Industries

Virginia Tech web series aims to help small towns

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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A “Big Stone Gap” film crew sets up in Big Stone Gap, one of the towns that was featured in "Save our Towns."

A monthly web series is targeting an unconventional audience — small-town mayors and town managers.

Virginia Tech’s “Save Our Towns,” program aims to guide and inspire Appalachian leaders working to improve their towns. The show has mostly been filmed in Virginia’s Appalachian region. The region includes 24 counties and 80 towns and cities. Some areas have been hit hard by the decline of the coal, tobacco and furniture industries. 

“We’ve had a lot of great response and feedback to show us that this is something of value,” says Andrea Brunais, the show’s executive producer who is director of communications for Virginia Tech’s office of outreach and international affairs.

Each season, the video series follows a small town and chronicles its triumphs and challenges in economic development.  The first season focused on St. Paul, a small town in Southwest Virginia with a population of just under 1,000.

“It went well,” St. Paul Mayor H. Kyle Fletcher says about the experience. “We were able to cover the town, talk about small towns in general, some of the problems we had and some of the things we wanted to do.”

Every 10-minute episode also features an economic development tip from an expert. More information from that expert can be found on the “Save Our Towns” website, including contact information. Past experts have included James Baldwin, head of the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission, and Basil Gooden, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.

Virginia Tech also will hold the Save Our Towns Summit Sept. 15 in Blacksburg. The event will explore challenges and opportunities facing small towns and rural communities. It also will look at best practices and examples of projects that are underway or completed and available resources.

About 80 people attended the event last year when it was held for the first time, and Virginia Tech hopes to increase that to 100 this year.

The show recently got a boost from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The extension, a partnership between Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided a $5,000 grant to cover the show’s travel and equipment expenses. The show also has won three awards this year, including two in the Bulldog Reporter competition, which is the only public relations competition judged by journalists.

The third season of “Save Our Towns” will begin by Sept. 1 and can be viewed at http://www.saveourtowns.outreach.vt.edu

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