Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) announced its first partner, CodeVA, for the proposed SOVA Innovation Hub during a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, while updating supervisors on plans for the hub.
MBC is asking supervisors to expand the tax-exempt status of its organization to also cover real estate and buildings, in reference to the planned $5 million SOVA Innovation Hub on Wilborn Avenue in South Boston.
MBC representatives including Tad Deriso, president and CEO, and Mark Varah, CFO, were at Tuesday’s meeting to make the case for expanding the group’s tax exempt status, currently limited to computer equipment and fiber cable.
Deriso and Varah want supervisors to also consider extending the tax exemption ordinance to include related MBC personal property, with the amendment relating to MBC only and not including any property owned by Microsoft or other private properties.
He told supervisors they want to customize space at the hub to leverage Microsoft and its Tech Spark program and allow for the addition of partners such as CodeVA.
CodeVA is a non-profit that partners with schools, parents and communities to bring equitable computer science education to Virginia students.
“It will increase digital skills and digital literacy in Halifax County and South Boston,” he added.
“We want to take this facility to the next level and make a big impact,” said Deriso, who anticipates ground being broken for the Innovation Hub in October.
He told supervisors MBC has outgrown its current space.
“We look at the size of the building and the investment we’re making, and it’s much larger than we need,” said Deriso. “We felt there was an opportunity to leverage Microsoft in what they’re doing with their Tech Spark Initiative.”
Plans are for an innovation center on the first floor of the hub for use by non-profit organizations.
“It’ll probably have some of the fastest internet speed on the east coast,” Deriso said with a smile.
Architects currently are finalizing construction drawings for the hub.
In support of its request, Varah told supervisors MBC pays $180,000 over three years to support SVHEC’s IT Academy; supports the Halifax County CometBots robotics program to the tune of $10,000 a year; pays in excess of $500,000 to support the TV White Space Project for broadband access in Halifax County; and funds annual Wanda Jeffress college scholarships to Halifax County High School at a rate of $5,000 each year.
The Innovation Hub’s mission is to serve as the focal point and gathering space for the Southern Virginia TechSpark region by bringing together regional non-profit partners, educational institutions and new start-ups, according to MBC’s presentation.
Initial program partners will benefit from the hub-spoke model to further enhance and expand their tech talent pipeline opportunities, and other partners in Virginia or surrounding states can be added as the program develops and expands, according to the presentation.
It also will serve to drive economic development in the region, increase community impact and accelerate skills training and connections to jobs.
The SOVA Innovation Hub will operate as a 501(c)(3) organization, with MBC and Microsoft constituting the initial board, according to Deriso and Varah.
MBC will fund the new building, while Microsoft will fund the programming.
In answering a question from ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon, Deriso said MBC continues its involvement in bringing broadband to rural areas such as Halifax County.
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative is expanding fiber to its customers in Halifax County, and RiverStreet (North Carolina) has received federal money for fiber to homes in other areas of the county, Deriso told Brandon.
The Virginia Tobacco Commission, via its telecom initiative, is funding at least $19 million statewide for increased broadband expansion working with the private sector, Deriso added.
“We donated $150,000 worth of towers to the county to help fix wireless projects the county is doing,” he said.
MBC currently has about 20 employees in South Boston, but once the hub is up and running, easily 40-50 jobs will be created in the next three to five years, including those of partners at the hub.
“Benefits to the community are significant with robotics and other technical initiatives,” Dennis Witt, ED-4 supervisor and board chairman, told Deriso.
On a motion by ED-8 supervisor W. Bryant Claiborne and a second from Brandon, supervisors voted 7-0 to hold a public hearing at the Oct. 7 supervisors meeting to hear comment on changes to the MBC tax ordinance.
ED-1 supervisor J. T. Davis was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.