Governor Phil Scott and Congressman Peter Welch joined Springfield Regional Development Corporation (SRDC) and the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) to announce $1M raised for a new economy initiative in Springfield. The Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC) will bring together digital job training, computer science education and an entrepreneurship center to create innovation jobs.
“Springfield was once the center of technology in the region,” said Bob Flint, Executive Director of SRDC. “Today marks the start of our journey to bring that innovative spirit back to this valley and create the new companies and jobs for generations to come.”
Built on exceptionally fast gigabit broadband infrastructure in this historic downtown, BRIC will use proven strategies for encouraging entrepreneurship, but with a new long term residency approach that will provide selected teams free live/work space for a year along with direct investment capital. The startups will receive training, connections to other innovation resources from around the country, including those at Dartmouth College, and mentorship and support from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners.
“Today we celebrate a robust collaboration of businesses, individuals, non-profits, and government groups working together to revitalize the Springfield region,” said Congressman Welch. “I applaud participants for their leadership and am excited about the enormous potential of this vital project.”
The initiative is not waiting for the startups to take off in order to have an impact. PurposeLab, a California-based software product development studio, is partnering with CORI to train and hire up to 24 software developers over the next year. The entry level programmers will participate in an intensive online training program and, once selected, will work out of a live/work space based in Springfield. The application process for the program will begin by the end of this year.
“This initiative is about providing high paying jobs for the next generation of Vermonters, which is so important for our work to expand our workforce and bring more families and businesses to Vermont,” said Governor Scott. “We’re pleased to support this initiative through the Vermont Training Program, which provides for digital skills training that will lead to new job opportunities today and a trained workforce as these startups start to grow in Springfield.”
The unique approach of this initiative and the focus on rural communities caught the attention of national foundations and regional organizations. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Siegel Family Endowment joined forces with the Vermont Community Foundation and other members of the VT innovation community to fund this effort. BRIC has also applied for a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration.
“Digital economy jobs are a critical piece of any healthy economy and yet we have not seen this sector effectively engage rural communities,” said Katy Knight of the Siegel Family Endowment, which funded the creation of the computer science education platform Scratch and committed the first $250,000 to the BRIC initiative. “We are excited about this inclusive approach that addresses both entrepreneurship and building the future workforce.”
BRIC announced the launch of a search for an Executive Director that will be led by the newly formed board of directors. This first hire will craft the strategy for the residential entrepreneurship center, solidify partnerships and onboard the first entrepreneurs.
“The Center on Rural Innovation is committed to bringing digital economy jobs to rural communities across the country,” said Matt Dunne, Executive Director of the Vermont-based Center on Rural Innovation, which led the fundraising and partnership building efforts. “There was no better place to start than right here in Springfield, VT. We believe this can become a model for hundreds of small towns.”
While BRIC will initially locate activities in buildings along the Park Street corridor, the organization is actively working with partners on the potential redevelopment of the former Park Street School building into a state-of-the-art live/work/community facility that would eventually serve as BRIC’s permanent home. The organization and project leaders are currently seeking additional pre-development funding with hopes of moving forward with the redevelopment project in early 2019.