From developments within the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Middle and upstart small companies to developments in distant working and federal recruitment, West Virginia expertise leaders are optimistic concerning the sector’s probabilities in 2021.
Outdoors COVID-19, one of many greatest developments of 2020 that’s set to affect the state this yr is the set up of the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Middle in Grant and Tucker counties.
When accomplished, the power will probably be used as a testing web site for Hyperloop expertise, and plenty of tech leaders, together with TechConnect Govt Director Anne Barth, assume that the positioning may have a big affect on the state economically.
“It’s an incredible growth for my part, and an amazing morale enhance on high of another good tech information that we’ve seen within the final yr in West Virginia,” Barth mentioned. “I’m actually excited to see what all of it means and the way it’s going to search for West Virginia.”
Barth’s sentiment on the Hyperloop is shared by Jim Estep, president and CEO of the Excessive Know-how Basis in Fairmont.
“I imagine that having the Hyperloop certification facility right here in West Virginia creates an essential alternative to draw not solely federal operations — for instance the U.S. Division of Transportation — but in addition a variety of firms that may be supporting the certification program,” Estep mentioned.
“Along with leveraging the Hyperloop operation to recruit federal amenities, we must also be working very arduous to place ourselves to be the manufacturing web site for not solely the Hyperloop autos, however the different parts required to construct a completely operational Hyperloop someplace within the nation.”
However optimism for 2021 grows past the Hyperloop. Actually, Estep mentioned that it may very well be a landmark yr for the expertise sector in West Virginia, and he’s extremely eager for what it’d deliver.
“I in all probability have extra optimism going into 2021 than I’ve for the final a number of years, not simply due to what is occurring on the Excessive Tech Basis, however what I’ve seen with initiatives which are being championed by John Chambers and Brad Smith,” Estep mentioned.
“There’s a very tangible momentum that has been created that we haven’t seen earlier than that I feel has unimaginable potential. Some may say that, with the seditions within the coal business and the unimaginable uncertainty within the pure fuel business, we have to have a way of urgency in direction of maximizing the affect of that momentum.”
One occasion of momentum, in response to Estep, is the flexibility to draw distant employees to the state. He mentioned that with West Virginia having a decrease value of residing than many surrounding areas, coupled with the push for extra distant working as a result of pandemic, this generally is a profitable alternative for the state, an opinion shared by Barth.
“I feel West Virginia is in a singular place to promote that we’re an amazing place to come back for those who can work remotely,” Barth mentioned. “In order for you to have the ability to afford a home and also you wish to have fascinating issues to do in your free time, you must examine West Virginia out. …
“I hope to see us profit from that this yr as individuals make their very own plans and firms determine simply which elements of the workforce may need to come back again to the workplace and which elements won’t. These of us, like all of us, are in all probability reevaluating their choices, and I might like to see West Virginia entice distant employees from different states.”
Estep mentioned the rise of distant working might additionally have an effect on recruitment efforts by each the Excessive Tech Basis (on the I-79 Know-how Park) and organizations in different elements of the state.
“I don’t assume the alternatives related to distant working are going to essentially harm our federal anchor recruitment efforts,” Estep mentioned. “If something, it may possibly allow them, as a result of the thought of with the ability to work remotely, I imagine, is a supporting argument for the relocation of a few of these operations out of the larger D.C. space. Mainly, the pandemic has, for my part, created a paradigm shift within the considering course of that everybody has to stand up within the morning and go into the workplace. …
“Subsequently, by taking the emphasis off of that paradigm … that simply strengthens our means to get them to think about coming to the I-79 Know-how Park or to West Virginia, particularly contemplating the very actual nationwide safety issues that exist within the D.C. space and the price of operations in that space.”
Barth mentioned that 2021 is also an excellent yr for entrepreneurs seeking to lastly begin up their companies. Barth referenced each the Small Enterprise Innovation Analysis (SBIR) and Small Enterprise Know-how Switch (STTR) packages, which give funding to qualifying start-up firms.
She mentioned that these two packages might have a significant affect this yr, and thanked these answerable for getting them applied.
“I wish to give credit score to the legislature for creating such a robust incentive that encourages our small companies and researchers to discover this supply of funding, which known as America’s seed fund,” Barth mentioned. “I search for extra nice issues to come back out of that program, and I feel it’s a surefire approach to assist diversify the state’s economic system, which is one thing we’re all looking for to do.”
Whereas she famous that the pandemic has had a horrible affect on many areas of every day life, she mentioned that one silver lining is that, with the entire further free time, entrepreneurs and researchers have been capable of lock in and develop their enterprise concepts to a a lot larger diploma.
“One factor we discovered from final yr is that, when actions are curtailed and restricted, it’s an excellent time to get your head down, get some analysis accomplished and perhaps get your marketing strategy put collectively,” Barth mentioned.
“You are able to do all of the groundwork that it takes to think about launching a brand new enterprise. As we head in to 2021 with a few of those self same restrictions in place, I feel it would function a motivator so of us who perhaps are on the sting of deciding as to if open a brand new enterprise or pursue that analysis slightly deeper and to take inventory and prepare for a extra full restoration of the economic system quickly.”
Whereas the pandemic nonetheless looms over every part within the state, nation and world, Barth and Estep stay cautiously optimistic concerning the tech sector’s progress in 2021, and Estep mentioned that the assorted adjustments brought on by the virus might imply huge issues for The Mountain State.
“I don’t assume the pandemic is magically going to go away, however I feel we are able to see the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel due to the vaccine,” Estep mentioned. “I feel we’ll see motion in direction of normalcy, however I additionally assume we’ll be perpetually modified by issues. That may very well be very optimistic for the state of West Virginia.”
Fairmont Information Editor John Mark Shaver might be reached at 304-844-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.