The University of Virginia’s College at Wise has officially opened a high tech facility designed to promote economic growth by providing access to a powerful telecommunications infrastructure so information technology workers can telecommute, and the center will help entrepreneurs pursue new business ventures.

The Oxbow Center, located in St. Paul, Virginia, is the first co-working facility in the seven county, one city region of far Southwest Virginia. High tech start-up companies can begin operations at Oxbow as they grow and become successful enough to find a permanent location in the region.

The Oxbow Center will also include the development of the Clinch River Ecological Education Center. CREEC is expected to open in spring of 2020.

“We are bringing together technologists, entrepreneurs and environmental education under one roof,” Chancellor Donna P. Henry said at the Nov. 13 ribbon cutting. “We are looking forward to the synergies that will result.”

Henry said higher education and economic development go hand-in-hand.

“We will always work with our regional and local economic development professionals to assist them in their work to attract new businesses to the region and to support the growth of existing ones,” Henry said. “Our goal is to work with companies who use the Oxbow Center to connect them with existing resources in the region and to work with economic development professionals in the region to find them a place for expansion when they are ready.”

The College, through the Oxbow Center, is partnering with the Center for Innovative Technologies, Atomicorp, Mapcom Systems, the Virginia Tobacco Commission and Clinch River State Park.

Ed Albrigo, president and chief executive officer of CIT, has partnered with the College for about four years. The company invests in start-up companies in high tech fields. The region has an abundance of talent, especially because of the strong education offered at UVA Wise, he explained.

Albrigo said there was no reason not to bring the young companies to the region, host them for a day or two, and let them see what Southwest Virginia offers.

“It’s a fabulous region,” he said.

Scott Shinn, chief technology officer for Atomicorp, praised the partnership with the College. The company develops software that protects businesses that use the cloud for storage. The region’s broadband system and the ability for workers to do tasks remotely are just two reasons it is possible for small businesses to get a start in the area.

Shinn said UVA Wise has helped with economic development needs and helped the company create a strong relationship with students and graduates.

“UVA Wise has been the best I’ve ever seen,” Shinn said. “It’s about talent. Where you live does not dictate that so much. We’re here because of the talent.”

Don Finley, a former secretary of education for Virginia, was on hand to tout the Growth4VA campaign, a group of advocates who believe Virginia’s strong higher education system is vital to growth and development across the Commonwealth. He said higher education is the biggest economic engine in Virginia, and he urged the crowd to join Growth4VA’s efforts to keep colleges and universities affordable.

Chancellor Henry summed up the ceremony by saying those gathered had “placed a flag in the ground that this is the best time to invest in Southwest Virginia, and Southwest Virginia is the place for entrepreneurs and the Oxbow Center is the place for entrepreneurs.”

The Oxbow Center was gifted to the UVA Wise Foundation in 2016 by the Oxbow Foundation. Soon after, it underwent its first phase of renovations, including the creation of a coworking space, conference room, classroom and private offices.
To learn more about the Oxbow Center, its programs and how UVA Wise is promoting entrepreneurship throughout Southwest Virginia, visit www.oxbowcenter.com.

Photo by Earl Neikirk