In December 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced a $3.6 million Growth and Opportunity in Virginia (GO Virginia) grant that includes $674,304 for an Innovation Center in Midtown Square in Farmville. Innovation hubs, like the SOVA Innovation Center in South Boston established in 2020, provide space for community members of all ages to work, learn, innovate, create, and connect to entrepreneurial resources. Designated “Project Seed: The Innovation Hub at Midtown Square,” the Farmville site will serve Prince Edward and surrounding counties in GO Virginia Region 3.
“The Seed Project is the continued implementation of the Region 3 Council’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy,” said Region 3 Chair Randy Lail.
GO Virginia, which currently serves nine areas of the Commonwealth, is a business-led economic development initiative that supports programs to create more well-paying jobs through incentivized collaboration between business, education and government. Region 3 includes the towns of Danville and Martinsville and the counties of Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward.
“The Farmville Innovation Hub will directly serve the northernmost communities in Region 3,” said Sheri McGuire, executive director of the Longwood Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The Farmville facility will include creative 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 on entrepreneurship and innovation; Southside Virginia Community College workshops and camps for trades, technology and STEM; youth camps in innovative problem solving; teacher professional development; leadership development and community problem solving; and college innovation courses currently co-taught by the Longwood and Hampden-Sydney faculty. Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College entered into this partnership as a community and economic development project.
“Currently, Longwood and Hampden-Sydney are working together on a jointly run innovation course for students from both institutions and will use the space to continue this work,” McGuire added. “Local K-12 school systems were also involved in planning how the space could be used for their classrooms.”
Planning for the project began in 2019.
“The Region 3 Council has gone through a nearly two-year process to develop a strategy to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Region 3,” said Region 3 Program Director Bryan David. . “The strategy includes expanding entrepreneurial programming and strategically connecting resources through current and future entrepreneurial centers strategically located in Southern Virginia.”
“The Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) at Longwood University, including the SBDC, is partnering with the SOVA Innovation Center to implement parts of the plan, including adult entrepreneurship courses and young people 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-Atlantic Broadband to develop the strategy for Region 3 and we partnered with SOVA Innovation Hub to implement portions of the strategy.”
The Farmville Innovation Center will be located in the currently vacant 10,000 square foot building formerly occupied by the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Midtown Square. Funding for the Innovation Center includes GO Virginia’s $674,304 grant to be used for equipment and $500,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.
“We are currently applying to the US Economic Development Administration for the remaining funding,” McGuire said. “The Longwood University Real Estate Foundation has previously invested in architectural and engineering studies and community giving sessions.”
Once completed, the Innovation Hub will strengthen business creation, innovation activities, workforce training, and talent attraction and retention in the greater Farmville area. “Serving as a complement to the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston, the Farmville location will pay dividends for years to come,” Lail concluded. “The expanding network to support entrepreneurship and innovation provides much-needed support to growing small businesses in Southern Virginia.”