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Business Notebook for June 19

A roundup of business news in Fayetteville and Cumberland County


Van Geons receives statewide Innovation of the Year Award

Robert Van Geons, CEO and president of the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., has been recognized with the inaugural Innovation of the Year Award, the North Carolina Economic Development Association announced Wednesday.

Van Geons received the award during the association’s annual conference in Wrightsville Beach.

Van Geons was recognized for his work toward bridging the digital divide in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. The economic development organization facilitated the arrival of Segra and played a significant role in recruiting Metronet to Cumberland County,  a release said. It worked with the city of Fayetteville, Cumberland County and the Fayetteville Public Works Commission.

Metronet, Segra and Lumen/Brightspeed are investing millions in the community to provide high-speed internet access to thousands of previously unserved and underserved families, the release said. 

The state association also commended Van Geons for leading his team’s combined efforts with North Carolina legislators to establish the CORE Innovation Center, which opened in 2018. The center, housed in the Robert C. Williams building in downtown Fayetteville, provides resources for established innovators and entrepreneurs, supporting job-creating startups, the release said.

Van Geons said city, county and state leaders played a part in the success seen locally.

“We started this journey seeking to create a nexus for conversation and collaboration around technology innovation,” Van Geons said in the release. “Today, we have dozens of companies utilizing world-class data infrastructure to create hundreds of jobs in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. I am sincerely grateful for NCEDA’s recognition of the work we are doing, and I am proud to be part of such an incredible community.”

Woodpeckers donate $10K to TJ Robinson Life Center

The Woodpeckers Foundation and Community Leaders Program donated $10,000 to the TJ Robinson Life Center, a multi-sport and fitness community center in Hope Mills.

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers are partnering with the center to advance youth involvement in baseball, the organization said in a release. The donation will provide youth with free access to baseball equipment and other opportunities to learn about the sport, the release said.  

The money will be used to purchase batting cages and baseball equipment, including bats, gloves, helmets and a pitching machine, the release said.

Members of the TJ Robinson Life Center will also be able to learn about baseball and participate in a skills clinic run by players of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, the release said.

Cape Fear Regional Theatre receives Summertime Kids grant

Cape Fear Regional Theatre has received a $5,000 Summertime Kids grant from the Cumberland Community Foundation.

The grant will provide financial scholarships that make it possible for students from low-income families to attend the theater’s 2022 Summer Theatre Camps, the theater said in a release.

About 300 local youth learn about the benefits of theater through the summer camps. This year, the theater is providing eight camps for ages 6-19. Campers spend their days studying acting, music and dance techniques as they prepare for performances of “The Princess Prob-Llama,’’ a musical written specifically for Cape Fear Regional Theatre (ages 6-9); “Disney’s The Beauty & The Beast’’ (ages 10-14); and “Into the Woods’’ (ages 15-19).

Students also take part in games and activities designed to build self-confidence and teamwork, the release said 

“Cape Fear Regional Theatre is incredibly grateful to the Cumberland Community Foundation and their donors for the Summertime Kids Grant,’’ said Marc de la Concha, the education director. “These opportunities are impactful and essential to providing safe and creative spaces for children in our area to engage in the arts. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the CCF and its donors, our summer programs are accessible to many aspiring artists in our community who could not afford it otherwise.” 

NASA selects Fayetteville State team for space accelerator program 

A team from Fayetteville State University is one of three selected by NASA for its inaugural Minority Serving Institution Space Accelerator Challenge, which is geared toward advancing NASA’s goals and meeting the agency’s needs in the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence and the development of autonomous systems, the university said in a release.

The application process encouraged applicants to think like startup businesses, offering $50,000 in funding and extensive training, the release said.

Sambit Bhattacharya, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and director of FSU’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory, led the team. It pitched the proposal “Autonomous Systems with On-Demand Inference from Perception Pipelines.”

“The novel scientific idea of the proposal is to increase the speed with which artificial intelligence software works on a combination of hardware of different levels of computing power ranging from servers to edge devices, without sacrificing accuracy,’’ the release said. “It is initially designed to maximize science data from various viewpoints on the moon and Mars, but greater benefits include adaptability to create a wide range of advanced technological applications in space and on earth.’’

The program participants will receive funding, training and mentoring to develop ideas for systems that can operate without human oversight for future science missions in space and on Earth, the release said.

“The initiative and funding from NASA will provide additional resources to strengthen our commitment to mentorship to our students in the STEM areas,” said Monica T. Leach, Fayetteville State’s provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The finalists also will enroll in a 10-week accelerator program operated by Starburst to help them prepare to commercialize their proposals, the release said. The teams also will be matched with mentors at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The three student team members will join Bhattacharya in the accelerator training program while working on summer internships. Two students, Grace Vincent and Jonathan Soltren, will intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Khali Crawford will intern at the Naval Research Lab in Washington D.C., the release said.

The other teams selected for the challenge were based at California State University, Northridge and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Business Notebook, Fayetteville, Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville Woodpeckers, TJ Robinson Life Center, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, NASA