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WVU: Virgin Hyperloop effort a springboard for development

Virgin Hyperloop announced in October it would locate its certification center in West Virginia. The high-speed transportation system will reduce travel times from hours to minutes. (Photo Provided)

MORGANTOWN — The president of West Virginia University needed a winner-take-all strategy to put the state on the top of a 17-state heap of contenders for a futuristic rapid-transportation system.

As Gordon Gee looked at the playing field and the Virgin Hyperloop prize, collaboration was among the tickets Richard Branson and his team punched when they chose Tucker and Grant counties for the certification center for the research into moving people at 600 mph in pods.

“With only 1.8 million people, we have to collaborate with public education, state government, business and industry,” Gee said. “None of us can go it alone, but together we can make a mighty force, a mighty wind, if you will.”

Four entities at WVU entities, the John Chambers School of Business and Economics and Vantage Ventures, the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, comprise the “mighty wind” in helping develop the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center.

Gee is using that collaboration as a springboard to benefit WVU undergraduate and graduate students and West Virginia.

As an R1 research level institution, WVU experts are among the elite in the nation and bring in $195 million annually to the university in sponsored contracts and research grants. Grants sustain projects affecting West Virginians’ and Americans’ daily lives, such as extracting rare earth elements from coal, improving water quality, Appalachian food systems, measuring soils’ ability to absorb nutrients and using video games to help patients with nervous system trauma.

Engineering is a research potential with Virgin Hyperloop.

The potential for novel approaches to large scale construction, innovative materials that combine increased strength with decreased weight and transportation for the smart cities of the future is a tremendous opportunity for both WVU and the region, Fred King, WVU vice president for research, said.

Numerous possibilities are at hand for student and faculty research.

Gee said this “feat of humankind” is on a fast track to be up and going in the next several years. WVU students will have a bill of fare for research opportunities to allow them to choose career paths with connections, and that opens doors for designers, marketers, political scientists, public relations managers, attorneys and geologists.

“We have initiated conversations between the technical leadership at (Virgin) Hyperloop and our best and brightest researchers to identify areas of mutual interest,” King said. “We believe that our partnership can make this a win for Virgin Hyperloop, the University and the state of West Virginia. The potential. It will no doubt attract other innovative enterprises to our region.”

The benefits of Virgin Hyperloop in West Virginia won’t be confined to WVU. Gee has used the example of an anchor store in a mall.

“It gives us a wonderful opportunity to build around something new and creative,” Gee said. “(Virgin) Hyperloop is to ground transportation what Space X is to space exploration. It is a clear signal to West Virginians that we can compete.”

Gee believes the hyperloop is a project for which the state leadership and workforce both support and depend.

“Virgin Hyperloop is a fantastic example of how leaders in our state should think outside of the box to find new and different economic development opportunities that play to West Virginia’s natural strengths,” John Deksins, director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said. “The facility itself will generate important economic benefits for West Virginia. But perhaps the largest benefit will be the facility’s precedent in showing that our state can land cutting edge economic opportunities that provide much needed economic diversification.”

For state residents who aren’t a hands-on part of the project from construction to implementation, Virgin Hyperloop will expand the breadth of economic development in the surrounding area and shore up the state budget.

“The Hyperloop will undoubtedly help support additional local businesses such as local restaurants, breweries, entertainment venues, etc., through an economic multiplier effect,” Deskins said. “Further, this enhancement in economic activity will bolster tax revenue, helping to improve infrastructure and other public amenities and therefore building economic momentum for the area.”

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