Timothy Long, director of the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute (MII), posed a question to the group of economic developers eating lunch before him last Friday: what is a package? Turns out, there’s no simple answer. The group found it could be a gift, a protector, a container for selling products, or a control delivery system. It could be sustainable or smart packaging, and if the definition is extended, it could even be a building.
The illuminating discussion was part of a two-day event organized by Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development (OED) in an effort to share Tech’s expansive resources to grow the Virginia economy. The program highlighted a new packaging research program and how the program can create significant economic impact for the state.
The event began Thursday evening and carried over to Friday, March 4. The day included discussions and introductions of university faculty who work with food research. Virginia economic development professionals were introduced to specific university resources in food and materials research, like the Department of Food Science and Technology and the MII. The program also spotlighted the College of Natural Resources and Environment and their work with the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, resources that will all contribute to the success of the packaging research program.
“Virginia Tech has a wealth of resources available for enriching the state’s food and food packaging industries,” said Liz Povar, vice president of business expansions at Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). “As economic developers, getting to know what is available here allows us to more effectively position Virginia to our clients, whose decisions impact Virginia’s economy. We will connect Tech faculty to firms who can benefit from their expertise.”
The group, composed of representatives from VT Outreach and International Affairs, Virginia’s Community Colleges, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and the OED, toured the state-of-the-art Human and Agriculture Biosciences Building 1 (HABB1) Friday morning. Participants explored the possibilities that Tech’s pioneering food industry researchers have to offer the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Guests were introduced to the Department of Food Science and Technology and its Fermentation Program and Food Innovation Program, which, among other accomplishments, recently helped Monogram Food Solutions bring 200 new jobs in jerky production to Henry County. Joseph Marcy, department head of Food Science and Technology, said the department was proud of the achievement and the local economic growth it brings.
The tour introduced guests to the innovative facilities housed in the HABB1 that could be used to benefit regional companies. The tour included the Sensory/Flavor Testing suite, complete with a preparation kitchen, a focus group room, and individualized taste panel booths equipped with observational cameras. The group also visited the pilot plant research facilities, which have been instrumental in the development of scale-up operations and process and packaging engineering systems. Marcy also led the tour by the newest addition to the pilot plant: a new brewhouse and malting system. The system is used by the Fermentation Program to research the best beer malting, brewing, and fermentation techniques.
The tour concluded with an informative session by Director of Food Innovations Program Joell Eifert and Assistant Professor Amanda Stewart. Next, the group shuttled over to Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science II to meet with the MII, led by Long.
Within the MII, researchers focus on macromolecular sciences and technologies. The research paves the way for efficient and innovative manufacturing, and the center has worked with companies such as PepsiCo, Northrop Grumman, and Nike, while looking to promote statewide manufacturers as well.
Long provided an overview of the work done in the institute, emphasizing the benefits of connecting with statewide entrepreneurs and businesses. The MII also has significant expertise in the basic building blocks of packaging, which proves beneficial for the upcoming packaging research program. Long explained how MII aims to reach beyond their own doors.
“We’re very passionate about taking what we do in the lab and translating it to a company,” Long said.
The theme was the central message of the two-day event. The group spoke at length about ways to foster cooperation and growth between the food industry and the university.
“I think it’s fundamental to the success and economic enrichment of our citizens to create strong bonds of partnership between community leaders, economic development professionals, and universities,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs. “The excitement of this opportunity creates a nexus between university leaders and community and economic development leaders coming together to better the lives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that in itself is quite a wonderful opportunity for us.”