New Economy Network: UNITY Listening Sessions

UNITY listening sessions were held throughout Southwest Virginia in 2022 and 2023 to hear community members’ concerns and to discuss new economic opportunities and challenges facing the region.


UNITY Stands For Understanding the Need for Innovation by Talking with You. We are composed of three member groups of the New Economy Network: Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and The Clinch Coalition. The New Economy Network (NEN) is a group of local residents who are interested in economic development, diversification, and transition work in the seven coalfield counties of Southwest Virginia. We greatly value your opinion and your voice in the region that we all call home. 

Listening sessions summary

Buchanan County

On May 1, 2023, we were joined by several Buchanan County residents who were impacted by the 2021 Hurley and 2022 Whitewood floods. Conversations around disaster recovery and resiliency highlighted the needs to clear out the waterways, clean up remaining debris, and have a safe space for people to go to during future disasters.

Session notes

Dickenson County

On March 23rd, local residents, town leaders, and economic development folks joined up at the Jettie Baker Center with representatives from Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Happilachians to brainstorm about development in Dickenson County.

Conversation largely focused on how we can work together to bring in folks who have been traditionally excluded from the workforce and how we can offer residents the support they need to set down thriving roots in the coalfields.

Session notes

Lee County

On January 26th, Lee County community members and local leaders were invited to sit down and talk about their current projects, hopes for the future, and ways that local organizations could assist.

Common themes that emerged were the need for affordable community entertainment, transparency with local elected officials and migration out of the county for jobs.

Session notes

Russell County

On July 5, 2023, as folks gathered in Lebanon for the Russell County listening session, conversation revolved around downtown revitalization and business changes, outdoor recreation and social support systems.

Session notes

Scott County

On May 31st, 2023, Virginia Organizing, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Appalachian Voices were joined by Scott County resident to discuss the future of their communities.

Attendees discussed the effects of the opioid epidemic, strengthening citizen relationships with local elected officials, and how to uplift the several amazing programs already in the region, like the Appalachian Community Action and Development Agency’s free diaper program.

Tazewell County

On August 31 the historic community of North Tazewell, Virginia, gathered for a pivotal community listening session hosted by Appalachian Voices in partnership with local nonprofits Tazewell Today, the Clinch River Valley Initiative, Each One Teach 1, and the Town of Tazewell and The Cumberland Plateau Planning District.

This session focused on pursuing a community block planning grant as a catalyst for revitalization of the East Riverside Drive area, once a thriving center of commerce. The decline of coal has left its mark on Tazewell, particularly evident in the transformation of the Clinch Valley Rail Line that used to transport vast quantities of coal from the coalfields each day.

Read Amanda Killen’s blog about this session.

Renovated Tazewell train station

Renovated Tazewell train station, photo courtesy of the town of Tazewell, Va.

Wise County

On September 29, 2022, community members and local leaders were invited to sit down and talk about their current projects, hopes for the future, and ways that local organizations could assist. Common themes that emerged were the need for housing, working with limited space to build robust public infrastructure, and concerns about gentrification and niche development that won’t benefit the region as a whole.

On February 23, 2023, Wise County residents, government leaders and business owners came together to talk about their lives and plans for the county, especially in Appalachia and Big Stone Gap. Litter management, the ability to go after grants and funding for community projects, and support systems for business owners were some of the biggest topics of conversation.

Session notes


Appalachian Voices

Appalachian Voices is a regional environmental non-profit organization. Our scope of work includes cleaning up coal ash pollution, promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency, and creating a new and sustainable economy in Appalachia. Looking forward, our office in Norton plans to expand solar energy accessibility in SWVA, work to reclaim abandoned mine lands, and help communities build their resiliency in the face of natural disasters. 

The Clinch Coalition

The Clinch Coalition is a community-based environmental community-based environmental organization that believes in the importance of appreciating, understanding, and protecting our environment. We feel that doing so is essential to improving our quality of life and well-being. The Clinch Coalition maintains a Joint Plan of Work with Virginia Organizing.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards

Founded in 2007, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) is a grassroots organization of concerned community members and their allies working to address the legacy costs of extraction. SAMS works within the geological area south of the Pine Mountain Ridgeline’s point atop Black Mountain, building environmentally and socially conscious grassroots networks within the coalfield counties and towns its members call home. As an organization, SAMS represents the way local communities can empower themselves to fight for environmental progress, a just and novel approach to economic transition, and equitable social change.

Virginia Organizing

Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect the quality of their lives. Virginia Organizing especially encourages the participation of those who have traditionally had little or no voice in our society. Terran is their Wise County Organizer and has been working to uplift marginalized voices in support of justice in the coalfields.



Appalachian Voices
Emma Kelly, New Economy Field Coordinator | (865)585-4939


The Clinch Coalition
Jala Tyler, Program Director

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
Jess Mullins Fullen, Community Organizer


Virginia Organizing
Terran Young