We live in interesting times.
Just across the last decade or so, we have witnessed advancements in technology that leapfrog a century of work. Light bulbs based on LED technology that can last 25,000 hours have become widely available. It is only now we have the ability at our fingertips to send people money instantly. A digital Swiss Army Knife of sorts, the iPhone was first released in 2007 and has become an increasingly ubiquitous tool for instant communications as much as helping us recall forgotten facts.
The list goes on and on.
It is curious that many of these technologies have become so embedded in our daily lives that their impact can go unnoticed. That is, until we start to think about the consequences of subtly advancing technology might be having on not only you and me, but on society.
Technology companies have yet to create enough middle class jobs to offset the decline in our manufacturing base in the center of the country.
We would be mistaken, however, to draw such broad-stroke conclusions about negative consequences of innovation. Or, worse, that West Virginia’s role in the tech economy is limited.
Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist who studied human needs, indicated that “The most valuable 100 people to bring into a deteriorating society would not be economists, or politicians, or engineers, but rather 100 entrepreneurs.”
In addition to Maslow’s entrepreneurs, I would also bring tenacious, capable, intelligent West Virginians to help solve the seemingly intractable challenges that face society. Especially those who will have a meaningful impact on how we move.
Virgin Hyperloop, a company focused on operationalizing what is frequently referred to as the most innovative form of transit and infrastructure in a century, is doing just that. Its leadership team believes our history in the Mountain State of pulling together when we don’t like how things are going or to overcome obstacles will be a key factor in its ability to leapfrog current infrastructure and transit constraints.
Arguably, we might conclude it’s a marriage made in (almost) heaven at a critical time for not only West Virginia, but the country.
Transformative advances in rural economies and across the country necessitate participation at the local, state and federal levels, and increasingly through partnerships across the public and private sectors as well as geographies.
West Virginians are natural partners and so much more. We understand firsthand that a transition of this scale and the energy that will power them is a massive undertaking.
Remember it was us — all together — that helped power the Industrial Revolution. By coming together, West Virginia now has the opportunity to reverse job trends and be at the start of a nationwide infrastructure effort based on hyperloop technology that necessitates the country meet unique manufacturing demands.
We are rich in other ways beyond our collective history that matter to the new economy. West Virginia has untapped supplies of rare earth elements and other raw materials that are necessary inputs to building the Hyperloop Certification Center.
This effort alone can have long-term impacts on middle class job creation and economic inequality.
By achieving regulatory certification and increasing productivity by building and operating a new form of transit, Virgin Hyperloop can help alleviate financial insecurity that has resulted from stagnant wages. A nationwide hyperloop system is akin to the impact realized during the Industrial Revolution, including the broad share of economic gains from increased efficiency.
The COVID-19 crisis has also catalyzed an observable trend that was already underway across the United States. Individuals are now migrating more quickly out of urban areas, leading some to question if this might be a secular trend.
Regardless, with Virgin Hyperloop’s vision for a cost-efficient, on-demand transit system, it doesn’t have to be an either-or decision.
By virtue of its speed, scale and accessibility, Virgin Hyperloop has the potential to close the rural urban divide, and, with West Virginia, bring the country into a new age of innovation. It will enable us to live and work in a place we love, with a very bright future.