By Brian Skinner, Esq.
Today, Virgin Hyperloop announced it will locate a certification facility on nearly 800 acres of land spanning Tucker and Grant counties, where it will leverage intellectual capital and resources from Marshall University, West Virginia University and from across the state.
The announcement comes after years of testing and developing hyperloop technology at their full-scale test site, Virgin Hyperloop unveiled today that West Virginia will be home to the Hyperloop Certification Center (HCC). “Today is one of the most exciting days in Virgin Hyperloop’s history,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group. “The Hyperloop Certification Center is the start of the hyperloop journey for West Virginia, for the United States, and for the world. We’re one step closer to making hyperloop travel a reality for people everywhere.”
Beyond progressing hyperloop on the regulatory and commercial fronts, the HCC will also create an entirely new ecosystem, creating thousands of new jobs across construction, manufacturing, operations, and high-tech sectors.
“West Virginia is at a pivotal moment in time and I believe Virgin Hyperloop has made an extremely strong choice for the location of the new HCC,” said native West Virginian John Chambers, former Executive Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems and current founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures. “West Virginia was once the coal and chemical capital of the world, but it failed to disrupt itself and was left behind. Today, every company, country, and state needs to have a digital mindset. West Virginia’s renewed focus on innovation to drive inclusive job creation and economic growth will be elevated and brought to life with the development of the HCC. I personally could not be more honored and excited to work with Virgin Hyperloop to bring this transformative technology to the masses.”
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.
“West Virginia is well positioned to provide a fully integrated solution that advances the nationwide opportunity for hyperloop,” Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, said. “The engineering and scientific talent, combined with the skilled workforce and collaborative spirit we know is critical to this project, is all right here.”
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.
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.
Virgin Hyperloop plans to directly hire 150-200 engineers and technicians for the facility with plans to source talent locally. In addition, the construction and manufacturing of the project will create 7,300 jobs throughout the region over the next five years and the longer-term operation phase will create 6,000.
West Virginia University’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.
“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. 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.
“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,” Corby Robertson, owner of Western Pocahontas Properties, said. “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.”
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.”
However, the anticipated reach extends far beyond the state’s borders.
“I am committed to building a consortium of universities from around the country who 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.”
The West Virginia Community and Technical College System will also play a key role in helping to create education and job training programs.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.