An economic development grant program for Central Virginia localities launched last fall has so far received only a handful of applications.
GO Virginia, launched in 2015, is a state-funded economic development initiative that encourages regional collaboration on economic and workforce development activities. The program began accepting applications for grant funding in 2017.
GO Virginia Region 9, recently named the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor, includes the city of Charlottesville the counties of Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson and Orange.
GO Virginia Regional Council 9 will distribute $800,000 in state funds to support projects in the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor. The grant awards also must be approved by the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board.
The Virginia GO Board will award up to $11.3 million in additional funds statewide for projects involving multiple GO Virginia regions.
Region 9 did not submit any applications for the first round of evaluations by the state board in December.
“At this point, we don’t have enough fully fledged ideas to spend all of that money,” said Helen Cauthen, president of the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development.
Proposals for GO Virginia grants must involve two or more localities that commit to providing matching funds of at least $50,000 for requests of up to $250,000, or at least 20 percent of larger requests.
The locality match can be partially waived if the population of the participating localities exceeds half the total population of Region 9 — about 211,000.
“It’s hard to get to 211,000 residents in our region without including Albemarle County and Charlottesville,” said Cauthen.
Last year the Central Virginia Partnership and Regional Council 9 contracted with Camoin and Associates, an economic development consulting firm, to create a Growth and Diversification Plan for the region. The plan established guidelines for the allocation of GO Virginia grant awards in the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor.
The Growth and Diversification Plan selected five industries that the GO Virginia grants will target: financial and business services; food and beverage manufacturing; information technology/communications; light manufacturing; and biomedical/biotechnology.
The plan also identified initiatives that the funds should support, including talent development, growing existing businesses, startups, innovation and commercialization, and site readiness and development.
“We are just trying to be helpful in identifying connections and existing resources that might be able to boost their proposal,” said Pace Lochte, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives at the University of Virginia. “The goal is really to help develop strong proposals so folks from our region can be successful in the state round.”
Lochte replaced UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan as the university’s representative on Regional Council 9 in November. She said the council is still trying to identify best practices for applicants in GO Virginia’s first year of awarding grants.
“The process has kind of been stop-and-start so far,” Lochte said. “But the more we learn, the more we are positioned to be proactive.”
Jim Cheng, former secretary of commerce and trade under Gov. Bob McDonnell, works with Lochte on the Regional Council 9 task force on startups, innovation and commercialization.
In 2016 Cheng co-founded CAV Angels, an investment group for UVa alumni. He said GO Virginia funds potentially could support new entrepreneurial accelerator programs in the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor.
“People in the creative, entrepreneurial world don’t necessarily want to deal with government,” Cheng said. “But we know that there are creative ideas [for GO Virginia projects] out there.”
Shannon Holland, special projects manager for the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development, said several entities in the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor have submitted pre-application forms to the regional council.
One proposed project would create a workforce development program for machinist jobs at the George Washington Carver Center in Culpeper County.
Another project would establish a vocational apprenticeship network through Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg.
A third project would improve site readiness for potential new businesses at predetermined industrial and office parks throughout the region.
In December, the Virginia GO Board approved five projects in the program’s most populous administrative regions — Region 5, which includes the Hampton Roads/Norfolk/Virginia Beach metropolitan area and Virginia’s Eastern Shore; and Region 7, which includes the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and cities within their borders.
The five approved projects — all workforce development programs — will train workers for advanced manufacturing and computer technology jobs. The programs were awarded a combined $2.23 million.
Holland said the shipbuilding industry in Region 5 has fostered collaboration on economic development there for many years.
“The identity of the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor is still taking shape,” Holland said.
The next deadline for applications for GO Virginia projects in the Piedmont Opportunity Corridor is Jan. 26. The remaining scheduled deadlines are Feb. 23 and April 3.