Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development was awarded a $132,000 university center grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, continuing a nearly two-decade-long relationship with the grant program. Only 12 of 42 proposals submitted in the recent competition received funding.

“We use EDA grants to target improvements in rural economic competitiveness, stimulating private sector job creation and private sector capital investment in Southwest and Southside Virginia,” said Ted Settle, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development. “These regions, the state’s rural heartland, continue to fall further behind suburban and urban areas in Virginia.”

Settle describes his organization as a “think and do” tank, working with support from university, public, and private sector leadership to align university resources with the region’s economic development institutions, companies, and communities. The office creates partnerships and provides an analytical resource to foster new higher-skill, higher-wage, private sector employment and investment. These activities help Southwest and Southside Virginia to develop and sustain innovative industry clusters and prosperous, entrepreneurial communities.

The EDA grant will support planning for a number of technology-related initiatives, including Virginia Tech-led research and development centers in Southwest and Southside. Echoing the model Virginia Tech launched in Danville in 2004 with the opening of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, the university is organizing new community-based, public-private, research-focused partnerships with staffing by the university, public, and private sectors.

Lee Cobb, head of the Region 2000 Economic Development Partnership, who has been developing plans with the office for a possible center in Lynchburg, described the center concept as “…providing both a physical and virtual link to university researchers for businesses.” This may involve, for example, placing university researchers inside companies or providing direct access to unique university resources like Virginia Tech’s Terascale Computer, System X, which is ranked among the fastest super-computers in the world.

The EDA grant will also support Virginia Tech’s involvement in projects such as a proposed Artisans’ Trail Center in Wytheville. According to Wytheville Director of Historic Resources Frances Emerson, “The Trail Center will support activities such as heritage tourism, native crafts, and traditional or value-added food products, as both self-employment strategies and quality of life complements to traditional economic development activities in the region.” The Office of Economic Development will conduct a market feasibility analysis and assessment of the economic impact of this retail/tourism facility, potentially a significant gateway to the region and stimulus for development in its host community. This assessment projects will also involve faculty from Virginia Tech’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

The EDA grant also supports educational activities, such as an annual conference on “Virginia Tech Resources for Economic Developers” which brings economic developers, elected officials, and private sector representatives from across Virginia to the university’s Blacksburg campus. This showcase includes tours of research labs and small group sessions on campus with faculty. After each showcase, Virginia Tech researchers pay return visits to specific companies and communities.

Liz Povar, business development director with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, lauds the program as a means to “…offer participants first hand insights into university resources that can be used to help existing businesses in their regions and that can broaden the assets that localities and regions use to attract other businesses to their communities.”

Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs, is exploring new ways to stimulate economic development in Virginia. The office’s website provides a list of projects, studies, and training seminars that have been offered to benefit Virginia communities, and can be found here.