Posts Tagged ‘southwest virginia’

Get Out the Sunscreen: Solar is Coming to Southwest Virginia

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 - posted by interns
mobile solar

Representatives of Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap discuss the mobile solar trailer behind them known as SPARC-E (solar powered alternative clean energy). Photo by Christine Gyovai

The Southwest Virginia Solar Fair on May 9 in Wise, Va., will celebrate the upcoming solar development in Southwest Virginia and bring an emerging and exciting effort full circle.

In May 2016, at the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum, citizens and area leaders discussed how solar energy could be developed locally to create jobs and build and retain wealth in our region.

Those conversations were the seeds of what has become an action team called the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia. Co-convened by Appalachian Voices, UVa Wise and People Incorporated, and facilitated by Dialogue and Design Associates, the goals of the Solar Workgroup include supporting high-visibility and high-impact solar energy installations to meet energy demand and spur economic development, even in the heart of coal country.

With international companies eyeing Wise County for solar projects, the Solar Workgroup agrees that the region has the potential to become a solar industry hub. With solar now employing nearly twice as many people in the U.S. as coal, oil and natural gas combined, many in the region think solar development could be the key to revitalizing the economy with high-paying local job opportunities.

Empty Bottle String Band

The Empty Bottle String Band will perform at the Solar Fair on May 9.

At the Solar Fair, people will have the opportunity meet SPARC-E, Mountain Empire Community College’s off-the-grid, 5,000-watt, mobile solar system built by students. They will also have a chance to get an up-close and personal view of solar energy systems and see how they work.

The Empty Bottle String Band, a local favorite, will be performing live and amplified by solar power. For the kids, we’ll have an inflatable bouncy house powered by solar energy and other free, fun games.

And we’ll announce the winners of our $500 solar mini-grants contest for middle and high school students. The Solar Fair is also the launch pad for the Solarize Wise residential solarization program, a collaborative effort of the Solar Workgroup to make it cheaper and easier for homeowners, small businesses and farmers to install solar power in Wise County.

Solar power is coming to far Southwest Virginia. Get out the sunscreen!

To learn more, call (276) 679-1691 or email Adam Wells at Adam@appvoices.org or Lydia Graves at Lydia@appvoices.org.

Southwest Virginia Residents Hold Healthcare Forum

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Melody Reeves and Chuck Shuford

Panelists at the healthcare forum, from left to right: Beth Bingman, Dr. Raymond Feierabend, Beth Davies, Steve Sanders, Jim Dau. Photo by Maxine Kinney

Panelists at the healthcare forum, from left to right: Beth Bingman, Dr. Raymond Feierabend, Beth Davies, Steve Sanders, Jim Dau. Photo by Maxine Kinney


“From 2001 to 2008, medical expenses were the leading cause of bankruptcies in the U.S., and health insurance premiums for family policies increased by 78 percent while the cost of living rose 17 percent,” began Dr. Raymond Feierabend, professor emeritus at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.

Feierabend was speaking at an educational forum Feb. 22 on the potential impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Over 130 residents from Southwest Virginia attended the public forum at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Va. The event was sponsored by We Care SW Virginia, a local group of citizens advocating for affordable, high quality health care for all.

The back of forum attendee Matt Skeens' t-shirt has a clear message. Photo by Maxine Kinney

The back of forum attendee Matt Skeens’ t-shirt has a clear message. Photo by Maxine Kinney


Other presenters included Jim Dau, director of Virginia AARP; Beth Davies, director of the Addiction Education Center in Pennington Gap, Va.; and Stephen Sanders, director of Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky. Together, the speakers made the case that universal health insurance coverage with access to affordable, comprehensive health care is a key component of any economy that adequately sustains its citizens.

The panelists explained the impact of both the ACA and potential repeal proposals on Medicare, black lung benefits and rural health care. Based on a 2016 bill to repeal and replace the ACA, nonprofit think tank the Urban Institute determined that an estimated 685,000 Virginians would have lost insurance coverage by 2019.

