,000 from the Department of Education, will be used to advance a program to prepare K-12 teachers to integrate technology effectively in teaching and to prepare the population at large with core math and writing competencies. The third grant, $180,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will help underwrite costs of the technology systems that create the platform for state-of-the-art teaching and learning equipment.
IALR, which is managed by Virginia Tech's Outreach and International Affairs, was established to advance the economy in Southside through a three-pronged effort that includes development of broadband Internet access via fiber optic cable for the region; research into new technologies that can be licensed to existing or new area businesses; and advanced learning that attracts bright students and entrepreneurs. The Internet access project, called e-Dan, is now in the final stages of implementation. It will expand into neighboring counties as part of the e-Corridors project.
While praising Congressman Goode and others for their hard work in making the funding possible, Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said "This new support will help us to take the next step forward to train a highly skilled workforce and develop new technologies in the fields of biotechnology, bioinformatics, robotics, and chemical engineering. These new technologies will, in turn, create a foundation for new businesses, new jobs, and new prosperity. Research projects emanating from the institute will span all of Southside and will advance our vision for a sustained, healthy, and vibrant economy."
The collaborative effort to refocus the Southside economy means new hope for the region, which has been hard hit by a vanishing tobacco market and relocation of numerous textile plants to Mexico. The area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. IALR will develop and attract technology and talent critical to Southside Virginia's economic transformation through advanced learning, strategic research and technology transfer, IALR Conference Center activities, outreach programs, and technology infrastructure development. IALR is training teachers in technology and will offer other educational opportunities for adults along with graduate courses to help create a knowledge economy workforce that will be loyal to the area.