Breaking ground on the Silicon Shenandoah
Story by Chris Graham
It took a year to get from the first public announcement to the groundbreaking.
The question now is, how long does it take to go from groundbreaking at the new SRI International Center for Advanced Drug Research in Rockingham County to the point where we start referring to the Valley as the Silicon Shenandoah?
“This will put Virginia on the map. We’ve been on the map in information and communications technology, but in biotechnology, it was a little more states like Maryland or Georgia or California. But this one will definitely put Virginia on the map as a frontline player in biosciences,” Gov. Tim Kaine told The Augusta Free Press after the groundbreaking ceremony held on Tuesday in the Rockingham Center for Research and Technology.
The ceremony was a couple of weeks short of being a year from the December day that Kaine made public the intent of SRI International to set up shop in the Valley. The 40,000-square-foot CADRE building is expected to be completed in 2009, SRI vice president Walter Moos said.
“This is an important milestone. This is tangible. We’re turning over dirt. We’re getting started here. And you can see the beautiful surroundings here where the new research campus is going to be developed,” Moos told the AFP.
The Massanutten Mountains in the background, the location does come across as being one of the more idyllic that you can imagine for an intense academic- and research-based undertaking.
More important to Rockingham County Board of Supervisors chair Billy Kyger is that the location will be expected to serve as a catalyst for economic development both in Rockingham County and Harrisonburg but also for the entire Shenandoah Valley-Central Virginia region.
“It means an awful lot, of course, to Rockingham County. But to the entire region, it’s going to be tremendous,” Kyger told the AFP. “It’s bringing a true 21st-century technology industry, research-and-development industry, to the county. By having them locate here, it’s special for us in Rockingham County, but it’s going to benefit Shenandoah County and Augusta County and Albemarle County – everybody around us.
“We’re very hopeful that this is going to be kind of the kickoff point to make this our Research Triangle in Virginia, much like what the state of North Carolina has and much like Menlo Park, Calif.,” Kyger said.
That is the vision, anyway. And it’s a vision that Kaine shares with SRI and local leaders.
“I wouldn’t claim pride of authorship or ownership that it was my vision. SRI came here because they already had a good partnership with James Madison, and they really liked the way James Madison does science – and the way they try to break down barriers between the traditional scientific disciplines and focus on collaboration, which is what SRI does. So I couldn’t claim it was my vision, but I certainly saw the possibilities,” Kaine said.
“SRI is a global brand. People in this industry know who they are, follow what they do. And it will be great to have them here in Harrisonburg-Rockingham,” Kaine said.
The center has not been waiting for the ground to be broken to get up and running in Virginia.
“We’ve been talking with a number of the institutions here – JMU, of course, because we’re located on their campus, with the University of Virginia, with Virginia Tech, with Virginia Commonwealth, and a number of other organizations in the area,” Moos said.
“This is all about creating a magnet for the best and the brightest – and when you have institutions like the academic centers that are around here, and you bring in an organization like SRI, then others are sure to follow,” Moos said.
Kyger expressed the same basic thought in another economic-development-focused framework.
“SRI was the foundation and cornerstone of the Silicon Valley in Calfornia. Having them locate here, we truly believe, and they believe, that this could be the foothold of the Silicon Valley of the East,” Kyger said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.