September 27, 2022

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MOVA Technologies holds patents for a filtration system “designed to convert captured pollutants into an economic asset for industry use.”
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge was a $1 billion U.S. Economic Development Administration program funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. Despite a valiant effort and a designation as a national finalist, a Virginia Tech-led coalition of 50 Southwest Virginia organizations did not win the challenge and the millions in federal funding that would have brought.
The proposal Tech spearheaded drew on fields where the university and its affiliated companies and partners are already leaders: the development of automated and electric vehicles, and drone delivery. The fact that the proposal didn’t grab the gold when winners were announced Sept. 2 demonstrates mainly that nothing is guaranteed when the competition is fierce.
Notable: a Richmond-Petersburg-based project was one of the winners, the Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Cluster, which officials with organization partner Virginia State University said will “expand the domestic supply chain for essential medicines and critical active pharmaceutical ingredients” — so Virginia did at least get about $53 million of that $1 billion.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, has cited Tech’s run at that challenge as an example of the kind of organizational experience needed to compete for one of the 20 regional technology hubs slated to be created by the CHIPS and Science Act that President Joe Biden signed into law Aug. 9. The act designates $10 billion toward these hubs, which need not be connected to semiconductor chip manufacturing.
The White House issued a statement touting these hubs as a product of partnerships between state and local governments, universities, businesses, labor unions and community organizations that will spur innovation in such realms as clean energy and artificial intelligence.
Left unsaid yet unmistakably clear, these hubs are intended to found high tech development in areas far outside the urban coastal cities where such industries have been hyper-concentrated.
The founder, president, chairman and former CEO of one of the New River Valley’s high tech companies sees an opportunity for Southwest Virginia in development of precision agriculture, which envisions farming the land using advanced technology that makes up-to-the-minute adjustments to multiple patches of soil within a single field. This allows many different types of crops to be grown on subdivided “microsites,” instead of uniformly, mechanically tending a few crops on one large tract. The techniques can also be applied to animal husbandry and forestry.
Entrepreneur Steve Critchfield said that his downtown Pulaski climate tech company, MOVA Technologies, is focused around precision agriculture, which he notes is singled out in the CHIPS and Science Act as a field, so to speak, to support.
Steve Critchfield
MOVA recently received a $174,000 Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund testing of an air filtration system meant to capture harmful chemical emissions from agricultural processes and not just clean the air of pollutants, but separate and recycle them into forms that can be reused or resold. MOVA is developing this system in a public-private partnership with Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture — the company’s fourth collaboration with Virginia Tech.
“Climate tech, sustainable green tech is not a buzz word any more. It is a way of economic growth, and our future,” Critchfield said. He hopes to see similar businesses attracted to the region by MOVA’s work, ambitions not dissimilar to the Roanoke region’s dreams for the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
Critchfield noted that the CHIPS Act technology hubs dovetail with recommendations made by a 2019 report from the Brookings Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
The authors of “The Case for Growth Centers” argued that the concentration of high-tech innovation in a handful of major coastal cities has deepened our country’s economic and political divides, with 90% of growth from 2005 to 2017 happening in just five cities, the report said.
That imbalance did not just apply to tech R&D industries. The study showed that every other industrial sector benefited from being in proximity to innovation sector growth — an economic boon to which most of the nation had no access.
For the sake of increasing economic opportunity and reducing division, the study advocated that the federal government should “assemble a major package of federal innovation inputs and supports for innovation-sector scale-up in metropolitan areas distant from existing tech hubs.” Further, the report asserted that “numerous metropolitan areas in most regions have the potential to become one of America’s next dynamic innovation centers.”
One might find it discouraging that none of these areas of potential identified in the report were located in Virginia. Critchfield, however, said it’s no secret that Southwest Virginia has this potential.
“If we had been where we are now when the report was issued we should, would have been on it,” he said. In a region that encompasses Botetourt, Roanoke, Montgomery and Pulaski counties, other counties to the west and east, and the cities and towns contained therein, there’s much with potential for tech hub attraction, like the Virginia Tech Carilion healthcare partnership, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and “a larger educated workforce and population.”
Critchfield’s optimism and enthusiasm is contagious. As with the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, a tech hub for Southwest Virginia can’t be counted as a sure thing but a group effort conducted with his attitude surely has a fighting chance. And even if we don’t land a hub, the potential to evolve into a high-tech growth center will only grow larger.
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MOVA Technologies holds patents for a filtration system “designed to convert captured pollutants into an economic asset for industry use.”
Steve Critchfield
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