Following the presentations, audience members gave testimony and asked questions. A retired coal miner with black lung disease stated that while not perfect, the ACA offered the best hope so far for those seeking black lung benefits. Under the ACA, it is easier for coal miners who have spent at least 15 years working in the coal industry to get those benefits than it was before the law.

Many Southwest Virginia residents came to the forum to learn more about the potential impacts of changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Many Southwest Virginia residents came to the forum to learn more about the potential impacts of changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Ron Short, a resident of Duffield, Va., told how his nephew, who had no health insurance, had gone to the emergency room several times with severe stomach pain and received only pain medication. After receiving insurance through the ACA, his nephew went through a battery of tests that revealed he had cancer. “This is what people face every day,” said Short.

We Care spokesperson Peggy Mathews said that the purpose of the forum was to help people understand how the ACA affects them and inspire them to communicate any concerns about changes to the health care law to their federal senators and representatives.

Senate bill signals hope for economy in Appalachian coal communities

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager, 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

NORTON, VA – A bill announced today by senators from four Appalachian states for $1 billion to repurpose abandoned coal strip mines for economic development projects marks a significant step in the ongoing effort to revitalize local communities in the region.

The bill was introduced last week by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA). Called the RECLAIM Act, it mirrors a bipartisan bill introduced in the House earlier this year.

Local support for increased and expedited federal investment in the coal-bearing region of Central Appalachia has grown swiftly in the last two years as coal has continued to decline. Nearly 30 local government entities in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee have unanimously passed resolutions calling for increased funding for economic development.

Funding through a RECLAIM bill represents part of a greater effort to support coalfield communities. This year, $65 million has been allocated specifically for immediate implementation of economic development projects in the region through the Obama administration’s POWER initiative, including nearly $47 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission for 174 coal-impacted counties across nine states. Additionally, $90 million has been allocated to West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania this year for pilot projects similar to RECLAIM’s intent of using old coal mine lands for economic development. The recent Continuing Resolution reauthorized that funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identified 14 abandoned coal mining sites in Southwest Virginia that would be ideal candidates for RECLAIM funding. The projects, including solar facilities, local parks and sustainable agriculture projects, represent well over $16 million in cleanup costs and $52 million in construction investments.

“This is great news. We’re grateful to Senators Kaine and Warner for taking leadership on introducing RECLAIM, and glad to know they recognize the urgent need for economic diversification and environmental cleanup we feel in our communities in far Southwest Virginia,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. “The timing of this clearly shows that both chambers of Congress are committed to passing RECLAIM in 2017 and sets a strong path forward for that to happen.”

“I’m very glad to see our senators leading the way on RECLAIM,” said Adam Malle of Big Stone Gap, Va., and a board member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Last year we worked with our localities to pass resolutions of support for federal investment for economic diversification and we’re glad Senators Kaine and Warner heard that clear message from our local communities.”

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Traveling The Crooked Road

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

Heritage music trail continues to draw visitors to Southwest Virginia

By Dave Walker

From Clintwood to Ferrum, from Glen Lyn to Galax, The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Thousands seek out the 330 mile-long route each year to hear the sounds of America’s roots music, which gave rise to bluegrass and country traditions. Nine major venues, 60 affiliated venues and festivals, and 26 wayside exhibits delineate the trail that follows much of Route 58, along with other sites across Southwest Virginia. But throughout the Appalachian region, The Crooked Road has come to symbolize much more: how a region can leverage its cultural assets to develop a new economy.

Music on the Crooked Road

Tyler Hughes and his band perform at Lee Theatre in Pennington Gap, Va., during the 2016 Mountains of Music Homecoming. Photo by Jennifer Meade.

Fourteen years ago, on a January day with six inches of snow, 26 people showed up for a meeting to talk about a radical idea for Southwest Virginia — building an economic development plan around the region’s traditional music heritage. Some drove from over 100 miles away.

