The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) has been named by Virginia’s Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) as the new program manager of the SOVA Vineyard Development and Expansion Program, first launched in 2016, and is currently accepting new applications for grant awards. Through the cost-share program, IALR will work with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, TRRC and the Virginia Vineyards Association to increase vineyard acreage and address the shortage of Virginia-grown grapes.

“We are excited to step into this new role with the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, and look forward to supporting vineyard acreage expansion efforts as well as growth of the Virginia wine industry,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of IALR. “As we strive to be a regional catalyst for economic transformation, agritourism and business development are important components of the process. IALR is excited to offer leadership throughout 34 counties in Southern and Southwest Virginia.”

This grant program, in place through Jan. 12, 2020, is designed to support Virginia’s wine industry and agritourism by providing growers incentive to expand vineyard acreage. A cost-share award of up to $3,000 per acre is available for qualified vineyard growers—reimbursing 33 percent of eligible expenditures. Vineyards with up to nine acres may receive a maximum award of up to $15,000, and those with ten or more acres may receive a maximum award of up to $20,000. Funding is awarded through a competitive process and may be sought by qualified existing growers who wish to expand their current acreage and by new growers developing their first vineyard. To be considered for the program, new growers must establish at least three acres of new vines, and existing growers must be willing to plant a minimum of one new acre. Eligible cost-share items include, but are not limited to, grapevines, hardware for trellis systems, fencing and irrigation systems.

To learn more about eligibility requirements, including a detailed map of eligible counties, growers may visit or contact Program Manager Amy Turner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (434) 766-6788. Turner also will assist growers with the application process, which is currently open. Vineyard grower workshops and grant program interest meetings are being planned and will be announced on

Amy Turner
Amy Tuner

The SOVA Vineyard Development and Expansion Program was developed with an overall goal of increasing production of wine grapes in Southern and Southwest Virginia. In order for wines to be marketed as Virginia wines, they must contain at least 75 percent of Virginia-grown grapes. While the number of wineries in Virginia has been increasing, the pace of vineyard expansion has lagged, resulting in acute grape shortages and the slowing of Virginia wine production. In 2015, the Virginia Wineries Association, Virginia Wine, Virginia Vineyards Association and Virginia Wine Council partnered on a strategic plan to address the issue. 

The Southern Virginia Mega Site at Berry Hill has been certified by the Commonwealth of Virginia as infrastructure ready, announced Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball and Stephen Moret, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). Ball and Moret joined Southern Virginia economic developers and community leaders Aug. 30-31 to share this significant update and to participate in tours regarding workforce development and revitalization efforts.

“We are proud to have all of the current pad in compliance with shovel-ready standards and the recognition that the entire mega site is infrastructure ready,” said Matthew Rowe, Director of Economic Development for Pittsylvania County.

The “infrastructure ready” certification is the fourth of five tiers required to ultimately reach “shovel ready,” or tier five, status in the industrial park. According to the tier four requirements of VEDP’s Virginia Business Ready Sites Program, all infrastructure is in place or will be delivered within 12 months, and all permit issues have been identified and quantified. Tier five will be completed as the last step when industry site occupants are identified and permits are in place. There are several active projects currently considering the site, Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker shared.

“Virginia is aggressively seeking to maintain its position as the preferred state for business, and today’s achievement is an illustration of the support our area is receiving as another step toward meeting this goal,” said Linda Green, Executive Director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance. “We are proud to earn certification of the mega site as ‘infrastructure ready’ and thank the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and Secretary of Trade and Commerce for their integral roles in helping us achieve this significant milestone. Countless other partners helped us through the process; just some include: the Regional Industrial Authority, Pittsylvania County, the City of Danville, Danville Industrial Development Authority, our elected officials and other key leaders.”

The Southern Virginia Mega Site at Berry Hill includes 3,528 acres and boasts 12 industrial lots ready to accommodate a single user or ready for subdivision to suit, with the largest contiguous lot acreage exceeding 2,000 acres. The mega site hails as the largest such industrial park in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is one of only seven to achieve tier four certification. Currently, there are no tier five sites in Virginia. With proximity to major transportation routes, partners with temporary rapid launch space, potential suppliers and a sought-after advanced manufacturing talent pipeline, the industrial park clearly rises as a viable, leading option for top industry contenders and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) operations, particularly within the automotive and aerospace sectors.

