“In these 20 years VCEDA has had a hand in helping to bring more than $2 billion in announced investments to the region, including new opportunities in information technology, manufacturing, energy and other basic job-creating operations,” Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director, told the board of directors during the board’s most recent meeting in Lebanon.
Belcher outlined economic development highlights for each of the seven coal-producing counties of Virginia, including the 3,000-acre Southern Gap Business Park in Buchanan County due for a ribbon cutting later this year for its first business occupant. That occupant is information technology support center Sykes Enterprises — operator of a similar facility in Wise County — which will bring 400 jobs to the region.
VCEDA’s primary direction in recent years is promotion of its “Virginia e-Region” strategy to focus on key competitive advantages of the region in electronic information technology, energy, education and emerging technologies.
Former Gov. Gerald Baliles, who signed the legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly two decades ago to create VCEDA, also addressed the board and said regions need to recognize weaknesses in order to build on strengths.
“Business executives have choices about where to locate their companies,” Baliles said. “It’s important for a region to know your vulnerabilities so you can improve your strengths and show prospects the quality of your work force.”
Former Delegate Ford C. Quillen of Scott County introduced the enacting legislation in 1988 to create VCEDA. He said regional cooperation was a winning strategy in Richmond.
“We needed to do more for ourselves in economic development in Southwest Virginia, and we needed to provide a funding source to help the counties work together to attract industry and jobs,” Quillen said.
The legislation set aside funding from severance taxes from the coal and natural gas industries to give VCEDA the resources needed to make low-interest loans or grants to help the counties and city of Norton diversify the economy and attract jobs to the region.
“Looking back, having the money earmarked for economic development has served the purpose,” Quillen said.
Alpha Natural Resources CEO Mike Quillen, the first chairman of VCEDA now serving as treasurer, said the authority has been “very diligent in how the funds are distributed” for projects throughout the region.
“VCEDA is unique, and it gives our region a benefit that no other part of the commonwealth has,” he said.