“It was very surprising, and I like to say the Holy Ghost came down,” says The Crooked Road co-founder Todd Christensen. “No one was in charge and everyone got turned on to having a music trail and having traditional music as the central development piece for our entire region.”

Christensen initiated the idea for The Crooked Road with folklorist Joe Wilson and currently serves as the first executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation. He likened the founding to a stone soup supper, where artists, musicians, folklorists and economic development professionals contributed their skills to plan the “first step of our efforts to develop a creative economy in Southwest Virginia.”

“It was a grassroots movement in the beginning,” says The Crooked Road’s Executive Director Jack Hinshelwood. “But people had enough vision to come together and see that the idea for a music trail had potential.”

Today, The Crooked Road is run as a nonprofit that helps communities celebrate their heritage, weaving together the unique roots-music stories of 19 counties, four cities and over 50 communities.

Musical Attractions

Bookended by the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, Va., and the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum, Va., The Crooked Road is anchored by nine major venues, including the Carter Family Fold, the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Floyd Country Store and the Country Cabin — the longest continuously run place to see live heritage music in the region.

Activities along The Crooked Road peak in the summer with festivals and fiddlers conventions. From June 9 to 17, the Mountains of Music Homecoming highlights 23 communities that work together to put on cultural events like public concerts, quilt demonstrations, lectures, outdoor movies, canoe floats and historic church tours.

“Mountains of Music Homecoming represents all the different things that communities are proud of, making it accessible to people in their community and people from other communities,” says Hinshelwood.


But throughout the year, there is something different to hear and to see. A jam session or concert can be found nearly any night of the week in Southwest Virginia, says Hinshelwood, and many are listed on The Crooked Road’s website.

“The Smyth County Jam has a wonderful jam on Monday nights. Thursday nights, we have a great jam at the Heartwood in Abingdon,” he says. “Pretty much any time someone comes, there is something to do and see. There is way more than you can see, even in a two-week trip.”

Boosting Local Economies

During the summer of 2015, the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development studied the economic impact of The Crooked Road on the region. This study found that, “The Crooked Road facilitates $6.4 million of tourist spending annually in Southwest Virginia, resulting in $9.2 million of total economic impact annually and an equivalent of 131 full-time jobs in the region.”

Road sign

This signature sign for The Crooked Road marks the route. Photo courtesy of www.Virginia.org, Virginia Tourism Corporation

Boosting the local economy was a primary reason for the creation of The Crooked Road. According to Christensen, in June of 2003, the original organizers of The Crooked Road set out two ambitious goals. “One, to make Southwest Virginia nationally known as a tourist destination, which at that time it wasn’t,” Christensen says. “And two, to triple the cultural heritage revenues in the area.”

The excitement about the trail quickly grew. “Within 18 months, The Crooked Road was getting international and national press,” says Hinshelwood. “We’re now in our second decade, and it continues to be written about in international publications.”

Nearly 42 percent of the trail’s visitors come from outside the region, and almost half of these individuals “said they came primarily for The Crooked Road,” stated the Virginia Tech study. This included visitors from Canada, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.

But The Crooked Road does much more within the region. According to the Virginia Tech study, “regional officials indicated the importance of The Crooked Road in encouraging ‘pride’ in the region’s rich cultural heritage.” This most notably occurs through The Crooked Road’s Traditional Music Education Program’s partnership with Junior Appalachian Musicians, which teaches children to play and dance to traditional old-time and bluegrass music.

Hinshelwood echoed the power that The Crooked Road has brought to Southwest Virginia. “By working with The Crooked Road, I’m really working around people that are positive and care deeply about the future of our region,” he says.

The founders of The Crooked Road progressed to developing artisan networks in every county, which led to the development of a recreational outdoor network called Appalachian Spring.

“Protecting the water quality, viewsheds, forests, has become an economic development priority versus maybe six years ago those were seen as extractive assets,” says Christensen, “Now those elements are seen as assets to be preserved to enable communities to have economic development.”

