2017: the year of Southwest Virginia?
By Scott Robertson
I rarely take this space to preview the content of a given issue. After all, the Table of Contents was published just three pages ago. But this issue’s primary focus, I think, warrants an overture.
The dawning of 2017 marks a time of increased optimism in Southwest Virginia, where the near-decade-long decline of the coal industry has negatively affected virtually every aspect of the regional economy. Part of that optimism flows from having a Republican in the White House, and one who campaigned on a promise of reopening coal mines and putting the miners back to work, to boot. Another measure of optimism flows from the fact that efforts are now underway to diversify the region’s economic base so problems in one industry can never again shut down virtually the entire regional economy.
It’s a heady time, yet also a time for careful contemplation. Those who make decisions and write checks need to ensure the limited resources available for revitalizing Southwest Virginia’s economy are put to the best possible use. Opportunities abound, but there’s a difference between acting strategically and chasing dreams – and only one of those two is likely to produce desired results in the real world.
Put simply, betting on the return of big coal is chasing a dream. Investing in diversification of the workforce and the recruitment of new industry is acting strategically.
In this issue, we’ll hear from a former Duke Power CEO who was one of coal’s leading proponents and customers, as he explains why diversification and retraining are the keys to Southwest Virginia’s future, while the coal industry is becoming less likely to return to prominence in our lifetimes.
We’ll also learn about the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Fund (Go Virginia) a brand new economic development effort officials believe has the opportunity to bring new employers and investment to the region. The regional Go Virginia council that will represent the 13-county region of Southwest Virginia is being assembled this month. K-VA-T Food Stores President and CEO Steve Smith has already agreed to sit on the statewide board, representing the region.
Finally, we’ll look at an effort being made not only to retrain the former coal miners, but also to combat brain drain by giving the region’s young adults new opportunities to enjoy long, successful careers in Southwest Virginia.
The last several years have been difficult ones for Southwest Virginia. The opportunities of 2017 represent a unique chance to cast a new vision of success for the entire region. It’s a chance that’s too rare and too important to let pass.