Contact: Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices, 276-679-1691, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wise, Va. — More than 100 citizens from across the Virginia coalfields have shared their thoughts on how to reshape and grow the region’s economy at the Southwest Virginia’s New Economy Forums. Hosted by Appalachian Voices and Virginia Organizing, the forums were held over the last two weeks in Big Stone Gap, St. Paul, Wise, Clintwood, Grundy, Dungannon, Pennington Gap, and Tazewell.
The ideas from the forums will be collected and synthesized into a report, the “Citizens’ Roadmap for a New Economy,” to help local governments, planning districts, and others garner federal and state funds for job training, infrastructure development, and other forward-looking economic development activities.
The forums drew a diverse set of attendees including everyday citizens, small business owners, industry representatives and local government officials. “The diversity of the group gave a great pool of ideas to work with, ideas I never would have had on my own,” said Debra Horne, Mayor of Dungannon. “It’s really awesome to bring that many people from across the region together and come up with so many great ideas. We’ve got to work together to accomplish the task of revitalization.”
The forums were formatted as highly participatory events, with small group discussions on specific questions about new opportunities for the region’s economy. At the end of each forum, each small group’s best ideas were shared with the entire crowd and everyone had a chance to vote on their favorite ideas.
“We are really encouraged by the turnout and participation at all of the eight forums,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “Everyone’s willingness to come and excitement about this issue shows that all kinds of people are ready to start imagining a future economy that’s diverse and draws on the many assets of our region.”
Common themes that emerged included supporting advanced manufacturing and eco-tourism, developing better relationships among local colleges and the surrounding communities, ensuring the area’s youth have a voice in helping shape the region’s future, and further developing the emerging industries in drone and water-cleaning technologies. Forum participants also discussed the need to capitalize on existing broadband infrastructure and extend it to unserved areas.
The need to diversify the economy in the wake of the downturn in the coal economy was on the minds of many forum attendees. “Southwest Virginia has so much more to offer than just coal,” said Lee County resident Jason Sturgill at the Pennington Gap forum. “I think now’s the time to look at those other options and figure out what’s best for the citizens and get our area moving forward.”
“The forums are just the beginning of our work,” Wells said. “We hope that people will join us as we develop the ‘Citizens’ Roadmap for a New Economy’ and further refine what we heard into a useful document that can help us get to where we need to go.”
Anyone interested in joining the effort can get more information by visiting the SWVaNewEconomy website> or by calling Adam Wells at 276-679-1691.