Here comes the IDEA Center

BUCKHANNON – Adapt and change or resist and remain stagnant.

Those are the two options facing local economies across the state and nation in the 21st century, and on Friday afternoon, the Buckhannon-Upshur community signified its willingness to embark on a new path forward with a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Buckhannon Innovation Center. Friday’s ceremony marked the progression of Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Rob Hinton’s idea for a business and innovation center that will meet the needs of companies of the future from concept to reality.

Located at the corner of Spring and Main Streets, the Buckhannon Innovation Center has been designed to match the historic brick façade of other Main Street buildings, is expected to house walk-up, retail stores on the first floor and a mix of short-term and long-term office space on the second and third floors. Ultimately, it will house a prototype “maker” lab and provide entrepreneurs and businesses with an array of resources Hinton says will be essential to doing business in a changing economy.

Addressing a gathering of local community officials and state and national legislators, Hinton explained the function of the three-story, 24,000-square-foot building.

“The thing is, as we move further into a 21st century economy, we’re going to encounter significant changes in how an economy is sustained over time … so there will be two paths that economies will take, not only in West Virginia, but on a global scale, and one will be that of resistance to the changing economic model and environment, and the other will be embrace change – pivot and maneuver,” Hinton said. “We need to embrace change.”

Hinton explained economies across the United States are starting to witness the beginning of the end of traditional jobs.

“We are in the infancy stages of the extinction of what we know as traditional jobs – not all jobs, but a large portion of those jobs, similar to that of the telephone switchboard operator and/or the elevator operator, both of which were cannibalized by that era’s automation movement,” he said. “Now, this will not happen overnight, but it will happen quickly, and it’s our job to make sure we are putting the right resources in place, developing the skills that will be demanded in a 21st-century economy.

“We must create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that rivals those in Boston and even in Silicon Valley right here in West Virginia,” Hinton added. “It’s possible, and we need to believe that it’s possible.”

In order to reinvigorate the economy, the state needs to curb the outmigration of young professionals and college graduates.

“The most harmful extractive activity this state suffers from is the extraction of people, and we’ve got to figure out a way to mitigate that and even stop that and reverse that,” Hinton said.

The new innovation center – which is expected to take about 15 months to construct – will supply co-working space and flex office space for rent on a month-to-month basis. That space is intended to accommodate an uptick in telecommuting and remote work – jobs that can pay an average of $4,000 more per year compared to traditional, nontelecommuting work, the UCDA director said.

“This now changes the dynamic in what was once a migration around large office complexes and densely populated areas becomes a choice to live where you love and work where you love at the same time,” Hinton explained. 

The innovation center will also be a professional, modern space with fiber gigabit connectivity, hopefully transforming Buckhannon into a gigabit city. Gigabit internet – one gigabit is 1,000 megabits – is the next generation high speed internet that delivers internet over fiber optic lines, Hinton said. Fiber gigabit connectivity would provide an incentive for major corporations and businesses to locate branches or “back offices” in the area. “The combination allows for us to have an increased opportunity to recruit back office operations to locate in the space provided,” he said. “This is a reality: major corporations are looking to locate back office operations outside of high cost metro areas to more low cost and less congested areas where their employees can actually afford to live. West Virginia has an enormous opportunity if we decide collectively to embrace the change, to pivot and capture these opportunities in a rapidly changing environment.”

UCDA board president Kathy McMurray commended Hinton on his efforts over the past couple years.

“I just want to recognize the vision, tenacity and hard work of our Upshur County Development Authority executive director Rob Hinton,” McMurray said. “Rob has spent countless hours bringing an idea from concept to the point where we’re finally able to make [the innovation center] a reality, and that’s a model for what we will be happening in this building.”

In addition to McMurray and West Virginia Wesleyan College president Dr. Joel Thierstein,  representatives from several legislators’ offices brought greetings and congratulations, including Todd Gunter with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s office, Justin Ray with Sen Joe Manchin’s office, Rhett Dusenberry with Rep. Alex Mooney’s office and Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff, Mike Hall.

Hinton thanked several key UCDA partners on the project, including the city of Buckhannon, city architect Bryson VanNostrand, public works director Jerry Arnold, city engineer Jay Hollen, Region VII Planning and Development Council executive director Shane Whitehair, Thrasher Engineering and Dan Hill Construction Company. Following the ceremony, Hinton said construction on the innovation center is expected to commence within the next month.

The UCDA got word in August 2016 that it had been awarded a $2,285,049 grant to construct the innovation center through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, a program made possible by then-President Barack Obama’s push to assist communities affected by the downturn in the coal industry.



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