The road to technology development in Virginia is widely seen as full of potholes caused by a shortage of skilled workers, lack of capital, scarcity of state research funding and a weak educational system.
In the next four months, 500 government, industry and university leaders will be looking at how to fill these holes by drafting a 20-year plan for technology-driven economic development.
Representatives from six regions in Virginia and executives from seven industry groups are creating the plan, which will be presented at the second Virginia Technology Summit in May.
At that summit, hundreds of high-tech executives, educators, and state and local officials will comment on the blueprint. The plan will be finalized by the Business Leadership Group, which will approve the final blueprint by June. The overall effort is being coordinated by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology and the Virginia Technology Council.
"It's the first chapter of a book that is yet to be written," said Robert Templin, president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, a state-funded economic development organization that serves Virginia's technology-based businesses. "This has never been done before in Virginia."
Templin said the 20-year plan is likely to include a wide range of initiatives. They include a broad bandwidth infrastructure that will allow regions to communicate through the Internet; ways to
attract more venture capital firms, angel investors and sources
of capital for start-up companies; and ways to increase research
at state centers with less state funding. The blueprint will also advise the state's educational institutions on what the business community needs from future graduates.
"We are hoping people will get fired up enough about the plan that it will be their blueprint for how they will champion their sector of the economy," said Maxine Pitter Lunn, project manager for technology policy development at CIT. "It's up to the business community to decide if it's important to them or not."
The steering committee behind the blueprint is the Business Leadership Group, headed by George Newstrom, vice president of Electronic Data Systems' government systems group in Herndon, Va., and John Wynne, president and chief executive of Landmark Communications Inc. in Norfolk, Va. The group, formed in August 1996, is made up of 15 representatives from regional technology councils, members of the Northern Virginia Roundtable and other state organizations.
Parts of the state that will help draft the blueprint include the greater Richmond area, the Hampton Roads area, the Roanoke area, Northern Virginia, the northern Shenandoah region and the Lynchburg area.
The industry groups include aerospace, biotechnology, energy, environmental technology, information technology and telecommunications, high-performance manufacturing and transportation.
According to Templin, each region will provide a mission statement that will address its assets, the current state of the region and the future prospects for the region.
"In Hampton Roads, we will facilitate a study that will completely identify the inventory of technology assets in our area," said Barry Duvall, director of the Hampton Roads Partnerships, the region's economic development organization.
Each industry, led by steering committees made up of high-tech executives, will also submit vision statements to the leadership group on the future of their industries and what they need to reach their goal.
Organizers say the real impetus behind the initiative is the shortage in skilled high-tech workers. According to a work force
study released by the Information Technology Association of America in January, there are 191,350 information technology vacancies in the United States, and 82 percent of infotech companies are seeking more skilled workers in 1997.
"The most important thing we need to deal with is how do we get a work force for our companies," said Newstrom. "We need to get to higher education as well as kindergarten through 12th grade and help [educators] understand what we need out of the education system."