Discovery Zone: Innovation is Booming in Advantage Valley

Cost advantages, access to resources ignite innovation across the region.

By
Bill Lewis
On Monday, October 12, 2020 - 11:21
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When NASA, the U.S. military, large and small manufacturers, financial institutions and thousands of businesses across the country have questions, they often find the answers in Advantage Valley.

The presence of major companies and research institutions as well as entrepreneurs who want to work where they want to live makes Advantage Valley an ideal environment for innovation. The region’s skilled workforce, lower costs, network of resources and superior quality of life make it an attractive alternative to expensive coastal cities.

A critical mass of major companies is helping to drive innovation in the region. Global eye care company Alcon has two operations in Huntington, where it is the company’s only U.S. location to make the intraocular lens, which replaces the eye’s natural lens as part of the surgery to fix cataracts.

Advantage Valley offers a wealth of resources to support innovation, such as the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) and the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC).

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Rick Lee / Robert C. Byrd Institute

Driving Innovation

For 30 years, the RCBI has delivered services to manufacturers, entrepreneurs, educators and students.

“We’ve assisted such industry titans as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Toyota – to name a few – as well as provided technical assistance to NASA, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy,” says Charlotte Weber, RCBI director and CEO. “In fact, we have delivered services to more than 6,500 manufacturers and entrepreneurs across the country, including many right here in West Virginia.”

Workforce training is a key component of RCBI’s operation. It’s Machinist Technology/CNC and Welding Technology programs and its Apprenticeship Works initiative are nationally recognized.

Advanced Technology Centers

RCBI’s advanced technology centers provide access to shared equipment and cutting-edge technologies for lease on an hourly basis. RCBI provides clients a wide array of design engineering, reverse engineering, additive manufacturing – also known as 3D printing – and rapid prototyping capabilities.

RCBI’s early-stage funding programs have generated more than $70 million in state sales and led to the creation of nearly 400 jobs, according to economic impact analyses by Marshall University.

“Prototypes, building skill sets, marketing assistance and commercialization viability are vital for taking ideas to investors and ultimately to market. You need something people can see, touch, feel and understand its potential,” Weber says.

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Robert C. Byrd Institute

Taking Ideas to Market

MATRIC, an independent, nonprofit research firm based in South Charleston, grew from high-level talent that had been part of Union Carbide’s world research headquarters before Dow acquired the company.

MATRIC leverages expertise in chemicals, energy, environmental issues and advanced software to provide contract R&D services that help innovators quickly move ideas from conception to market.

“Being located in Advantage Valley affords us the opportunity to recruit some of the best, most diverse talent this country has to offer. Whether trade or university trained, this region produces some of the most innovative, hardworking, critical thinkers,” says Steve Hedrick, president and CEO of MATRIC. “As an employer, we are able to offer competitive compensation, along with an inclusive region that provides affordable cost of living, great schools and safe neighborhoods.”

Tech in the Heartland

The region has cultivated a corps of technology-oriented innovation companies that can leverage lower costs, access to talent and proximity to major universities such as Marshall University, the University of Charleston and West Virginia State University.

Infor, a global leader in business cloud software specialized by industry, has opened an office in Charleston to run cloud solutions for government agencies. Blue Ink Tech in Huntington develops electronic logging and monitoring apps for truckers.

Software development company Core10 offers cost-effective services for the financial industry from its Hereshore center in Advantage Valley. Hereshore is Core10’s trademarked term for bringing jobs to the heartland.

“There was this myth that people thought development capability in the U.S. was the best but also the most expensive,” says Lee Farabaugh, co-founder of Core10.

The company provides technical consulting work for innovative banks, credit unions and financial services companies that have learned that West Virginia’s software development industry is second to none while also less expensive than Silicon Valley.

The company has about 25 employees in West Virginia and may soon add more. They make above market wages, but less than on the coast, while living in their community of choice.

Core10’s talent pipeline includes graduates of local universities, Mountwest Community & Technical College and coders changing careers through the NewForce boot camp.

“There is a tremendous sense of community in the region,” Farabaugh says. “They want to stay there.”

High in Cyber

Advantage Valley higher education institutions have developed highly regarded programs in emerging fields such as cybersecurity. The University of Charleston offers a two-year cybersecurity degree and a four-year cybersecurity and information assurance degree.

Marshall University, in 2019, launched a program for a graduate degree in cybersecurity. The program strengthened existing programs by creating new pathways for students in bachelor’s programs, including computer science, technology management, digital forensics and information assurance, electrical and computer engineering, management information systems and criminal justice.

If you'd like to learn more about the Advantage Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, WV.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.