INFRASTRUCTURE

The Amazon HQ2 has a new university neighbour: Virginia Tech

SOURCE: Virginia Tech
Amazon will invest $5 billion and create more than 50,000 jobs across the two new headquarters locations, with more than 25,000 employees each in New York City and Arlington


By U2B Staff 

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Virginia Tech has unveiled plans for the construction of its new US$1 billion Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia, just two miles south of the planned site for Amazon’s second headquarters in Arlington.

The 1 million-square-foot campus will be located near the planned Potomac Yard Metro station, and will occupy part of a 65-acre mixed-use district developed by Lionstone Investments and real estate investment trust JBG Smith. Lionstone is a data-driven real estate investment firm that “conceptualises, analyses and executes” national investment strategies for US locations with high concentrations of productive activity.

Virginia Tech
The 1 million square foot campus will be just 2 miles away from the Amazon HQ2. Source: Virginia Tech

The long-anticipated announcement was delivered Monday morning by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands in an event attended by US officials including Senator Mark Warner and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson.

“We’re extremely pleased to have this opportunity, in partnership with Lionstone, to establish the Innovation Campus in the heart of the National Landing technology district,” Sands said.

“It is the ideal location to support Virginia Tech’s bold plan to develop new tech talent, disciplines, programs, and human-centered research that will shape the economic future of the commonwealth and beyond.”

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The campus will triple the university’s footprint in Northern Virginia, which already includes seven facilities. According to the school, the campus will include:

  • 300,000 square feet of academic space and research and development facilities;
  • 250,000 square feet of partner space dedicated to startups and corporate facilities;
  • 350,000 square feet of housing space for students and faculty; and
  • 100,000 square feet of retail and support spaces.
Virginia Tech Innovation Campus
The new campus will include public open spaces and ground-floor retail. Source: Virginia Tech

The institution had started discussing plans for the new campus from as far back as 2014, when Sands took over as Virginia Tech president in the summer.

When the intercity bidding competition began for Amazon’s HQ2, the institution accelerated its plans, which fit in nicely with a wider agenda to increase the state’s tech talent pipeline and the presence of universities in the Washington D.C. area.

In November 2018, when Amazon confirmed Arlington county for one of its two location picks for HQ2 (the other being Long Island city in New York), Virginia Tech too revealed its campus plan for neighbouring Alexandria. University administrators said the project was part of a state-approved US$1.1 billion higher education package said to be a key reason why the locality beat out more than 200 others to host the e-commerce giant’s new headquarters.

Critics, however, began calling the new campus “Amazon University”, claiming its existence was solely to feed new employees to the e-tailer. Amazon has committed to hiring over 38,000 employees through 2034.

But supporters of the project insist that on top of providing job security for local tech graduates, Amazon’s presence would drive investment and diversify the state economy, creating fresh opportunities for local businesses.

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Virginia state will invest millions in the campus as part of the package, which also includes up to US$375 million for Master’s degrees in technology education, to be spread across both Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and George Mason University’s Arlington center. The investments, however, will be performance-based and will require both institutions to raise matching funds.

According to Virginia Tech, the first batch of the innovation campus’ Master’s degree students will be enrolled as early as the fall of 2020 but they will occupy an existing space adjacent to where the school’s new buildings will be constructed. Once construction is complete in about 10 years, the campus is expected to enroll 750 Master’s candidates and hundreds of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

“I’m very excited to know that this site will position the Innovation Campus to attract a world-class faculty to prepare students for thinking big ideas and solving problems,” Senator Warner said at Monday’s announcement.

“Virginia Tech knows how to build community and support innovation and economic growth. I’m confident that this campus will help meet the demands of our digital age and grow Virginia’s economy by fueling the jobs of tomorrow and creating a generation of high-skilled workers.”

Brandy Salmon, founding managing director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus said the project was the start of a months-long process of working with the city, Lionstone and the wider Alexandra society.

“We intend to be a great partner and that means soliciting input to make the right choices for Virginia Tech and the community,” she said. “We aren’t just thinking 10 years down the road. We are building toward a 100-year vision.”