These new endeavors have a promising example to follow in The Crooked Road, which has created a new way for communities in Southwest Virginia to work together to build local economies.

“Folks who are interested in cultural heritage or environmental stewardship can, now, band together with economic development people to realize that by working together we are all furthering each other’s objectives,” states Christensen. “The Crooked Road set that example: preserve the music and make it more accessible to people,” he continues. “You don’t compromise your assets for economic development; you build upon and promote them.”

For more information, visit myswva.org/tcr

Southwest Virginia Gets a New Brand and Other Shorts

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Southwest Virginia Gets a New Brand

swva_logoThe Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, the regional coordinating body for economic development and cultural heritage tourism, released a new logo and tourism map for Southwest Virginia in October. The new brand is intended to help boost community and economic development in the region. — Tristin Van Ord

Appalachian Youth Discuss Just Economic Transition

On Nov. 20, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition and the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project hosted the first Just Transition Youth Assembly at the Boone Youth Drop-In Center in Whitesburg, Ky. Approximately 20 individuals gathered to map local and regional resources in their communities, learn about solutions already in motion and discuss solutions that would facilitate a sustainable, healthy future for all people in Appalachia. The assembly was the first in a series. Find the STAY Project and KSEC on Facebook for information about the next Just Transition forum. — Lou Murrey

Reroute of Appalachian Trail At Watauga Lake

The U.S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have acquired 20 acres near Watauga Lake in Tennessee and can now relocate a roughly one mile section of the Appalachian Trail near Hampton, Tenn.

The proposed reroute will allow the Appalachian Trail to cross U.S. Highway 321 at a safer place.

In 2014, the Conservation Fund purchased the land and recently transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. — Tristin Van Ord

Rare Elk Sighting in Upstate SC

A bull elk was spotted in Pickens County, S.C., in October. The Pickens County Sentinel reports that the elk was tranquilized and transported to a secluded area in the South Carolina mountains.

Elk were native to the Palmetto State until the 18th century, but there is no current population in the area.

Fungal Disease Threatens Snakes

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, over 30 species of snakes are now susceptible to snake fungal disease across 20 states in the Eastern United States.

The USGS reports that the disease causes blisters, thickened skin, ulcers and thinning in snakes. The outbreak could threaten certain species with extinction.

Southwest Virginia Environmental Movement Loses Two Leaders

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Willie Dodson

In August, Southwest Virginia lost two environmental leaders who leave behind legacies of service to the land and people of Appalachia.

Vivian Owens of Haysi, Va., was a founding board member and longtime super-volunteer for the Friends of the Russell Fork, a local organization dedicated to protecting the river. Owens worked with community members and AmeriCorps volunteers to monitor the health of the river and identify and remove sewage straight pipes and other sources of pollution in the Russell Fork and its tributaries.

Tim Mullins of Pound, Va., served on the board of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards for many years. Mullins’ contributions of time, energy and talent — notably his art and photography — helped SAMS win an eight-year campaign to defeat a more than 1,200-acre mountaintop removal coal mining permit on Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County, Va.

“He loved the Appalachian Mountains and all of God’s creation and worked diligently to protect them from those who destroy them for profit,” longtime friend Jane Branham wrote after Mullins passed. “He was a man full of courage … he learned to fly, traveled the world, embraced his gay identity in the face of conflict and violence committed against him and was always a voice for others who could not speak out.”

Building Community and a New Economy in Southwest Virginia

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

In five Southwest Virginia towns, we’re gathering with area residents to celebrate local music and herbal traditions, and to bring folks together to share ideas on how to build an economy that works for everyone.

New Economy Focus Groups

Oct. 4, Pennington Gap, Va.
Pennington Gap Community Center
6:30-8:30 p.m.

Oct. 6, Clintwood, Va.
Clintwood Kiwanis Club
7:00-9:00 p.m.

