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New Southwest Virginia marketing initiative links with Northern Virginia

Mike Still • Updated Sep 13, 2019 at 11:41 AM

ABINGDON — Members of a new Southwest Virginia marketing program say they hope to find “quick wins” to build on the region’s workforce in four key economic areas.

State legislators joined officials from the state’s three westernmost planning district commissions at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Thursday to announce InvestSWVA. The two-year, $800,000-funded program is a public-private partnership designed to work with businesses and economic development agencies to attract new businesses to the region, with a focus on technology jobs.

“It’s about the future of work, with a focus on high-tech, high-wage jobs,” said Will Payne, InvestSWVA’s project lead.

Payne said the initiative complements a range of existing state and local programs and efforts including localities’ economic development offices, the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, the state Tobacco Commission and other state programs.

Funding for InvestSWVA comes from a $400,000 seed grant from the Tobacco Commission, a $300,000 grant from Point Broadband — formerly Sunset Digital — and $100,000 from other private and public sources.

“Point Broadband sees its role as a responsible corporate partner,” Payne said of the company’s contribution.

The LENOWISCO, Cumberland Plateau and Mount Rogers planning districts also will join with the GOVirginia Region One board as partners in steering the new initiative’s efforts.

InvestSWVA will also work with the Northern Virginia Technology Council as partners in showing national and worldwide technology and commerce firms the region’s advantages as a data center zone.

Troy Murphy, policy director for the NoVa Technology Council, said the regions’ link is a good fit because Virginia is a world leader for data transmission across, commerce, banking, space technology, biotechnology and other business and industrial sectors.

“One of the issues from our members is a qualified technology workforce,” Murphy said. “I believe this partnership will open new opportunities for our members.”

“I’m excited to see something we’ve talked about for years come together,” said First District Delegate and Tobacco Commission Chairman Terry Kilgore. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re looking forward to getting some quick wins.”

GOVirginia — itself created as a business-led statewide effort for collaboration of businesses, government, public and higher education in economic development — has nine regions. Region One contains the 13 counties and three cities of Southwest Virginia.

Payne said the foundation of what InvestSWVA will do over the next two years is GOVirginia Region 1’s Project Oasis, a $50,000 project to inventory minewater pools and brownfield and abandoned mine land sites suitable for development of data centers across Southwest Virginia.

That project should be completed by February 2020, Payne said, and will give the initiative tangible resources to offer companies looking for new data center sites. Data and emerging technologies is one element in the GoVirginia Region One growth plan for the region, Payne said. Advanced manufacturing; agriculture and forestry/food and beverage manufacturing; and energy/minerals are other areas in the plan that InvestSWVA will also market for business prospects.

Former Virginia Commerce Secretary Todd Haymore — also on the Invest SWVA project team and a global economic development group member of law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth — said the firm will also help in the worldwide marketing of the region during the two-year initiative.

“Economic development is a team sport,” Haymore said. “We’re going to utilize our leverage points across the world.”

During questions from reporters, initiative members were asked how InvestSWVA will be able to deal with recent Appalachian Regional Commission data that classifies most far Southwest Virginia counties as economically distressed.

“Being distressed means we work harder,” Kilgore said. “This is a great place to move to.”

Haymore, asked how the initiative will deal with moves by the European Union and many traditional trade and political allies in the Pacific region to move independently of U.S. trade and tariff policies, said, “It is what it is.”

“It’s an interesting time, but that’s where we go out and beat the bushes,” Haymore said. “At the end of the day, the U.S. is the U.S., and it’s the world’s strongest economic engine.”

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