The city of Lynchburg could be in the running for a new federal designation as a Regional Technology Hub, resulting in a share of $500 million in research funding.
Congress has appropriated funding for the new Tech Hubs program as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. This gives the Economic Development Administration (EDA) the authority to designate Tech Hubs across the country and award funding for strategy development and implementation.
The program’s goal is to use this funding as a catalyst to create jobs for American workers within regions that drive technology and innovation.
With technology-based businesses already on the rise in Lynchburg and the surrounding area, earning the Tech Hub designation would significantly impact the community’s economy.
“CloudFit is a great example of a homegrown tech company starting up in Lynchburg. CloudFit Software was founded in March 2018 by a group of cloud pioneers from Microsoft. The company is a select Microsoft partner serving Fortune 500 and Department of Defense customers. CloudFit software currently has hired 164 full-time-equivalent employees including both Lynchburg-based and remote workers,” said Marjette Upshur, Director of Economic Development and Tourism for the City of Lynchburg.
Many of these new jobs associated with the Regional Tech Hub designation will not require four-year degrees. They will primarily focus on strengthening U.S. national and economic security by developing clusters of businesses, communities, colleges, and universities. Qualifications for the Tech Hub designation include the presence of local higher education institutions; firms relevant to technology, innovation, or manufacturing; and economic development organizations that focus on improving science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Because Lynchburg is home to both universities and technology-driven companies like Innovate Lynchburg, BWXT, Framatome, CloudFit, all of which have operations locally, the city is more than qualified to apply for this funding.
“Lynchburg is the leading nuclear technology cluster in the U.S. with firms such as Framatome and BWX Technologies headquartered in the City,” Upshur pointed out. “As nuclear technology and innovation forms a larger impact on alternative power generation, biotechnology, cybersecurity, and other sectors, the opportunity to grow and expand Lynchburg’s energy and technology sectors is substantial.”
Technology-based companies can exist in any sector from lighting to cybersecurity and beyond. Local companies like Data Privia cover everything from education to the government space, and CTA Communications deals with public safety telecommunications showing how wide-reaching the technology space can grow.
“There’s not a company today that’s not a tech company—you can be a boutique, you can be in makeup,” said Scott Pleasants of Innovate Lynchburg.
“Technology is a part of almost every industry; it is particularly important to the advancement of the healthcare industry and for our advanced manufacturing employers,” Upshur added.
Even businesses we don’t traditionally think of as being technology-based are focused on this growth.
Pleasants spoke of Lynchburg’s large manufacturing footprint, “If I were looking [at] cybersecurity, manufacturing is one of the biggest risks in our supply chain because it’s an easy target, like a lot of nonprofits. But it’s also one that, if disrupted, can pretty much destroy an economy.”
According to Pleasants, technology implemented in the right industries and businesses could keep important supply chains and resources operational. He believes using technology to reinforce existing infrastructure would be valuable.
“I think if we can bring companies that can complement what’s here currently, that’s a big win,” he said.
Resulting crossover jobs and opportunities could work well with the entities already in place here, rather than drawing in unrelated businesses.
Should Lynchburg be designated as a Tech Hub, more companies would likely call the area home. Some could support local, established businesses that are already thriving, giving local job seekers and employees access to greater growth opportunities. Additionally, larger companies that are restructuring in the wake of the pandemic could consider creating their own regional hubs in the area because of its access to technological growth.
This means companies looking to create their own regional hubs could be drawn to areas with Tech Hub designations. Pleasants uses large, household-name companies as an example of this restructuring and transformation.
“If you’ve looked at the landscape of a lot of areas—REI, Bass Pro Shops—during COVID […] they started to shut down their main superstructures, as far as their headquarters. They’ve gone to more regional ideas or hubs,” he said. “I think if we can market ourselves as [a Tech Hub], we’ve got the infrastructure to handle the growth.”
As a city well-versed in technology-based companies, Lynchburg contributes to the country’s economic growth—in fact, Lynchburg’s manufacturing sector is 22% larger than the national average. The work currently being done in the area has quietly thrived, arguably going unnoticed by many. Local, tech-driven companies tend to focus on hard work, not accolades.
If Lynchburg receives a Tech Hub designation, that means national recognition for the city and its opportunities. With further investment into local tech-based businesses, not only would the area begin to attract more new community members, more jobs, and more accessibility; it would also facilitate more support for what is already in place in the community.
Attracting new business and economic growth could potentially help fill existing industry gaps with complementary businesses, workers, and opportunities. Additional funding for the area could make the rate of growth quicker than expected without it. Industries looking for new locations, students looking for qualified education, and families looking for opportunities to advance may also find the area attractive.
If Lynchburg is strategic about acquiring and implementing this Tech Hub designation, it could have significant impact on the area’s economic growth, job opportunities, and educational advancements. Though this may be a hypothetical now as the federal government is looking over its candidates, it’s entirely possible we see a promising future for the local economy.