Economic engines

Impact of Virginia Tech and Corporate Research Center felt in the region and beyond

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Print this page by Donna Alvis-Banks
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Gov. Terry McAuliffe at an event at Virginia Tech, one of six
U.S. test sites for drone research. Courtesy Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center are major drivers in the local and state economies. Because of Tech’s research and the companies it attracts to the Corporate Research Center (CRC), business impact is steadily increasing.

“Impact plays out over time,” says the director of Tech’s economic development office, John Provo. “The CRC is more than a quarter century of success. You’ve seen incredible growth, with 160 companies and about 2,700 people working there. The CRC is a great arc over the history of this region.”

The CRC’s current Phase II construction will add 19 buildings to the existing 29 structures. Rackspace, a computing cloud company, opened the first Phase II building in 2012, bringing 100 jobs. The building, designed specifically for Rackspace’s young tech-set, even has an indoor climbing wall.

CRC President Joe Meredith says the center was selected by the Association of University Research Parks as one of 18 founding members of the Academy of Outstanding Research Parks. In August, it hosted the VT Knowledgeworks Global Partnership Week, a business challenge that brought students and faculty from universities around the world together to explore new business concepts.

Larry Hincker, Tech’s vice president for university relations, points to the statewide economic impact of university research. “The best example is the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing,” he says. “This was an initiative resulting from the state’s courtship of Rolls-Royce. The state sweetened the pot by offering up Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.”

The academic partnering attracted not only Rolls-Royce but also 19 other major manufacturers to the Prince George County center, which opened last year with the goal of bridging the gap between research and commercialization, speeding up the process of getting developments to market. In July, European aerospace giant Airbus became one of the latest members of the collaboration.

In other recent developments, Virginia Tech was named one of only six test sites in the nation for drone research. The Federal Aviation Administration declared Tech’s program fully operational in August when Gov. Terry McAuliffe and leaders from three states gathered to watch a simulation at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Smart Road. The Arlington-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that drone commercialization will add more than $13.6 billion to the national economy by 2025. Tech’s research will assist the government in developing regulations for the technology.

Tech’s Pamplin College of Business launched a new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship last December and operations are now underway. Linda Oldham came from Georgia Tech in August to serve as executive director, and Derick Maggard, former director of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, came onboard as director in July. The center’s purpose is to support entrepreneurship and innovation by offering courses, mentoring, networking and fostering research projects between participants and faculty members. Tech alumni who have become successful entrepreneurs will work with participants, as well.

To support and inspire entrepreneurship, Tech has two other new projects. Last year, Innovate, a living-learning community for students of any major, opened on Blacksburg’s Oak Lane. The residence program equips students with an understanding of entrepreneurship and associated business practices through a network of peer and faculty partnerships. Students in the program commit to one year of participation but may opt for more.

Virginia Tech Foundation CEO John Dooley also points with enthusiasm to NuSpark, a startup resource that began in February. NuSpark is open to people over 18 in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region who want to work on an idea with the goal of commercializing or implementing it. NuSpark offers work space, workshops and one-on-one mentoring opportunities.

This month, Dooley notes that Tech is offering a new conference on entrepreneurship and innovation, TEC2014. It’s happening Nov. 14-15.

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