​Oct. 11, Haysi, Va.
Lonesome Pine Regional Library
6:00-7:00 p.m.

​Oct. 18, Hazel Mountain, Va.
Hazel Mountain Community Center
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Oct. 25, Dungannon, Va.

Historic Dungannon Depot
6:00-8:00 p.m.

In September, our Central Appalachian Field Coordinator Willie Dodson — also a folk herbalist and musician — convened five Mountain Music and Medicinals events, which featured information on herbal remedies for colds and flus, live music by local players, good food and even a square dance. The events, held in Haysi, Dungannon, Pennington Gap, Hazel Mountain and Clintwood, provided an opportunity for participants to share their own experiences with herbalism growing up in the mountains.

In October, we’re hosting gatherings in the same towns for people from all walks of life to share their visions for the area’s future and economy. Ideas generated at these New Economy Focus Groups will be shared on an online platform and used to help inform a crowd-sourced vision for the area. Southwest Virginia residents who can’t attend the gatherings can also visit the webpage to post their thoughts. Visit the New Economy Wiki online forum at swvaneweconomy.com

Norton’s walk along the river

Monday, August 8th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Dylan Reilly, 2016 Riverwalk Design Assistant at Appalachian Voices and student in the landscape architect master’s program at the University of Maryland

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

In the Southwest Virginia city of Norton, Appalachian Voices is supporting a project that would enhance recreation along the Guest River and clean up an abandoned coal tipple that is both an eyesore and a source of pollution.

In 2008, Norton city officials began to contemplate using their new sewer main right of way for a two-mile multi-use path connecting the downtown with the community of Ramsey. The proposed Riverwalk presented a unique opportunity to encourage Norton residents of all abilities to recreate along the scenic Guest River and to improve pedestrian connectivity.

Groundwork for the Norton Riverwalk project was laid by the City of Norton’s 2010 feasibility study, environmental research from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and a 2011 conceptual design for an adjacent coal tipple reclamation project completed by Virginia Tech student Nathan Brown.

As the Riverwalk Design Assistant with Appalachian Voices, I’ve been working in close collaboration with other stakeholders this summer to orchestrate a community engagement process that will result in a feasible conceptual design. This rigorous outreach process is helping Norton city leaders inform the public about the Riverwalk and allow area residents to have a substantial impact on the design, while it is still in its most flexible form.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

In addition to meeting with local groups such as police, park officials and public health advocates, a large community Design Evening was held on July 7. Participants were divided into three facilitated teams, each team tackling the same design challenge. Teams received three maps for Riverwalk Phase 1, icons of amenities, and sticky notes.

The teams were tasked with determining where amenities like amphitheaters, restrooms and water fountains should go, using the sticky notes to explain their design reasoning and to propose ideas that the icons could not encapsulate. The two-hour Design Evening was a smashing success with 30 participants and great design ideas. The results of the community engagement process and the conceptual plan will be presented to the Norton City Council on Aug. 16.

Project partners are seeking grant funding for the remediation, design and construction of the Norton Riverwalk. A Clean Water Act settlement is paying for an environmental assessment of the site. Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club were recently plaintiffs in a Clean Water Act lawsuit that resulted in the defendant paying $35,000 for a Supplemental Environmental Project to complete the environmental assessment of the coal tipple site along the proposed Riverwalk. This assessment will be completed by the end of the year, opening the door for the project to continue.

New SWVa project shows top spots for turning old coal mines into economic drivers

Monday, June 20th, 2016 - posted by cat

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.45.15 PM

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator
(o) 276-679 1691, (m) 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org

Norton, VA — Appalachian Voices today released preliminary findings in an ongoing review of abandoned coal mine lands in Southwest Virginia to identify the best potential sites for reclamation and redevelopment for positive economic benefit for the region.

