The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority met Friday for their monthly meeting. Tad Deriso, president and CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, was guest speaker.

“I’m sure everyone has seen the noisy construction,” Deriso said, referring to demolition work at the old Hailslip Dental Lab building on Wilborn Avenue. This location will be the home of the SOVA Innovation Hub that is being built by Mid-Atlantic Broadband. The Hub is due to open next fall.

MBC covers 26 counties with data centers. “We step in to build fiber networks” for rural communities that lack broadband internet access, he said.

MBC helps to promote economic growth in Halifax County several ways, Deriso said. One strategy is its “Invest in Virginia” initiative to bring more industry to Halifax County with access to advanced manufacturing sites and data center locations.

MBC’s fiber network offers direct connections to Europe and South America through the two subsea landing stations based in Virginia Beach. “It’s exciting and in the early days,” Deriso said, explaining how the fiber system is equipped for any major company to set up and plug directly into the ultra-high speed digital network.

In addition to creating a data center-ready network, MBC invests in data center site marketing. “We took the variety of requirements a business, like Facebook, would need from Dominion Energy to design our network,” said Deriso.

MBC also takes part in Go Virginia and DHCD initiatives. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development is the state agency responsible for administering the GO Virginia program. This state level initiative aims to grow the economic value of entire regions by examining unmet community needs and providing funds for projects of greatest economic value.

MBC is working with the Longwood Small Business Development Center to provide maps of all the entrepreneurial assets, Deriso said, which are available in Halifax County.

MBC awards many scholarships as a reinvestment in the community of Halifax County. The Wanda Bostic Jeffress Memorial STEM scholarship is provided to graduating seniors who will major in computer engineering. Scholarships are offered to community colleges and every robotics team in southern Virginia. Davis said “we invest $160,000 just in robotics for high school teams.”

MBC will spend over $5 million to build the SOVA Innovation Hub. Microsoft, through its TechSpark initiative, will use the space to encourage innovation and spur economic opportunities in the region. The facility will also bring together local nonprofit organizations from throughout Southern Virginia to offer impactful programming for digital skills education and workforce training.

There’s “lots of excitement with Microsoft” and their Experience Center, which will be located on the Hub first floor along with co-working space. MBC headquarters will be located on the second floor, Deriso added.

An electric fueling station will also be available for those who drive electric vehicles. These charging ports are “actually a draw,” said County Administrator Scott Simpson, who sits in on IDA meetings. Owners of electric cars will travel to a community simply to charge their vehicles.

Deriso added, “Wi-Fi will be available in the downtown South Boston area.”

Microsoft is conducting cross regional discussions, dubbed Voice of the Community Events, with a blend of businesses in eight locations in the United States. Jeremy Satterfield, IDA board member and Microsoft TechSpark Manager for southern Virginia, said the Voice of the Community events hosted by Microsoft are held in communities where the tech giant operates data centers.

The Voice of the Community has held three meetings in Chase City. “These discussions are to brainstorm interest ideas on ways Microsoft can support the region,” said Satterfield. “We don’t want to duplicate a program currently available at the higher education center.”

“It’s awesome, more of these cross regional conversations need to happen,” said Nancy Pool, IDA board member.

The first partner to take space at the Innovation Hub is Code VA, a computer coding literacy organization. They will be setting up the first Southern Virginia Chapter for the Computers Science Teachers Association. “This will give more visibility to digital learning skills,” said Deriso.

From The News and Record