Merger keeps economic promotion effort going

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Everybody loves a happy ending. That’s exactly what Southern Virginia got with the announcement that its regional economic development organization was merging with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville.    

The partnership means that the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research will help fund Southern Virginia Regional Alliance (SVRA), a 2-year-old economic development group in danger of running out of funds earlier this year. SVRA was funded for two years with grants from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Virginia Economic Development Part­nership and a combined $200,000 from the six communities of the alliance.

Now, IALR will also provide funding to help sustain the organization. SVRA also will be funded through localities that are part of the alliance, private donations and a $200,000 grant from the tobacco commission. Its goal, however, is to become self-sustaining and not rely on tobacco commission funds, says Leigh Cockram, the alliance’s former executive director.

“It’s a really exciting time for SVRA,” Cockram said in an interview before her departure.  “I’m part of the transition and making sure that whoever takes my job in the future is well versed and knows the region.”   
Cockram stepped down to focus on her family and look for work opportunities that require less travel. As part of the agreement, SVRA’s executive director will serve as economic development director for SVRA and IALR, an organization whose goal is to create economic development by engaging in research, education and conferencing.

SVRA’s purpose is to accelerate job growth and increase the tax base for the counties of Halifax, Henry, Patrick and Pittsylvania, and the cities of Danville and Martinsville.

SVRA’s director will have an office in IALR’s campus in Danville and access to IALR’s staff and resources. IALR will also hire an assistant to help with economic development efforts, says Jerry Gwaltney, the institute’s executive director.

Gwaltney says the change will allow IALR to better fulfill its mission. “I think when you bring the resources of the institute along with localities and their economic development working together for the entire region, then you get … a good win-win situation and it hasn’t been like that in the past.”

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