By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
The City of Kingsport and a number of its partner organizations announced on Wednesday an expansion of its Innovation Village as key component of a local commitment to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, remote workforce, creators and innovators. It is also directly tied to the strategic vision to position Kingsport as the advanced manufacturing innovation hub of Central Appalachia, an entrepreneurial sandbox for creators and inventors, and a community center for training a digital workforce.
Conceived in 2017 as a multi-phase endeavor, the first component of Innovation Village – Inventor City – was opened in 2018 with a $540,000 grant from the city to create the region’s premier maker-space and prototyping center. It was designed to be a community center for the region and include a combination of tools and equipment for both inventors and those looking to gain new skills. Today, the Inventor Center has more than 80 monthly members of makers, hobbyist and entrepreneurs.
Earlier this week, the next phase of the plan was unveiled for the facility at 255 East Center Street. Called the Center for Digital Innovation, the 9,000 square foot space and related programming is coming together thanks to a partnership with Create Appalachia, the region’s leading organization promoting the traditional and digital artists of Appalachia, and the involvement of a number of other organizations. The latter include East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) Research Corporation, Kingsport’s Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Northeast State Community College and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and Sync Space Entrepreneur Center.
Create Appalachia is contributing $430,000 to the new Center as part of an Appalachian Regional Commission grant it received to expand access and opportunity to the arts for entrepreneurs and creators of central Appalachia.
“Kingsport is a city built on innovation and a workforce that supports the region’s manufacturing industry,” says Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull, “Expanding Innovation Village to include a digital technology center is key to providing opportunities for students and the public to learn new skills, and is a welcomed addition to our city’s culture of leadership in advanced manufacturing.”
Innovation Village is strategically located adjacent to the Kingsport Academic Village in the downtown area.
“When you think about designing a product or visualizing an idea, it starts with digital design.” says Cher Cornett, President of Create Appalachia and Professor at ETSU’s Department of Digital Media, “At the Center for Digital Innovation, we are adding equipment, technology and training opportunities for the community to learn the new digital tools of manufacturing, creativity and the arts.”
Included in the Center will be a digital computer lab and training room fully equipped and focused on skills that are sought by regional manufacturers and employers, and are aligned with the Kingsport City Schools system and Higher Education partners. It will also include photography and videography studios, large format printers. a large gallery, events space and technology-enabled conference rooms and 255 E Center Street co-working spaces. Private offices are available for rent to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“Access to this level of technology and training is very expensive and can be a non-starter for many entrepreneurs and creators, especially when you consider traditionally under-represented and minority populations.” states Heath Guinn, President of Sync Space Entrepreneur Center, “A central focus of this center is the removal of those historical barriers and creating accessibility and programs for all members of our community.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony and opening date to be announced soon.