Virginia universities have big plans to educate the workforce around Amazon's second headquarters - Technical.ly DC

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Feb. 4, 2019 12:45 pm

Virginia universities have big plans to educate the workforce around Amazon’s second headquarters

With half of Amazon's HQ2 moving into Northern Virginia this year, big education investments are coming from Virginia Tech and George Mason University.

Amazon continues to bring more tech business to the DMV.

(Photo by Flickr user Mike Seyfang, used under a Creative Commons license)

As Amazon moves into Northern Virginia, the tech-centered educational opportunities will expand there, as well.

With the implementation of half of its second headquarters, Amazon also pledged to bring 25,000 jobs over twelve years. The Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) recently released its annual report on tech workforce needs that highlights the skills employers are seeking, software developers among them, further clarifying why the DMV’s tech talent attracted the ecommerce giant. The skills associated with these jobs will soon be taught in lecture halls surrounding the tech giant.

Victor L. Hoskins, director of Arlington Economic Development, part of the Arlington County Government, has been working in the DMV in economic development roles for more than a decade and with Arlington for nearly four years. Hoskins told Technical.ly that Amazon will grow the region’s talent pipeline.

“This project will be a catalyst for accelerating the economy in Arlington, Northern Virginia and the entire region. The company will create tens of thousands of high paying jobs in our core targeted industries. Amazon’s presence will also benefit Arlington’s small businesses, creating new opportunities for them to provide services to Amazon and its workforce, as well as for entrepreneurs looking to use their technology services to work with the company,” Hoskins told Technical.ly. “Amazon’s decision will be a catalyst for other technology and related companies as they choose to be in an innovation hub to tap into the educated tech workforce.”

As we promised in our last Amazon check-in about the fate of the DMV tech workforce, here’s how the education sector is implementing initiatives in NoVa to bring its students closer to the tech action.

Colocated Campuses 

Hoskins said Amazon’s expansion is also a positive move that can lead to new education opportunities in the District that could help the entire surrounding tech community.

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“Many of Amazon’s employees at the headquarters will be workers who already live in the region. The company was interested in our region because we have one of the most highly-educated and highly-skilled workforces in the nation. What’s more is that as a result of this project, the region’s talent pipeline will continue to grow. The Commonwealth is planning significant investments to increase technology-related master’s degree production in Northern Virginia, matching dollar-for-dollar the philanthropic funds raised by George Mason University for its Arlington campus and Virginia Tech for a new Alexandria-based Innovation Campus,” Hoskins said.

Hoskins also stressed the importance of Amazon’s hiring process being gradual and how it will strengthen the tech workforce, especially with the education investments in the tech talent pipeline. Virginia Tech is making strides to bring its students closer to Amazon’s second HQ, while George Mason University announced plans to expand its Arlington campus.

“This project brings significant investment into Virginia’s educational training with the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, which will be located in Alexandria. The campus will provide a pipeline of highly-skilled technology workers not just for Amazon, but for the entire region’s tech community. Investments are also being made at educational institutions throughout Virginia, including our own George Mason University,” Hoskins said.

Along with tax incentives and access to transportation, those higher education offerings were part of the package that the region proposed. As a result, Amazon’s expansion will lead to additional campuses taking shape in Northern Virginia.

Michael Stowe, Virginia Tech director of media relations, told Technical.ly that Amazon was a catalyst to make the university president’s plans to have a bigger presence in the District come to fruition. As the Commonwealth’s land grant university, Stowe said it was natural for Virginia Tech to be a foundational piece of the strategy to rapidly expand the tech sector with Amazon’s decision to come to Northern Virginia.

“Virginia asked us to contribute to a comprehensive higher education package as part of the state’s proposal to attract Amazon, and we stepped up to the challenge,” Stowe told us. “Amazon and the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will contribute to an already vibrant regional economy and solidify Virginia’s position as the talent capital of the world.”

Virginia Tech’s 1 million square foot tech-focused Innovation Campus is set to be built in an area called National Landing, and was developed with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and other state officials. The campus will mainly focus on supporting graduate degree programs and research opportunities in computer sciences and software engineering and while high-demand areas, including data sciences, analytics and collective decisions, security and the internet of things and technology and policy.

The first 100 students will enroll in Master’s degree programs at Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus next year, with plans to enroll 750 Master’s degree candidates and train hundreds of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. The students will operate out of a temporary campus while the full campus is being built. Though there are no plans for official partnerships with Amazon, Virginia Tech is hoping the campus will help create a pipeline of technology talent attractive to Amazon and dozens of other tech companies in the Washington D.C. region.

Stowe said it’s too early to say when the new campus will be operational, but the buildout for the $1 billion campus is expected to take 10 to 15 years. A Virginia Tech team led by Chief Operating Officer Brandy Salmon is actively working to figure out the details related to the temporary location and planning for the future campus.

George Mason University also announced that it will be expanding its already established Arlington campus, thanks to Amazon. GMU is developing new initiatives to meet Amazon’s demand for more local tech employees. The two initiatives are a new School of Computing and an Institute for Digital Innovation.

A new building will be comprised of classrooms and computer labs, commercial entities like food and coffee and short-term housing for visiting faculty, researchers, startups or graduate students, the Washington Business Journal first reported.

Between all the statistics, opinions, excitement and speculation, Amazon’s second headquarters will continue to spark much conversation as tech companies prepare for the ecommerce giant to move in.

“It’s important to remember that this will be a gradual process” Ahmad Ishaq, the founder and chief innovation officer of ByteCubed, a Crystal City-based tech and consultancy firm., told Technical.ly. “Amazon’s arrival is the culmination of years of strategy to diversify Arlington’s economy and overcome unprecedented commercial vacancy. It’s going to make the workforce that much stronger – not just for Amazon, but for tech-oriented companies throughout the entire region.”

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