Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel, right, presents Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority Chairman Jay Rife, center; and Buchanan County Board of Supervisors Chairman Carroll Branham, with a ceremonial check for a new cybersecurity pilot program announced in Buchanan County Thursday.

GRUNDY Va. – January 18, 2018 – The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) closed on an up to $509,895 grant to the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority Thursday to implement a cybersecurity pilot program in Buchanan County designed to create jobs in the cybersecurity field. At the same time, the project will serve to mentor students to learn network monitoring skills through an on-the-job training cooperative aimed at assisting small and medium size manufacturers.

The Buchanan County IDA will be working with EWI, an engineering and technology organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio which develops, tests and implements advanced manufacturing technologies for industry. Since 1984, EWI has provided applied research, manufacturing support and strategic services to leaders in the aerospace, automotive, consumer products, electronics, medical, energy and chemical, defense, government and heavy manufacturing industries.

For the Buchanan County initiative, EWI is partnering with some of America’s leading cybersecurity experts who will staff the cooperative, mentor students, and lead the small and medium size manufacturers solution development.  Buchanan County will be the first location in the United States to receive the pilot program which is geared towards rural areas.

“We are pleased to be able to assist Buchanan County in landing this project,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “VCEDA has been marketing our region as Virginia’s e-Region for our focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, and emerging technologies.  This program fits in very well with that strategy and shows that our region is a great place for advanced technology jobs.”

“The objective of this project is to develop and launch a scalable pilot test for a novel non-profit cooperative business model to simultaneously serve small to medium-sized manufacturing companies (SMMs) while developing a pool of talent in rural communities.  In addition to helping manufacturers, EWI seeks to help communities achieve their economic development goals, and that’s why we are so excited to be working with Buchanan County” said Chris Conrardy, EWI’s chief technology officer. The project calls for the co-op to share infrastructure costs across multiple small to medium manufacturing companies to put Department of Defense-level defense strategies in the hands of SMMs. To grow the talent pool necessary to implement the strategy, on the job training (OJT) will teach new hires of the co-op how to perform network monitoring, providing rural employment opportunities within the cooperative, while building recognized skills that can lead to other career opportunities. As trainees acquire skills, they may become mentors to others and expand the talent pipeline, according to EWI.

The beginning phase of the pilot program involves the selection of the initial student mentees and small to medium-size manufacturing companies. Students will go through a nine-month training period during which they will be paid. The program will utilize distance learning capabilities. The companies selected to take part in the project will be assessed before and after the pilot program to determine the effectiveness of the cybersecurity services. The students’ attainment of cybersecurity skills will be assessed, including job readiness level and accreditation preparedness for the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential and their readiness for the more advanced, SysAdmin, Audit, Network and Security (SANS) certification.

Office space for the project will be provided by the Buchanan County IDA for the project.

According to EWI, in 2014, there were more than 250,000 firms in the U.S. manufacturing sector, with all but about 3,750 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). In fact, three-quarters of these firms have fewer than 20 employees. In 2014, the Pentagon’s top-100 contractors had obligated contracts worth $177.6 billion. While the largest DoD contractors have their own cybersecurity teams, the many thousands of SMMs within their supply chains are potential early customers for the cooperative.

Small- and medium-size manufacturers make up more than 90 percent of all U.S. manufacturers and constitute the backbone of U.S. supply chains. Large companies rely heavily on their networks of these suppliers, with value added by suppliers accounting for close to 60 percent of the final purchase price of goods sold.

With the increased connectivity between manufacturers and supply chains, the need to protect critical industrial systems and intellectual property is increasing dramatically, EWI spokesmen noted. At the same time, the cybersecurity threat landscape is in a constant state of flux as new vulnerabilities emerge and attackers adapt to defenses. Some insurers have begun to require adequate cybersecurity defenses to be eligible for insurance. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has begun to impose new cybersecurity requirements on defense suppliers and large companies are beginning to promulgate these requirements throughout their supply chains.

“We look forward to working with Buchanan County and EWI as this project moves forward,” Belcher said. “The up to $509,895 grant to the Buchanan County IDA will help get the project started and is being provided from regional funds within VCEDA.  It is an investment by VCEDA in the future of Buchanan County and our region.”

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education and emerging technologies. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vaceda.org or www.e-Region.org.