Stephen Moret, Shannon Blevins and Dr. Donna Henry will all return to the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum. File photos.
The sixth annual Southwest Virginia Economic Forum, which annually engages participants through a shared vision of regional collaboration and growth, will be streamed via Facebook Live from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise May 26 and May 27 from 9 a.m. to noon each day.
The 2021 forum will center around the topic of connectivity as it highlights entrepreneurs, both locally and from afar. The event includes panel discussions of innovative strategies ongoing in the region.
Shannon Blevins, vice chancellor for economic development and strategic initiatives at UVA Wise, says the forum will touch on entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurs, how the region is doing in terms of economic development, and how innovative technology is making a true difference. The event will also highlight what opportunities lie ahead.
“This year’s lineup will give people the opportunity to view sessions from the comfort of their offices or homes, which embodies our theme: connectivity,” Blevins says. “Last year’s forum was also virtual, and while we missed seeing our colleagues in person, it drew hundreds of people to each of its sessions.”
UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry will welcome virtual viewers and provide a hint of the many topics the forum will feature.
Stephen Moret, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, will deliver his State of the Region address. Moret did the same for the 2017 forum. He is expected to provide a long-term look at how the region has progressed over the years, what challenges it faces now as well as the opportunities on the horizon.
GO Virginia Region One recently awarded the Regional Entrepreneurship Initiative, launched by Opportunity Southwest Virginia, which provided the funds for a report on what opportunities exist in the region for entrepreneurial ventures. The report was written by Tom Chapman, of Chapman & Company, who will speak about his findings.
To help local businesses and organizations reach their target audiences, Alisa Miller, CEO and Co-Founder of Pluralytics, will share her entrepreneurial journey and discuss the science behind building connections through communication.
Small businesses across the nation have shown resiliency over the past year and continue to remain connected to their communities. A panel on “Southwest Virginia’s Entrepreneurs in Action” will feature entrepreneurs from Wise, Bluefield and Abingdon including Blake Salyer with Lincoln Road Coffee Lounge, Collin O’Donnell with The Grind Bluefield Coffeeshop & Eatery, and Nicole Dyer with White Birch Food & Juice. The panel will be moderated by Leah Fremouw, senior vice president and director of community innovation at Virginia Community Capital.
Troy Bravenboer, president and founder of Brave Freight and AirMax Logistics, will lead a session titled “Southwest Virginia: Worth the Investment.” Bravenboer is an entrepreneur who is growing his logistics business in Southwest Virginia when he could have selected any location in the world to do so.
Nancy Whitworth, former director of economic and community development at the city of Greenville, South Carolina will share her insightful experience and the importance of establishing public-private partnerships that lead to long-term success.
Ken Heath, director of community and economic development at the town of Marion will discuss how locals are leading their communities by implementing unique projects across the region. This session will include Keith Barker with the city of Galax, and Kim Ross with mountTERRA LLC.
It’s never too early to talk about craft beer. Dr. Kristen Westover, president of Mountain Empire Community College and Will Payne, director of InvestSWVA, will discuss how Southwest Virginia is using innovative drone technology to harvest barley and how they are strategically partnering with Virginia breweries. Growing the region’s agricultural base to include food and beverage processing is a key economic development strategy.
The Sixth Annual SWVA Economic Forum will conclude with a fireside chat by Ben Muldrow, partner at Arnett Muldrow & Associates, and Doug Jackson, capacity development specialist at Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
This year’s forum is generously supported by presenting sponsors GO Virginia Region One and UVA Wise, media sponsor The Business Journal of TriCities Tennessee/Virginia, and a host of other sponsors, which can be viewed here.