SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Gov. Phil Scott and Congressman Peter Welch visited Springfield Tuesday, Sept. 18 to join the Springfield Regional Development Corporation and the Center on Rural Innovation in announcing the raising of $1 million for the development of a new economy initiative called The Black River Innovation Campus. The new facility will offer computer science training, digital job training, and an entrepreneur center to help create and cultivate new, innovative jobs for the region.
The Black River Innovation Campus will look to attract various technology companies to Springfield by converting vacant spaces in the downtown area into thriving locations for these technology businesses. The initiative will also create opportunities to attract and retain young workers to Vermont, and there are also plans to commit state funds to training workers for the digital economy.
“Springfield was once the center of technology in this region,” SRDC Executive Director Bob Flint said. “Today marks the start of our journey to bring that innovative spirit back to this area and to create new companies and jobs for generations to come.”
The initiative will take advantage of Springfield’s fiber-optic gigabit broadband network that was built by local telephone company VTel through federal government funding. The especially fast broadband infrastructure of this historic downtown will be utilized to encourage entrepreneurism with a long-term residency approach, offering selected companies free work space for a year and direct investment capital. The start-up companies will receive training and connections to various resources such as Dartmouth College and Greylook Partners.
“Today we celebrate the collaboration of businesses, individuals, non-profits and government groups working together to revitalize the Springfield region,” Congressman Welch stated at the event. “I applaud the participants for their leadership and am excited about the enormous potential of this vital project.”
“The BRIC announcement was a very exciting event,” Bob Flint mentioned in a later interview. “It was great to have Gov. Scott and Congressman Welch on hand to help us celebrate and introduce this project to the community.”
However, there will be no waiting for these select start-ups to take off in order to have impact in the community. The California-based Purposelab, a software product development studio, is partnering CORI to train and hire up to 24 software developers over the next year. The entry-level programmers will participate in an intensive online training program and, once selected, will work out of a space based in Springfield.
The progressive approach of this project and the focus on rural communities caught the attention of several national foundations and regional organizations such as The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Siegel Family Endowment, the Vermont Community Foundation, and other members of the Vermont innovation community to assist in funding this effort. BRIC has also applied for a grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration.
The initiative also announced the search for an executive director that will be led by the newly formed Board of Directors. This first hire will craft the strategy for the residential entrepreneurship center, solidify partnerships, and develop the first entrepreneurs.
BRIC will initially locate activities in buildings along the Park Street corridor and is actively working with partners on the potential redevelopment of the former Park Street School building into a state-of-the art community facility that would eventually serve as BRIC’s permanent home. The organization and project leaders are currently seeking additional pre-development funding with hopes of moving forward with the redevelopment project in early 2019.
“This initiative is a project that Matt Dunne and I have been working on for almost two years, and the three components of BRIC that were announced last Tuesday will be getting underway during the next few months,” Flint explained. “The BRIC website offers information about the different aspects of the project, as well as providing a job description for the executive director position of the Entrepreneurship Center. We are undertaking a national search for the position and hope to have someone on board by the end of 2018.”
To learn more about the Black River Innovation Campus, visit www.bricvt.org.