The nonprofit organization partnered with two expert consulting firms, Coal Mining Engineering Services and Downstream Strategies, to design and implement the analysis of 500 sites officially designated as “abandoned mine lands” (AML) by federal and state regulators. The initial findings released today narrow down the field of eligible sites to 21, scattered across seven counties in Southwest Virginia.

“This project brings a new way of thinking to the old problem of what to do with our region’s abandoned mine lands,” says Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “We’re using this study to connect existing ideas from communities across the area with new funding sources to create new economic activity while improving the environment.”

Among the potential projects the joint team is considering for the sites are solar farms, community parks, forestry operations and permaculture farms with closed-loop systems that integrate waste back into improving the soil for growing organic crops.

The team evaluated the hundreds of AML sites based on a variety of criteria. It reached out to local planners to find sites that are already earmarked for some level of redevelopment activity. The team also assessed sites for proximity to population centers, transportation, and utilities infrastructure and markets. Finally, the team evaluated sites based on potential eligibility specifically for funding from the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation introduced this year by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and co-sponsored by Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith, along with several other Appalachian lawmakers. The bill would expedite expenditure of $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which would be in addition to the fund’s annual allotment already coming to Southwest Virginia for mine reclamation.

The next step of the analysis will be a deeper assessment of each of the sites for its suitability for a variety of economic activities such as recreation and parks, renewable energy production, agroforestry, agriculture, and business or industrial park development.

The study was launched earlier this year, and the team expects to complete the final report this fall, which will be distributed to local, regional, state and federal entities to help further the growing conversation around economic diversification in Southwest Virginia.

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Connecting the Economic Dots in Southwest Virginia

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

At a recent economic summit in Wise, Va., Dickenson County resident Tammy Owens paused at the Appalachian Voices information booth to talk about reclaiming existing abandoned coal mines in ways that benefit the local economy. Owens runs an organic commercial farm on former strip mine land. She also wants to start an outfitter company running river trips along the Russell Fork River and is working with the county and the U.S. Forest Service to develop a boat take-out site on another abandoned strip mine.

Adam Wells, our economic diversification campaign coordinator, helped organize the May summit.

Adam Wells, our economic diversification campaign coordinator, helped organize the May summit.

Owens was one of more than 300 people who attended the 2016 Economic Forum on May 12 hosted by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The forum brought together public, private and nonprofit entities — including Appalachian Voices — working on economic development initiatives to help move Southwest Virginia forward.

Although the region is struggling, there are opportunities, too. Under the Obama administration’s POWER Initiative to boost areas around the country hit hard by coal’s decline, the 2016 federal budget includes a total of $65 million for matching grants. And if passed, the bipartisan RECLAIM Act would release an additional $1 billion over five years for remediation of abandoned mine lands that have a post-cleanup economic benefit.

During afternoon breakout sessions, attendees discussed topics such as education, workforce development, health, supporting existing businesses, attracting new businesses, developing the region’s agricultural and natural assets, and tapping into emerging industries like solar energy.

During breakout sessions, attendees discussed solar energy, agriculture, health and more.

During breakout sessions, attendees discussed solar energy, agriculture, health and more.

Developing solar energy in Southwest Virginia was one of the featured topics at the Appalachian Voices booth. For the past several months, we have been partnering with the nonprofit organization Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy to research opportunities for community-scale solar energy in the region. Our focus is on building the local economy by generating local jobs and relying on local services.

Our booth also focused on the opportunity to reclaim abandoned mine lands (generally strip mines closed prior to 1977) in a way that also develops economic opportunities such as solar energy. Appalachian Voices is currently working with environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies and engineering firm Coal Mining Engineering Systems, LLC, to identify optimal sites for potential funding under the RECLAIM Act.

Hundreds of ideas came out of the breakout sessions at the economic forum and are posted on the UVA-Wise website. Six action teams will continue to develop those ideas in advance of a 90-day progress meeting scheduled for Aug. 24.

For more information on the forum, visit tinyurl.com/swva-economic-forum. To learn more about our work, visit appvoices.org/new-economy.