Joy Vann, April 9, 2019
About 50 leaders in the fields of cybersecurity, education, government and business gathered at the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development at Town Center on March 28 to discuss the regional impact and opportunities provided by Amazon HQ2 in Northern Virginia, the potential of regional broadband and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.
Robert McNab, ODU professor of economics, opened the discussion saying he was happy to see a smaller group that would facilitate “less presentation and more discussion.”
He addressed Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters in Northern Virginia and why the retail giant nixed its plan for a co-HQ2 in New York City. He offered a detailed look at what Amazon’s wooers put on the table and what considerations it made that led to the final decision.
McNab said Amazon bowed out of the deal to build in New York due to local political resistance, whereas Virginia presented a much more bi-partisan and business-friendly environment.
He said Amazon HQ2 expects to bring about 25,000 employees earning a median salary of $150,000 to Northern Virginia by 2030. In turn, Virginia will pay Amazon $22,000 for the first 25,000 jobs created.
McNab said Virginia’s deal was smartly structured and both “very cautious and risk-oriented.” In addition to the jobs Amazon will bring to Northern Virginia, he explained the HQ2 will serve as a catalyst to induce other firms to be created or relocated to the state. He called that the Amazon effect, explaining it offsets the state’s payments for the Amazon jobs as it will be spread across the creation of the jobs that follow in its wake.
According to projections, McNab said the jobs Amazon brings to Virginia will lead to the creation of 32,000 additional jobs and an additional $14 billion in tax revenue, while the downside will be a jump in housing prices and greater congestion in an already-heavily congested area.
Jeff Beekhoo with Broadband Telecom led the discussion about the Hampton Roads Regional Broadband Initiative which is working toward a regional fiber ring “to enhance growth and digitally empower communities.”
Tracy Gregorio with G2 Ops and Brian Payne, vice provost of academic affairs at ODU, addressed the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, which joins Virginia’s institutions of higher education to work together toward cyber education, research, innovation and commercialization. The $25 million state-sponsored program is based in Northern Virginia — the hub — with spokes to nodes throughout the state.
“The hub in Northern Virginia will manage the network and will be led by Virginia Tech and will promote business development across the state,” Payne said. “We’ll be doing showcases, workshops and commercialization programs. They will lead development of policy, and keep track of everything we’re doing in cyber across the state, so that it’s the central place where all things cyber are done.”
In addition to the hub, there are four regional nodes, each of which will focus on one of the subgenres of cybersecurity, such as artificial intelligence. Each node is responsible for hiring faculty to support the initiative, locating space for research and identifying businesses as potential partners, all of which will align with the broader initiative goals.
Payne said the next step for the Hampton Roads node, led by ODU, is to apply for regional certification and to identify investment dollars that will be matched by the state.
He added the initiative’s various committees all have business partners on whom they rely on for suggestions for improvement.
“Our weakness in our area is turning our research into commercialized products,” Payne said. “Our institutions don’t do that as well as some other institutions in other parts of the state, so it’s an opportunity for us to work with businesses and figure out how we can help our researchers to innovate and commercialize and to transfer their technology into a product.”