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Innovation: Promote Innovation and Technology for Priority and High-Potential Industry Clusters

Adopting new technology appears to be a costly investment on the surface, but it is vital to the longevity of any economy. The average salary for Region 2 workers in information technology and cybersecurity was $67,700 in 2016, well above the median per capita income. The region’s technology sector has high growth potential in a number of emerging technologies that will also attract revenue from outside the state. While technology plays a role in all funded projects, two are specifically focused on advancing unmanned systems and Blockchain technology in our region. 


Enhancing the Region through New Technology for Unmanned Systems (Drone Zone)
Alleghany Highlands’ Drone Zone boasts one of the most promising prospects for hosting a positive economic impact in the region. The Drone Zone specializes in developing facilities for businesses engaged in the design, testing, manufacturing, and development of applications for unmanned systems vehicles. From a unique partnership with the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) Service Region, a program meeting the needs of the Alleghany Highlands Drone Zone was developed. The project offers high school students drone-centered learning and training opportunities through dual enrollment. Nearly two dozen students, including 17 from Rockbridge High School, have participated in the program with two other high schools expected to participate in the program in Spring 2020. The program makes students aware of the interesting, challenging, and rewarding jobs available in unmanned systems and teaches the foundational knowledge and skill sets needed to perform these jobs.

Blockchain Ecosystem Catalyst (BEC)
Similarly, Blockchain technology provides opportunities to take advantage of research and innovation assets in the region to spark company formation and growth. With cryptocurrencies becoming increasingly popular, understanding these “digital ledgers” has become an invaluable skill in an employee. The Blockchain Ecosystem Catalyst (BEC) is a collaboration of Virginia Tech’s Department of Computer Science, Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation, and Continuing and Professional Education with partners including the Virginia Tech Foundation and Valleys Innovation Council. The project aims to address current talent needs for mid-career professionals and lay the groundwork for Blockchain certifications through seminars, short courses, and training events. For its first event, the BEC put on a three-day conference in November of 2019 that brought together Blockchain innovators, academic experts, and policy makers from across the globe to discuss the political, economic, and social implications of this innovative technology.