ROCK CAVE – What’s going into the new Innovation Center being built at the corner of Spring and Main streets? What will the old armory on Route 20 South house? And why are more than 26 broadband towers being constructed throughout Upshur, Barbour and Randolph counties?
Upshur County Development Authority Executive Director Rob Hinton delivered an update aimed at answering those questions Wednesday at the Southern Upshur Business Association’s annual dinner at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department.
Hinton discussed three main upcoming and/or in-progress infrastructure and economic development projects.
Bringing the tri-county area up to (high)-speed
Hinton first discussed the broadband internet expansion project, which involves the construction of 26 new towers, which will make internet available in parts of the county that have not previously been able to access it.
The project is being funded by a $3 million federal grant obtained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service and will connect about 90 percent of Upshur County households to the internet.
The grant is known as the Community Connect Broadband grant.
“We have to be able to compete in 21st century economy,” Hinton said. “One of the fundamental resources and infrastructure that we need is broadband.”
He explained that broadband is essentially a term for high-speed internet that is always accessible and faster than dial-up internet.
Hinton said the development authority started working on projects in fall 2015 for funding to expand broadband into Upshur County.
“Buckhannon has good broadband and has a lot of different options,” Hinton said. “You can go to cable company, you can go to a wireless company or with a phone company if you so choose, you can do whatever you want, [but] we have to figure out how to bring broadband to the rest of the county.”
He said they began working with Micrologic, a local communication infrastructure and technology company that has seen success.
“We were awarded a $3 million grant from USDA,” Hinton said, referring to the Community Connect grant. “We have the largest application project area in the history of USDA. The biggest before us was 100 square miles, and we are about 15 shy of 1,000 miles.”
He said 26 new towers will be erected throughout a three-county area that includes Randolph and Barbour counties; as a result, about 3,000 homes in Upshur County will be able to sign up for broadband internet service.
“The average cost of service is going to be just what Micrologic has at their level of service,” Hinton said. “I think it’s $39 or $40 for 25 megabytes, and we have it at the office, it works great.”
Hinton said other counties have benefited from this project as well.
“We work with Randolph County and pulled it in Barbour County,” Hinton said. “The USDA and Congress are opening up more funding because they acknowledge broadband is an issue. We have to have it so we can increase the curriculum opportunities for our local school system; we need to have it because we can improve the ability of telework and remote work from home.”
He said there are programs available online for job training, but people without reliable internet won’t be able to take advantage of those programs.
“Congress opened up another $200 million for this year, and we wrote in Tucker County, and Lewis County because it’s like the old saying, ‘give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime,’” Hinton said. “So, what we’re doing is, we’re trying to teach the other counties how we did this so they can go after the money and expand and fill all these gray areas.”
Innovation Center to offer flexible workspace and cater to entrepreneurs
The next project Hinton talked about is the new Innovation Center being built on Main Street at its intersection with Spring Street.
“We’re building an innovation center in downtown Buckhannon – that’s the big building across from Chase Bank, and what we intend to do with that project is to use resources that mimic the Cambridge Innovation Center,” Hinton said.
According to Cambridge Innovation Center’s website, CIC innovation sites provide flexible office and coworking space as well as access to conference rooms, high-speed internet, printing, copying, technical support and more.
He explained the inspiration for the project came from an entrepreneur program started in Boston on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s campus.
“We don’t have a population of Boston, and we don’t have MIT here,” Hinton said, “but we still have smart people … We have West Virginia Wesleyan, and we have people in our school system so we can create the micro-model, and because we have good connectivity and broadband, we can tie into those resources.”
He said UCDA is looking into scheduling training programs with organizations that have started doing technology training, like coding.
“I know what needs to happen,” Hinton said. “However, I am not a coder. I’m not a technology guy, so we need to bring the people here that can teach these courses and make this work.”
He mentioned there’s a program called NewForce, an intensive technology training program in Huntington, W.Va., with which Generation West Virginia is working. According to its website, Generation West Virginia is a statewide organization that’s dedicated to attracting and keeping talented young people in the Mountain State.
NewForce has partnered with Nashville Software School to develop an intensive six-month training program. Hinton would ideally like programs like NewForce to be available in the innovation center; under these types of six-month or year-long training programs, people could gain the skills necessary to land an entry-level job in the tech sector or decide to move on to more advanced courses.
Baltimore, Maryland-based Rx Remedies, Inc. planning to move a processing facility into the ‘old armory’
The final project Hinton discussed is what would be going into the old armory along Route 20.
“One of our test projects on bringing a startup business to Upshur County is actually going to happen in the armory, and so I’m going to explain what’s going on in the armory because I’m sure everybody’s heard rumors,” Hinton said. “We’ve recruited a company out of Baltimore, Maryland called Rx Remedies, and what they do is they manufacture what’s called a CBD product and that comes from hemp. Hemp is legal, and hemp is completely different from marijuana.”
Rx Remedies Inc. was previously known as bioRemedies. Rx Remedies’ website – rxremediesinc.com – says the company is dedicated to selling “hemp-derived, cannabidiol (CBD) products, manufactured according to FDA guidelines, in a pharmaceutical setting.”
CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a chemical compound derived from hemp. Unlike marijuana, which contains THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause users to experience a high when using it. Rx Remedies, Inc.’s website says CBD oil can be used as a health supplement and is effective in treating chronic pain, inflammation, nausea, anxiety, mild-to-moderate depression and more.
Hinton said a processing facility will be going into the old armory where hemp products will be broken down so oil can be extracted from the hemp; the oil will then be shipped back to Rx Remedies’ headquarters in Baltimore.
“They’re going to make CBD products that are used to have medical benefits,” Hinton said. “The other thing that’s going to happen is that they’re going to break down the hemp stalk –
the plant itself – and then break it down into either a fiber or a feedstock pellet product that can be used in different manufacturing.”
He said hemp can also be used in the textile industry and be beneficial to farmers.
“That’s where we can see a lot of growth by having a processing facility in Buckhannon,” Hinton said. “There’s the opportunity for small manufacturing outfits to center around that processing facility.”
He said Levi’s recently had an advertisement for a pair of jeans that were 30 percent hemp fiber and 70 percent cotton.
“The other thing is that it opens up an opportunity for farming and agriculture to have a product that they can grow and have a market to sell,” Hinton said.
After Hinton concluded his speech, SUBA announced its Citizen of the Year and Business of the Year. The Citizen of the Year went to Clyde Campbell and the Business of the Year was The Gaines Diner.