Ball stepped up to the podium as featured guest speaker in place of Gov. Ralph Northam, who was grounded in Richmond by weather conditions. Making a tour of the area since Monday, Ball said one of the greatest impressions he’s had of the area — other than superb hospitality and scenic beauty — is the thriving spirit of cooperation to build a new economy across the region.
Ball said he has encountered “a lot of people pulling on the same oar” in Southwest Virginia regardless of county or other boundaries. “I can’t emphasize cooperation enough” to achieve economic goals, he said. “You get a whole lot farther when you pull on the same oar. You all have realized that and are making some great strides forward.”
Ball said the governor and his administration are well aware of the economic challenges confronting rural areas of Virginia and are committed to seeking all avenues to address them. And while warning “there is no silver bullet to fix this, to get where you want to go,” Ball is a big believer in “singles and doubles” as opposed to scarce economic home runs to win the day.
“If you’re hitting singles and doubles,” Ball said, “you’re doing fine because that’s how you score runs.”
Ball said the Northam administration has identified several economic development strategies to pursue. Topping that list is to make Virginia “a world class” workforce development state, “a top five (in the nation) program by the end of the Northam term.”
He said the governor is also committed to “invest very heavily” in UVa-Wise, broadband access expansion and Medicaid expansion. The “end game,” Ball said, is not a matter of partisan gamesmanship for the sake of political points “but to create opportunities for people.”
Ball said that although the Northam administration “can’t guarantee outcomes ... we can tell you we will work hard and be (in Southwest Virginia) a lot. All of us share this commitment to do good things in Southwest Virginia.”
Ball’s main message focused on regional cooperation to achieve an economic turnaround.
“If one community here is successful,” he said, “every community is successful.”
This was the third regional economic forum hosted by UVa-Wise in as many years, and the first bearing a theme: “Talent.”
UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said there was “no better” theme for the event.
“Our people are our greatest asset and the core of what we do at UVa-Wise,” she said, as the college always focuses on “a people first, student first approach.”
Breakout sessions throughout the day including “Creative Solutions: Disrupting Trends of Traditional Economic Development”; “Beyond Borders: Lessons Learned from Neighboring States”; “Agriculture: the Future of Farming”; “Advanced Manufacturing: The Future of the Workforce in Manufacturing”; and “Technology: Building the Career Roadmap for the Present & Future.”
Other speakers on the agenda included Bristol City Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan, Appalachian Power Director of Economic Development John Smolak, and Jenny Totten, community development project coordinator of the West Virginia Community Development Hub.