Region is one of six targeted by Microsoft TechSpark plan
Southern Virginia’s digital profile is getting a boost from Microsoft Corp.
The company’s TechSpark initiative, begun last year, aims to create more job opportunities in economically stressed areas throughout the country.
The Microsoft effort was prompted by the 2016 presidential election, during which the problems of rural America became an issue.
“That brought some things in focus,” says Jeremy Satterfield, TechSpark manager for Virginia. “The country hadn’t been focusing on rural populations, and they stood up in droves. They weren’t being heard. That was a wake-up call for us as a company.”
Southern Virginia is one of six TechSpark regions. Others include El Paso, Texas; the North Central Basin of Washington state; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Fargo, N.D.; and Northeast Wisconsin.
The Southern Virginia region (Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Brunswick counties) was chosen because of Microsoft’s data center in Mecklenburg as well as a “plethora of opportunity” in the area, Satterfield says.
TechSpark focuses on five areas: digital transformation, career pathways, rural broadband, nonprofit support, and digital-skills and computer-science education.
The initiative will work with Southern Virginia businesses, startups, nonprofits and entrepreneurs to address technology challenges in the region. The program also will look at ways to help Southern Virginia schools and colleges train students in digital skills.
The rural broadband program is part of Microsoft’s initiative to connect 2 million people around the country by 2020 through wireless technology as well as unused TV channels, which are called “white space.”
“TV white space signals work in rural settings,” Satterfield says. “They became available when the government required the move from analog to digital on televisions.”
In addition, TechSpark will provide grants to Southern Virginia nonprofits. “They have been doing wonderful things for their communities,” Satterfield says. “We want to offer help for them to continue.”
He has been working on proposals for each of TechSpark’s five program areas since the initiative began in Southern Virginia in March. “None of those are in announcement stage yet,” Satterfield says. “We will be announcing something in the next few weeks or months.”
Working on TechSpark is a personal cause for him. “I was born and raised in Halifax County, so I have a lot of vested interest,” Satterfield says.