UCDA executive director Rob Hinton updates city council on the Innovation Center's progress.

Innovation Center to transform Buckhannon into a ‘gigabit city’

BUCKHANNON – The Innovation Center at the corner of Spring and Main streets is on track to be completed by July’s end, and its opening will enable Buckhannon to brand itself as a “gigabit city,” the executive director of the Upshur County Development Authority told Buckhannon City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

Rob Hinton said the three-story innovation center — designed to attract technology-focused, knowledge-based businesses to Buckhannon — will have the capacity to house multiple enterprises that rely heavily on broadband internet access.

One gigabit is equivalent to an internet speed of 1,000 megabits per second, a speed made possible via a fiber-optic cable internet connection.

“We will have CityNet, which is a fiber provider that will be coming to the building and running a line to the building,” Hinton told council Tuesday. “What that means is that [broadband internet] capacity to the building is really not going to be limited. There’s going to be plenty of bandwidth capacity, which is key to recruiting a knowledge-based business.”

Companies located in the Innovation Center will have access to a 1,000-megabit connection, and even though Bridgeport-based Citynet will provide the main equipment for the setup, businesses that rent space in the innovation center will have the option of choosing their internet provider; for instance, they might choose Suddenlink Communications, Micrologic or Citynet itself.

“The unique thing is that Citynet is going to have a spot in the mechanical room to house their equipment, and they will use that as a central office, which will save them money,” Hinton explained. “That will hopefully expedite fiber (lines) to the premise and help with deployment in the City of Buckhannon. So once Citynet gets to the building, the City of Buckhannon will become a really, really connected place.

“We will become a gigabit city, and we can start advertising as such,” Hinton added. “That’s huge as we move further into the 21st century. Businesses want to hear that. They want to hear that they can buy a 25-meg service and if they need to, they can buy a fiber-connected gig-level service, so that’s very important for us to have.”

Hinton hit a few highlights of the UCDA’s signature economic development project. In total, the cost of the project is about $3.7 million, with a $1.4 million contribution from the development authority.

“Obviously, there’s a grant associated with that total amount, but all in all, the Development Authority will have contributed $1.4 million in debt, so we’re definitely taking a considerable risk, and obviously, I hope it works out,” he said.

Hinton said the UCDA will move from its office across Main Street into the building’s second floor, as will the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and Region VII Planning & Development Council.

“It was a really good idea for us to try to bring all these resources together and try to have them in a one-stop shop, so to speak,” he said. “That will take up probably 35-40 percent of the second floor, and then the rest of the second floor’s going to be what’s called coworking space.”

Coworking space is flexible office space that can be rented on a month-to-month basis by both startup and more established businesses.

“This is a really unique thing for a small, rural community to have,” Hinton said. “It’s very prevalent in larger markets. What we’ll have the ability to do, is we’ll have modern professional office space with all the amenities – connectivity, printing services – that businesses, start-ups can rent today. So, they don’t have to wait on a buildout. They can rent at a really inexpensive cost on a month-to-month basis.”

Hinton said there will be six designated offices on the second floor.

“Obviously, that’s premier office space, so it’s the most expensive, but if [a business] commits to a year, then they get one month free (rent),” he said.

He described the third floor as the prime space the UCDA is marketing to knowledge and technology-based businesses.

“We want to recruit a knowledge-based business to the City of Buckhannon,” Hinton said. “We want to have a business here that will align with the skill sets that students who are coming out of college and graduating have. We don’t have enough opportunities in this state, and we need to increase the opportunities in this state.”

Some examples of knowledge-based businesses include Intuit, a business and financial software company that is moving into Bluefield, and Infor, which specializes in industry-based cloud software that recently opened in Charleston.

Hinton said knowledge-based companies are on the lookout for rural communities in which to settle or set up satellite locations because of the relatively lower cost of doing business when compared to the West Coast and other large U.S. cities.

“These are the companies that we are trying to talk to, to see if they want to do another footprint in Buckhannon,” Hinton said, “but we’re also talking with IBM, Microsoft and other companies that we want to try and attract.”

Thus far, one letter of intent for a business that will be located on the first floor of the Innovation Center has been signed and returned, Hinton said. The first floor will house retail and walk-up restaurants, he said.

But he did dispel one rumor that’s been long brewing.

“Starbucks is not coming here,” Hinton said. “I just want to make sure everybody understands that. It was too small of a market for them. They were interested at one point but not now.”

Hinton said he’s pleased with the appearance and construction of the building, which is being built by Dan Hill Construction.

“The quality of work is pretty impressive,” he said. “We’ve had several compliments on the brick façade. I think the overall sentiment is that building does fit nicely in our downtown, so I think collectively we’ve done a pretty good job at that.”

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