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Tech Hub Project Gets a Boost in Springfield, Vt.



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, December 06, 2018

Springfield, Vt. — The Black River Innovation Campus will be able to accelerate its efforts to create a digital economic hub in Springfield after receiving a federal grant this week.

The $724,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration was one of just 40 awards in the country this year and the only one with a “rural digital economy focus,” Springfield Regional Development Corp. said in a news release.

“The fact we got the full amount is remarkable,” SRDC Executive Director Bob Flint said on Thursday. “This will allow the BRIC project to move forward more aggressively.”

Separately this week, SRDC told the Springfield School Board that it will exercise an option to buy the former Park Street School. Flint emphasized on Thursday that the dual announcements were just coincidental — none of the grant money can be used toward any property purchases. He said use of the Park Street School by BRIC is a long way off, if it even happens.

“It could be housed in Park Street, but BRIC is not dependent on us getting the school,” Flint said.

BRIC is a venture of SRDC and the Hartland-based Center for Rural Innovation, which secured $1 million in funding in September to launch the initiative. The center is a nonprofit focused on developing digital economic hubs in small towns, and Springfield was chosen as the pilot community last year for several reasons including the presence of high-speed internet and renewable energy.

“The Black River Innovation Campus was created to reimagine rural economic development strategies and leverage Springfield’s assets to create new opportunities for digital economy employment and entrepreneurship,” the SRDC news release said.

Center for Rural Innovation Executive Director Matt Dunne said the grant will be a boost to BRIC’s three-pronged approach to a digital “ecosystem” based in Springfield, which was hit hard by the decline in the machine tool industry and the loss of jobs.

“This gives us confidence to hire leadership positions for BRIC and support the activities that will be critical to developing the digital ecosystem,” Dunne said.

BRIC has three main objectives: a remote workplace for digital employees in Springfield; an entrepreneurship center for the creation of new technology businesses; and a partnership with the Springfield School District and local organizations to assist students in learning and participating in computer science, robotics and computational thinking.

Flint said the remote workplace concept already has gotten off the ground with a contract with a California tech company. He anticipates hiring, training and housing by PurposeLab of the first group of up to 24 employees to begin shortly after the new year. PurposeLab designs mobile apps, content and e-commerce platforms. Flint further expects additional contracts might be developed based on the agreement with PurposeLab.

The entrepreneurial center is expected to hire a director soon, and Flint said the first pilot projects will begin to move forward. The school-based computer science education initiative will start early next year.

“They are all moving forward on similar but different trajectories,” Flint said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.