UPDATE (10/8/20 6:18 p.m.):
PARSONS, W.Va. – State and local officials, along with representatives with Virgin Hyperloop, hosted a media roundtable at noon regarding Thursday’s announcement that a Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center will be coming to Tucker County.
A Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center will be coming to Tucker County, as announced Thursday by Richard Branson, the former chairman of the company, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
Gov. Jim Justice held a press conference immediately following that announcement.
Virgin Hyperloop will locate its new Hyperloop Certification Center (HCC) on nearly 800 acres of land, spanning Tucker and Grant counties, where it will leverage intellectual capital and resources from West Virginia University, Marshall University, and from across the state, according to a press release.
“West Virginia is well-positioned to provide a fully-integrated solution that advances the nationwide opportunity for hyperloop,” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop. “The engineering and scientific talent, combined with the skilled workforce and collaborative spirit we know is critical to this project, is all right here.”
Hyperloop moves people and goods in pods through a vacuum tube at speeds exceeding 600 mph, enabling travel from Pittsburgh to Chicago in 41 minutes or New York City to Washington, D.C. in just 30 minutes.
Walder noted that the Hyperloop Certification Center’s role is critical, a necessary next step in taking proven technology and demonstrating to regulators and certifiers that it works and is safe for passengers.
Work on the HCC is expected to begin in 2021 with a planned Welcome Center, Certification Track and Operations Center, Pod Final Assembly Facility, Production Development Test Center and Operations, Maintenance and Safety Training Center, the release explains.
With this development, the HCC will pave the way for an entirely new ecosystem, creating thousands of new jobs across construction, manufacturing, operations, and high-tech sectors—many of which Virgin Hyperloop plans to source locally.
WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research predicts the total economic impact of the center’s ongoing operation on the West Virginia economy to be $48 million annually, the release states.
“Today is a fantastic day for the state of West Virginia, and I’d like to be the first to officially welcome the folks from Virgin Hyperloop to their new home,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “For years, I have been saying that West Virginia is the best kept secret on the East Coast, and it’s true. Just look at this announcement and all it will bring to our state – investment, jobs, and tremendous growth. It’s a true honor and privilege to be selected as the site for the Hyperloop Certification Center and lead the nation in this next step forward for transportation.
“When we approached Virgin Hyperloop, I told them that we would do everything we could to bring this opportunity to West Virginia,” Gov. Justice continued. “We look forward to working with the Virgin Hyperloop team to create a lasting partnership for years to come.”
The land, owned by Western Pocahontas Properties and located near Mt. Storm is being donated to the WVU Foundation in partnership with Virgin Hyperloop, according to the release.
“As part of this process, Western Pocahontas Properties employed some of the world’s best environmental planners, including SWCA Environmental Consultants, Planned Environments Inc., and others; to ensure this new development would complement the area’s uniqueness and beauty,” said Corby Robertson, owner of Western Pocahontas Properties “This thorough planning and commitment to our community and environment make this site very attractive to Virgin Hyperloop because they share our values for sustainable growth.”
The anticipated reach of HCC extends far beyond the state’s borders.
“I am committed to building a consortium of universities from around the country, which will lend their expertise to further develop the vision of hyperloop,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “We will also create educational and institutional opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to be a part of this program. There is no greater learning lab than what we will build here in West Virginia.”
Rob Alsop, WVU’s vice president for strategic initiatives said WVU’s collaboration with Virgin will be multifaceted. He reiterated the idea of a consortium geared toward helping to facilitate the ultimate certification for the HCC. Alsop said multiple departments at WVU will be working closely with Virgin to ensure their success.
“We do have a number of folks from our Statler College of Engineering, our Chambers College of Business and Economics and Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute that we think from a research and a knowledge perspective can help to move forward with the technology and be a good partner with Virgin Hyperloop moving forward,” Alsop said.
Marshall University has worked closely with WVU and others throughout the process.
“Higher Education institutions are hubs for research, innovation, and talent,” Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said. “Colleges and universities help build and strengthen our communities and, in this partnership with Virgin Hyperloop, the awesome opportunity to build the communities of the future is now at our doorstep.”
The West Virginia Community and Technical College System will also play a key role in helping to create education and job training programs, according to the release.
Sarah Biller, executive director of Vantage Ventures at WVU, explained these partnerships will help generate additional interest in a number of innovative projects starting up across West Virginia.
“This is another example that proves we actually can attract investors, attract the talent, and really reframe the conversation for our future,” Biller said.
Members of the state’s congressional delegation expressed their support and excitement for this opportunity in West Virginia.
“The Hyperloop Certification Center will put West Virginia on the map as a hub of innovation. The project will help further diversify our economy, attract jobs and investment, and shine a spotlight on what makes our state great.”
“There is no better place than West Virginia for high-tech, innovative transportation solutions. The Hyperloop Certification Center will create thousands of new jobs in the region, and American-made technology will be produced right here in the Mountain State.”
“I am excited to welcome Virgin Hyperloop to West Virginia. This partnership will create modern jobs, establish our state as a hub for innovation, and unlock new opportunities in the 21st century economy. Working together, we will develop cutting-edge American transportation technology that we will export throughout the world,” Congresswoman Carol Miller said.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D–W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R–W.Va., also released statements on Virgin Hyperloop’s decision to base its new Hyperloop Certification Center in West Virginia.
“Nearly a year ago, I wrote to Sir Richard Branson, highlighting the benefits of doing business in West Virginia and urging him to pick the Mountain State for the newest Virgin Hyperloop venture. Today we celebrate the beginning of a new partnership between West Virginia and Virgin Hyperloop that will last for decades to come. Virgin Hyperloop’s decision to make West Virginia the home of their Certification Center is a testament to our people and proves that when West Virginia competes, we win. West Virginia continues to grow in the technology, manufacturing, and innovation sectors, and I look forward to witnessing the benefits of this progress as we advance the future of travel right here in our great state of West Virginia.”
“Over the last several years, West Virginia’s economy has begun to diversify into new sectors. The announcement that Virgin Hyperloop’s Certification Center and test track will be located right here in our state will help us continue this growth in the knowledge based economy. I’m glad that Virgin Hyperloop views West Virginia as a state on the edge of the tech economy. With our educational institutions, research and development opportunities, skilled workforce, low cost of living, and high quality of life, West Virginia is the ideal selection. I’ve been a consistent advocate for this project and am thrilled we’ve been selected as the site. Not only does this announcement prove that West Virginia is moving forward, but it also shows that we have what it takes to draw in more technology jobs that will support the future of transportation. This is a tremendous day for all of West Virginia, but particularly Tucker and Grant counties.”
West Virginia House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R–Clay, issued the following statement about the announcement.
“This is truly a great day for West Virginia. Virgin Hyperloop’s decision is a tremendous honor for our state and affirmation that the sound leadership, responsible reforms and collaborative teamwork we have put in place at all levels of government have been recognized by business innovators across the globe.
“As state leaders, we’ve met with Virgin Hyperloop representatives several times over the past year and are excited about the Hyperloop One project and how it can revolutionize transportation around the world. This is an exciting new technology that holds tremendous promise not only for the company, but for the West Virginia economy in terms of how it can quickly connect our people, cities and businesses with the rest of the country.
“West Virginia was one of nearly 20 states in consideration for this project, and the competition was intense. But our state was able to demonstrate the best teamwork, collective spirit and overall motivation to be a true partner and help Virgin Hyperloop realize the true promise of this innovative idea. We hope Virgin Hyperloop’s decision to locate in our state serves as a signal to business innovators around the world that West Virginia is ripe for investment, and we stand ready to help them create jobs and new technologies in our state.”