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VI-EPSCoR Explores Economic Development Prospects

Local leaders of the federally funded Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) say scientific research conducted in the U.S. Virgin Islands can be used to grow the local economy. Organizers of a conference held Monday on St. Thomas examined ways to develop that kind of growth. The occasion was the VI-EPSCoR Annual Conference, which took place Dec. 6 at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort on St. Thomas.

The VI-EPSCoR Annual Conference has been hosted on the St. Thomas campus of the University of the Virgin Islands since 2005, supported by the National Science Foundation. The theme of this year's conference, which was co-sponsored by the UVI Small Business Development Center, was "Integrating Science and Economic Development: A Model for Island Ecosystems."

In his welcoming remarks, UVI President Dr. David Hall said one of the goals of the conference was to find practical applications for research being carried out by university-based scientists and students.

The keynote speaker for the Monday conference was Dr. Gilberto Marquez, director of the Center for Innovation and Technology, affiliated with Puerto Rico's SBTDC (Small Business and Technology Development Center).

In his address Dr. Marquez offered a step-by-step method for helping those who feel their discoveries, systems and inventions have market potential to package and present them, approach venture capitalists and investors, protect their intellectual property and more. A number of Puerto Rico-based researchers have found success in this way, he said.

The conference also presented ways the Virgin Islands can integrate science and the economy while focusing on the environment. Much of the EPSCoR-sponsored research in the territory is marine and terrestrial in nature.

"In the Virgin Islands the environment is a major driving force to our economy," said Dr. Richard Nemeth, director of the McLean Marine Science Center on UVI's St. Thomas campus.

Included in a presentation called "From Ridge to Reef," were remarks by Dr. Gaboury Benoit, Director of Yale University's Centers for Coastal and Watershed Systems and Urban Ecology - School of Environmental Studies. One concern is non-point source pollution, particularly erosion brought on by modern-day construction methods.

"Development is important but it has consequences," Dr. Benoit said. "We're working on ways you can do it so that you can have sustainable impacts."

A presentation by architect Doug White, founder of the Island Green Building Association, provided the audience with simple conservation practices that can save the average home or business between 25 and 30 percent in energy consumption.

In conjunction with the conference, UVI-SBDC held a mini business expo featuring entrepreneurs who are already bringing innovation to the local market. Sean Corsaut, president of Horizon Energy Systems, spent the day guiding visitors through presentations of building products and services designed for energy conservation.

There was also the SunBug, presented by Dr. Nelson Edwards, a partner in the development of the solar powered vehicle. Edwards invited visitors to climb behind the wheel of the SunBug, which is about the size of a golf cart, and zip around the hotel parking lot. The SunBug can achieve top speeds of 22 mph, he said, and was recently approved for limited road use in Christiansted and Frederiksted by the Motor Vehicles Bureau and the Virgin Islands Police Department.

Approximately 30 EPSCoR programs are scattered across the United States. EPSCoR's goal is to provide strategic programs and opportunities for EPSCoR participants that stimulate sustainable improvements in research and development capacity, allowing them to become more competitive. The program also seeks to advance science and engineering capabilities in EPSCoR jurisdictions, promoting discovery, innovation and knowledge-based prosperity.

EPSCoR also seeks to fortify the teaching of science, technology, education and math (STEM) and present STEM-based careers as viable options for future generations.

For additional information please contact VI-EPSCoR Program Coordinator Nicolas Drayton at (340) 693-1239.