OPED: The State Journal
March 8, 2021
West Virginia: A perfect storm for innovations of the future
How many times a day do we check the weather on our phones or bring up the weather in casual conversation?
How often do our plans change because of the weather or factor into when we schedule travel, family outings, corporate events or community festivals?
How many more winter advisories, ice storms or flood alerts will come across West Virginia television screens or buzz on our phones over the next month alone?
Just think how much weather and climate impact our daily lives. And as experts predict the earth’s climate will continue to change, information on weather and climate patterns will only become more important.
At this time, most of us rely on the National Weather Service for radar or the local forecast. But there’s also a unique opportunity to expand the nation’s private weather market.
Valued at $7 billion and growing at a rate of 10-15% each year, there’s great opportunity in the private sector to develop cutting-edge technologies, products and services to meet consumers’ wants and needs.
There’s a whole new market for devising value-added services that could be tailored to customers’ needs. Commercial weather providers could customize predictions for the likelihood of catastrophic weather and the severity of damage in precise locations or for specific purposes. Billions of investment dollars could be protected. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Excitingly, West Virginia is distinctly poised to become the epicenter of this emerging industry.
How? There’s no other location in the world that has the advanced infrastructure, state-of-the-art resources and strategic partnerships than at the I-79 Technology Park in Fairmont, West Virginia.
Not only is the technology park home to a premier supercomputing center and two satellite ground stations, but it has the technology to collect and compute the vast amounts of weather data that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gathers from satellites, radars, ships and climate models every day.
This combination of assets is unmatched worldwide.
There are endless entrepreneurial opportunities for those who discover how to use this data to keep up with customer needs. Ultimately, if a cluster of skilled startups thrive using NOAA big data analytics, then the entire NCWV-Pittsburgh region could attract new talent and businesses.
Such growth could position the region as a new global leader in the emerging $100 billion big data analytics market. Indeed, we’ve accumulated the perfect storm to ignite a transformative West Virginia economy.
The West Virginia Public Education Collaborative and West Virginia High Technology Foundation, alongside the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Vantage Ventures, Marshall University and West Virginia University, recognize the promise and potential these assets hold. To establish a foothold in the private weather sector and in the big data analytics market would undoubtedly benefit West Virginia for decades to come.
With this shared vision, our organizations are joining forces through Focus Forward, an initiative linking economic development and education, to cohost a series of events aimed at connecting a broad community of West Virginians and entrepreneurs across the country with tech experts, cloud providers and thought leaders to inspire and ignite ideas.
And the beauty of the weather is that it doesn’t discriminate. Innovators in agriculture, retail, FinTech, the stock market and even municipalities can dip their toes in this industry.
The “Focus Forward: Beyond the Cloud” series kicks off on March 17 with a three-hour virtual event during which participants can hear more about how to utilize NOAA’s data and explore innovation and commercialization ventures in cloud solutions and public data.
West Virginia native and Executive Chairman of Intuit, Brad Smith, also will deliver a keynote address challenging all West Virginians to take part in this unprecedented opportunity and talk with experts from Microsoft and Amazon Web Services on how to engage.
We’re just as excited to hold future information sessions, hackathons, design thinking workshops, business competitions and technical trainings as part of the Focus Forward: Beyond the Cloud series, which can serve as a launchpad to design thinking, problem solving and more innovative endeavors. Future events will be announced on wvpec.wvu.edu.
Now is the time to put forward thinking into action. Now is the time to leverage our assets, to continue investing in our evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem and to put West Virginia on the private sector’s weather radar. This is just the beginning. We welcome all to join us. Let’s look beyond the cloud together to see what’s possible.
Donna Peduto is executive director of the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative.
Jim Estep is president and CEO of the High Technology Foundation.