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You are here: Home Opinion Paula I. Bryant The word is out

The word is out

Word of what Halifax County leaders are doing to attract new business and industry to the Southside region is spreading.

We seemed to have even impressed one Northern Virginian with these efforts.

Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, shared an opinion piece written to the Culpeper Times by Jim Charapich, a class member of the 2013 Class of LEAD Virginia, following his visit to our area.

Last month, the higher education center had the pleasure of hosting the 2013 Class of LEAD VIRGINIA at the Innovation Center. 

Our own Tourism Director Linda Shepperd also is a member of this class. 

The visit wrapped up the group’s tour of southern Virginia that included trips to Berry Hill, the VIR, Riverstone, The Prizery, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and Averett University.

“I realize that I’m a glass half-full kinda gal, but the piece that class member Jim Charapich submitted to the Culpeper Times is inspiring,” said Adams. “It is clear that our efforts in Halifax County and the Southern Virginia region are bearing fruit.”

Charapich serves as the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce President/CEO, and he praised SOVA’s progress in his column “Piedmont Horizons” that appeared in the May 23 Culpeper Times.

 

Submitted by Jim Charapich 

The 2013 Class of  LEAD VIRGINIA  toured Southern Virginia in May. The area known as  “Southside” is being rebranded. The area was once a rich economic powerhouse in Virginia when the tobacco and textile industries were in full swing. In fact Danville was known as having the most millionaires per capita in the USA at one time. Southside Virginia was rich in jobs and prosperity, however, there was an underlying vulnerability.

In the last decade the area has lost approximately 40,000 jobs. Between the social/legal shifts in tobacco issues and the export of textile jobs to low wage foreign countries, the area was left with overwhelming challenges. In the wake of the economic blows, weak underpinnings of the economy became more clear.

One of the challenges to surface was the culture of lower learning. Considering much of the workforce held jobs in factories and fields, the educational level required was not more than high school. Many families encouraged their children to quit high school for the alluring wage of the factories. In fact, most employers did not support the pursuit of higher education. The result was a workforce unprepared to adapt in shifting to the need for high skilled labor in the factories of today. 

Given the challenges of jobs and workforce education, it would appear the Southside would be known for high unemployment and a rural environment with unfavorable economic prospects. 

Why would LEAD VIRGINIA invest two and a half days touring this area? 

The Honorable Senator Ruff, Virginia Senate - 15th District put it well in our opening session - paraphrased - The Southside that was, is being transformed, and Southside is a new and emerging economy in Virginia. We are now referred to it as the new “Southern Virginia.” 

As we toured the area, the preconceived notions of Southside were truly transformed into an envy and admiration for the strides made in the last decade. The economy in Southern Virginia is poised to “Leap Frog” out of the past into the lead as a sustainable economic powerhouse. How could this happen? 

As Laurie Moran of the Danville Chamber of Commerce put it, “We want a sustainable economy, and we are going to build it.” The leadership of the area is well coordinated and passionate. What have they done to display such success?

First, we visited the renovated Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center whose roots go back to the land grants of the early colonists in Virginia. While there, we learned of the challenges of the tobacco industry and the emerging opportunities in agriculture in the region. We were also treated to a concert by Wayne Henderson and Jeff Little, who played the rich music born of the Southern Virginia  Appalachias. Look them up, there is nothing quite like it.  

The next day, we visited The Prizery in South Boston, an arts and cultural center built in a remodeled warehouse bringing world class shows to inspire the region. The facility hosts a variety of educational partnerships with local schools to allow students of all ages to see and experience the arts first hand.

We then traveled to the Riverstone Technology Park. Located in Halifax County, the park is part of a long term plan to diversify the economy. It is a 165-acre park focused on IT, biotechnology, telecommunications and technical manufacturing. 

The presentation included comments from the Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Matt Leonard. Most impressive were the comments by Tad Deriso, president and CEO of Mid Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, known as MBC. MBC was set up as a non-profit organization funded to bring high speed Internet to Southern Virginia. 

Ironically, the dark fiber out of Loudoun County, fed through Culpeper, supplies the primary backbone for the new broadband lines. The prolific network diagram resembles the wiring of a brain across Southern Virginia. 

We were then offered a tour of the Virginia International Raceway. Having lived in Virginia all of my life, this was new to me. Where have I been? This is the playground for the rich and famous in the world of racing. The day that we were there was Porsche day. The course winds through the hills of Alton on the border of North Carolina.  We toured the only car manufacturer in Virginia at the raceway. They build the Ariel Atom which is able to achieve 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds. On my bucket list is a $525 Ariel Atom driving experience at the VIR.

We went on to Danville to hear presentations by leaders in the community on workforce, economic development and health care. We met at the The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, focusing on finding marketable innovation, preparing tomorrow’s workforce and helping entrepreneurs, growers and educators become better-connected and more effective. 

We had two presentations on innovation, one on biology and one on energy. Both were very impressive. I noted one farm from Culpeper was involved in some of the research. We finished the day with a reception at the home of the Averett University president for dinner and networking.

The revelation of the new Southern Virginia continued with an early trip to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. Having been completely impressed, so far, I was thinking that this would be similar to some of the other locations on the trip. However, stadium seating, state of the art equipment and one of the most impressive educational facilities for workforce training left me asking, HOW? I want this for Culpeper. 

We were privileged to meet with the executive director to learn about the facility and the community leadership that put it together.

Needless to say, my view of Southern Virginia is transformed. As I spoke to the director of a foundation supporting projects in Southern Virginia, I asked why he does what he does so passionately. His answer, because “I love what is possible.” The leadership in Southern Virginia is an example of “what is possible.” 

A lesson in leadership for the commonwealth.