by Joan Tupponce
Southwest Virginia officials hope a new initiative will help create opportunities for prosperity in an area of the state that has faced economic challenges.
Blueprint for Entrepreneurial Growth and Economic Prosperity in Southwest Virginia was released in April. “The idea for the blueprint followed up on the success of the Blueprint for Health Improvement and Health-Enabled Prosperity, which was released in 2009,” says Shannon Blevins, director of economic development at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. “That project had a lot of community support.”
The blueprint is a collaboration of The Virginia Coalfield Coalition (an economic development partnership led by the LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau planning district commissions) and the Appalachian Prosperity Project (APP).
APP is a partnership involving the University of Virginia, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the Coalfield Coalition, the private sector and the state to advance education, health and economic prosperity in Southwest Virginia.
Pace Lochte, co-director of the Appalachian Prosperity Project, hopes the initiative will help people in Southwest Virginia “think about economic development more broadly.” For example, Appalachian Ventures, a program under the APP umbrella, encourages the development of companies using natural assets like the Clinch River.
The blueprint helps identify existing resources and showcases area companies that are successful. “It shows that the region has put some thought in what it wants to do and where it wants to go,” Lochte says. “It gauges success and focuses on regionalism.”
Projects such as The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail and Heartwood (a regional cultural center in Abingdon) help promote regionalism. “We are ratcheting that up to the next level [with the blueprint],” says Marcia Quesenberry, co-director of the APP and Healthy Appalachia Institute at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Southwest Virginia already has invested in broadband technology, research facilities and the revitalization of several downtown areas. The new initiative will build on those assets and support niche markets such as sustainable farming, energy innovation clusters and tourism.
“We wanted to inspire job creations in all different areas,” Blevins says, adding, “I don’t think there is a silver bullet for any region’s economic development challenges. There are many levers. The blueprint is one of the ways to address job creation in a rural area.”
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