In December 2021 Gov. Ralph Northam announced a $3.6 million Growth and Opportunity Virginia (GO Virginia) grant that includes $674,304 for an innovation hub at Midtown Square in Farmville. Innovation hubs, like the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston established in 2020, provide space for community members of all ages to work, learn, innovate, create and connect to entrepreneurship resources. Designated “Project Seed: The Innovation Hub at Midtown Square,” the Farmville location will serve Prince Edward and surrounding counties in GO Virginia’s Region 3.
“Project Seed is the continued implementation of the Region 3 Council’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy,” said Region 3 Chairman Randy Lail.
GO Virginia, which currently serves nine regions across the Commonwealth, is a business-led economic development initiative that supports programs to create more high-paying jobs through incentivized collaboration between business, education and government. Region 3 includes the cities of Danville and Martinsville and the counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward.
“The Innovation Hub in Farmville will directly serve the northernmost localities of Region 3,” Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Executive Director Sheri McGuire noted.
The Farmville facility will include maker spaces, coworking spaces and training and gathering spaces as well as an SBDC office for training and consulting. The new facility will be available to host community courses in entrepreneurship and innovation; Southside Virginia Community College workshops and camps for trades, technology and STEM; youth camps in innovative problem solving; professional development for teachers; leadership development and community problem solving; and collegiate innovation courses currently co-taught by Longwood and Hampden-Sydney faculty. Both Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College have committed to this partnership as a community and economic development project.
“Currently Longwood and Hampden-Sydney are working together on a jointly led innovation course for students in both institutions and will use the space to further this work,” McGuire added. “Local K-12 school systems have also been involved in planning how the space could be utilized for their classes.”
Planning for the project started in 2019.
“Region 3 Council went through an almost two-year process to develop a strategy to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Region 3,” Region 3 Program Director Bryan David said. “The strategy includes expansion of entrepreneurial programming and strategically connecting resources through current and future entrepreneurial centers strategically located in Southern Virginia.”
“Longwood University’s Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), including SBDC, is partnering with the SOVA Innovation Hub to implement portions of the plan including adult and youth entrepreneurship courses and the extension of these courses throughout the region. A key aspect is connecting resources through projects such as this innovation hub,” McGuire added. “We partnered with Mid-Altantic Broadband to develop the strategy for Region 3 and partnered with SOVA Innovation Hub to implement portions of the strategy.”
Farmville’s Innovation Hub will be located in the currently vacant 10,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Midtown Square. Funding for the Innovation Hub includes the $674,304 GO Virginia grant to be used for equipment and $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.
“We are currently applying to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for the remainder of the funding,” McGuire said. “The Longwood University Real Estate Foundation has already invested in architectural and engineering studies and community input sessions.”
Once completed, the Innovation Hub will bolster business creation, innovation activities, workforce training, and talent attraction and retention within the greater Farmville region.
“Serving as a complement to the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston, the Farmville location will produce dividends for years to come,” Lail concluded. “The expanding network to support entrepreneurship and innovation offers much-needed support to growing small businesses in Southern Virginia.”