BRISTOL, Va. — The Clean Energy Research and Development Center is open and looking for a tenant.
The ribbon on the nearly 16,000-square-foot facility was cut Thursday morning by center officials, who emphasized the building’s dedication to facilitating energy-related research that could be commercialized and lead to jobs in the region.
“Imagine what we can expect to see now that this fabulous building is open and ready for entrepreneurs and incubate companies in innovation. [It’s] an opportunity that will last the life of this building and for many, many years to come,” said Tim Pfohl, interim executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which offered $8 million for the project.
The facility is one of six that the Tobacco Commission pledged to support, and is the last to open, Pfohl said. In total, there are 75,000 square feet of space across the state dedicated to promoting the commercialization of research and development projects.
In the Bristol center, which sits on the Bristol/Washington County line off of Interstate 81’s Exit 7 and is managed by the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, the focus is on energy, said Duffy Carmack, chief financial officer of the Higher Ed Center. It cost $5.6 million and took more than a year to build.
The building features solar panels, a wind turbine, deep-well geothermal heating and cooling, and it makes more energy than it uses, Carmack said. He said excess energy is purchased back by BVU, the city’s utility. The building also features energy-saving solar light tubes, roof water cisterns and water retention swales.
Rachel Fowlkes, executive director of the Higher Ed center, said the building would be an ideal environment for someone developing energy-related technology, either alternative energy or existing energy products. She said there’s been a lot of interest in the building and she hopes it will be home to one tenant at a time, to serve as a work space while a product is developed and commercialized. Two tenants could fit if they were compatible, she said.
Eight businesses, including Washington County-based WireTough, have grown out of Higher Ed programs, she said, adding that the building will provide space for more.
“Something unique about our education center is the amount of investing the [Higher Ed] Foundation does in start-up companies,” said Ed Rogers, executive director of the center’s Foundation Growth Ventures.
The foundation bought the land upon which the center sits, said Marcia Gilliam, chairwoman of the foundation board.
Pfohl said the center is a beacon and a focal point in the region that will attract development.