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West Virginia's ‘Hockey stick of innovation'

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Anne Barth is executive director of TechConnect West Virginia.

Editors Note: Anne Barth provided this commentary in response to a "Map to Prosperity" column from Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, where he wrote that West Virginia's future lies in its urban areas.

Three years ago, TechConnect West Virginia began a scope of work with support from the State of West Virginia and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to develop West Virginia's technology clusters, foster entrepreneurship and innovation and also to create technology - based companies and jobs. 

In defining the region to be served by the grant, TCWV identified the "hockey stick" of innovation in West Virginia. Starting in the north in Morgantown and running south along I-79 to Charleston, then tacking west along 1-64 to Huntington, the outline of this region roughly resembles a hockey stick. That is evidenced on the accompanying map.

While innovation can and does happen anywhere, TCWV realizes that the assets contained in the "hockey stick" make it a prime location for innovation-based economic development to flourish. What exactly are those assets? 

They include West Virginia's:

1. Major research universities — Marshall University and West Virginia University — representing the state's research and development efforts and intellectual capital; 

2. Important physical infrastructure such as the technology parks in Fairmont and South Charleston; 

3. Technology hubs and research laboratories, including federal facilities like the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, the FBI and biometrics facilities in Harrison County, the High Technology Consortium Foundation and business park in Fairmont, MATRIC (the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center) in South Charleston, and the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing; and 

4. Sources of risk capital and investments for startups and business expansion. 

While many key assets are aligned along the "hockey stick," there are other resources throughout the state that also contribute to economic growth through innovation, especially in the energy sector. With the abundance of the shale gas and ethane in the northwestern part of the state, tremendous opportunities exist for downstream manufacturing and development. The West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston is an obvious choice for commercializing new discoveries, offering a range of pilot plants and other unique facilities. 

And entrepreneurial activities inside and outside this region are helping to spur start-up ventures, new opportunities and job prospects. Other innovation hotbed areas include the Northern Panhandle and the Eastern Panhandle. Both are seeing growing economic activity due to unique economic drivers and factors. Small manufacturers throughout the state present another avenue for expanded and continued growth, as onshoring brings more jobs home to the U.S.

TechConnect West Virginia is pleased to be a leader in helping to drive innovation-based economic development and entrepreneurial activities throughout the state. With members representing education and research, private industry, and the public sector, the organization serves as a forum and facilitator to enhance awareness, spur collaboration, and raise the discussion of issues needed to strengthen the state's innovation ecosystem.