“The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research proudly celebrates this noteworthy break-through with fellow economic developers united with our mission to foster economic transformation in the Southern Virginia region,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). “A continued regional approach is paramount to ensure sustained progress and industrial revitalization, securing jobs and growth for our area.”

Ball, Moret, members of their staff and Southern Virginia leaders toured Danville Community College’s (DCC) Engineering and Industrial Technologies (EIT) building on Thursday as well as the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining at IALR. IALR’s Director of Advanced Manufacturing Troy Simpson and DCC President Dr. Bruce Scism debriefed the group on the nationally recognized machining workforce pipeline model, which has attracted multiple leading companies like Unison Tube, Overfinch and Kyocera SGS Tech Hub. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson toured the model earlier in the year and noted it as a benchmark program, and just last month, Danville—selected from a group of national contenders—hosted the Haas Technical Education Center Americas CNC Educators Conference, attended by 270 people from 29 U.S. states and Canada. Pittsylvania County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Jones shared information on their middle and high school career and technical education programs, which, like Danville Public Schools, serve as a feeder to DCC’s and IALR’s advanced manufacturing program.

Ball, Moret, members of their staff and economic developers also toured the Danville River District on Friday to showcase revitalization efforts completed to date. Tucker shared the work accomplished as part of a redevelopment project to benefit the downtown Danville area known as the River District, which has served as the commercial and administrative heart of the city since the 1790s. Improvements include streetscape enhancements like new sidewalks, brick pavers, streetlight poles, benches and landscaping; public, outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots; wayfinding signage; utilities upgrades; additional parking; and new amenities like the JTI Fountain, Main Street Plaza and a new trailhead and connector for the Riverwalk Trail. Public seeding has resulted in the purchase of once vacant, deteriorating buildings. The district has attracted its first brewpub, Ballad Brewing, as well as several other newer businesses like Cottontail Weddings and Events, Mucho Taqueria, Cotton at Riverside Mill and others.

For the first time since its inception, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s (IALR) Board of Trustees has voted to add a new division to IALR’s structure, the Advanced Manufacturing division, led by recently hired Director Troy Simpson. Troy Simpson

“I am pleased that our leadership has recognized the importance of expanding support of advanced manufacturing, an industry sector critical to our mission of fostering regional economic transformation,” said Mark Gignac, Executive Director of IALR. “By adding an Advanced Manufacturing division to our structure, we further leverage our collaboration with Danville Community College and economic development partners to establish Southern Virginia as the preferred site for industry development and expansion efforts.”

Simpson, IALR’s new Director of Advanced Manufacturing, brings 27 years of experience from Danville Community College (DCC), where he led the curriculum development and implementation for advanced manufacturing. Prior to his time at DCC, he worked in design, tool and die making, and machining for the public and private sectors. Simpson has formed many industry partnerships that have resulted in more than $3 million of support for advanced manufacturing programs. He also has successfully managed more than $8 million of federal, state, and local grants to support these programs. Simpson spearheaded the development of DCC’s Metrology program and the Capstone program at IALR’s Haas Center, which has been recognized nationally as a benchmark model. He serves as the chair of the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center advisory board and advises other manufacturing programs.

IALR’s Advanced Manufacturing division works with DCC to produce a work-ready talent pipeline of skilled machinists through the existing Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining located at IALR. The Center’s third-year Capstone program complements the training curriculum offered by DCC and offers a full-scale work flow cell, which replicates the floor of industry facilities. Students can earn a career studies certificate, degree and up to eight industry recognized credentials. The Center has attracted to the area multiple leading companies like Unison Tube, Overfinch and Kyocera SGS Tech Hub. Local industries also may use the space to train employees on cutting-edge technology.

The division will capitalize on the success and national attention of the DCC-IALR advanced manufacturing partnership to date. Just earlier this year, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson toured the Haas Center, noting it as a model program. Last month, the Institute Conference Center was selected as the site for the Haas Technical Education Center Americas CNC Educators Conference; Troy and the Haas Center staff played an integral role in the presentations and workshops attended by 270 people from across the U.S. and Canada.




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