The region’s history of TBED activities goes back to the original formation of the Lynchburg Region partnership in 1989. This collaborative partnership of the city of Lynchburg, the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell, and the towns of Bedford, Altavista and Brookneal was recognized as a model for regional collaboration and served as the genesis of many economic development organizations and initiatives over the past 30 years. A simple timeline of TBED organizations and initiatives is provided in Figure 2.
Figure 2 – Timeline of TBED Organizations in the Region
One of the first new initiatives was the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Association (AMTA). Created in 1996, AMTA’s mission was to support regional manufacturing companies and the manufacturing cluster through workforce development programs and the establishment of an active manufacturing industry cluster. Since manufacturing was one of the largest technology sectors in the region, in 1998 AMTA served as the region’s first “Technology Council”, representing the region at the state level, in addition to functioning as a technology center for advanced manufacturing.
Soon after that, the Lynchburg Region Technology Council was created to take the tech council initiative to the next level. The Tech Council expanded the reach into the IT and tech based entrepreneurial sectors in the region, as well as actively participating in the Virginia Technology Association, a consortium of the state’s regional tech councils.
In the ensuing years, the regional work plan created and spun off two new organizations – the Future Focus Foundation (FFF) and the Young Professionals of Central Virginia (YPCV). The Future Focus Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focused on STEM education and career development at the K-12 level. The YPCV is a membership organization dedicated to cultivating a young, vibrant, professional community by hosting events that connect YP’s to local businesses, causes, the attractions of our region and each other.
In 2006 the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) was established to focus on the need to expand the capacity in the region for R&D and for technology commercialization. The CAER work plan included establishing stronger research agreements with multiple universities, supporting technology commercialization and providing physical infrastructure for these activities. In 2011, the CAER facility was opened in the New London Technology Park in Bedford County. Over the next six years, the efforts of the CAER yielded some significant economic development results, summarized in figure 3. In 2017 the CAER facility was sold to Liberty University (LU) to become part of their growing engineering school.
As each one of these organizations grew, they become more independent and much of the original collaboration was lost. Over the last few years a number of other events have occurred that require a reevaluation of the region’s TBED plan. The merger of the regional Economic Development organization with the Chamber of Commerce created a new regional organization – the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance (LRBA). The Tech Council initially merged with the LRBA but then broke off again to operate independently. The role of TBED in the LRBA’s work plan needs to be determined. One of the strategic goals in the 2019 LRBA plan is to “Support and blend technology and innovation-focused economic development into the Alliance’s work program. The CAER (Center for Advanced Engineering and Research) will be blended into the Alliance as a single working group and tasked with assisting tech entrepreneurs and high-growth potential companies. This new group will be led by a Deputy Director of TBED and charged with developing new networking opportunities, programs, partnerships, and STEM outreach programs that drive growth in this area.”
There is now an opportunity to develop next phase of a TBED work plan for region that regains the power of regional and organizational collaboration.