Bringing good-paying technology jobs to our region to help stem the outflow of home-grown talent has become the top priority of our Southwest Virginia business and economic development leaders.
To that end, there was good news this past week with the announcement of the Southwest Virginia Regional Marketing Initiative, or “InvestSWVA.”
This new public-private collaboration is designed to bring Northern Virginia-based technology companies together with Southwest Virginia communities to develop strategies for attracting a variety of new industries in the region to replace jobs lost to the demise of coal mining and other economic issues.
InvestSWVA is “committed to advancing big ideas,” said Will Payne, managing partner of Coalfield Strategies LLC, a Bristol, Virginia, marketing firm, during an announcement of the initiative. Payne and his firm are leading the effort, according to a story in the Bristol Herald Courier.
“We will focus on energy innovation and the future of work in Southwest Virginia, attracting and retaining young talent by focusing on high-tech, high-wage jobs that keep GO Virginia Region One a priority,” Payne said during a kickoff news conference at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon.
The project’s scope comprises the coalfield counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Scott, Wise, Tazewell and Russell in far Southwest Virginia, along with the agricultural-based counties of Washington, Grayson, Smyth, Wythe, Carroll and Bland, and the cities of Bristol, Norton and Galax. It spans the entire GO Virginia Region One economic development area.
This effort has been pledged initial funding of $800,000 for the first two years — with $400,000 a year coming from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and a private match from Point Broadband LLC, Payne said.
Targeted industry groups are advanced manufacturing; agriculture and forestry, including food and beverage; information and emerging technologies; and energy and minerals.
The announcement said a key component is a partnership with the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a trade association for the technology community in Northern Virginia.
“Southwest Virginia will have a seat at the table with [Northern Virginia]-based tech companies that want to tap into a new labor force,” Payne said.
Northern Virginia companies often ask about suitable locations where they could expand elsewhere in the state to be able to diversify their workforces, he said, adding: “We’re the only game in town as far as an out-of-region partnership.”
InvestSWVA leaders plan to work with the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council, GO Virginia, the University of Virginia’s College of Wise, the Virginia Community College System and the region’s private higher education institutions to form a workforce development strategy, Payne said.
The goal is to keep promising young workers from leaving the area to find work by attracting industries that can provide the jobs they’re looking for right here at home.
A major component of the initiative will be to engage trade and technical schools and colleges in our region to work with potential employers to provide training in the particular skills and knowledge necessary for workers to qualify for the new jobs.
Even though many of these tech companies provide some level of training for new hires, they expect those workers already to have basic training and skills necessary for the available positions.
The InvestSWVA program is vitally important to our region for several reasons, including the promise of attracting new jobs to replace the thousands that have been lost.
But the program’s key value, if it succeeds, might well be its ability to bring the amazing potential of our job-starved Southwest Virginia communities to the attention of the job-rich Northern Virginia tech companies that are running out of expansion opportunities in their home region.
Besides the outstanding quality of life provided by our quaint communities surrounded by scenic mountains, lakes and rivers — and their associated recreational activities — Southwest Virginia also offers a virtually endless supply of affordable land for development and housing for workers.
We hope this new effort called InvestSWVA will serve to introduce our unique region and way of life to industries and investors who want to come here and take part in what we have to offer.