Innovative U.Va.-Southwest Virginia Partnership Redefines Economic Development Efforts

September 09, 2011

September 9, 2011 — The University of Virginia is helping to provide training and services in Southwest Virginia through a regional partnership that brings new ideas to bear on the region's challenges, according to a new report.

The University's Economic Development Partnership facilitates the work of faculty and staff from across U.Va. on projects in Southwest Virginia ranging from executive business classes to cancer screenings.

To support these projects, U.Va. helped secure $3.9 million in new funding for health care, education and business development in the region during the recent fiscal year, and $9.4 million over the past three years, according to the report.

"The University is committed to creating effective public-private partnerships in an effort to address economic growth and development in Southwest Virginia," said U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan. "Such partnerships tap into the many assets of the University ­­– here in Charlottesville and at the College at Wise – among them human talent and a culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration. Together we have the ability to help pave the way for innovation and the creation of new technologies that will generate jobs in the region.

 "I am encouraged by the recent successes. They stand as a bellwether of what's possible."

The Southwest Virginia Economic Development Partnership report submitted to the state government this month outlines the University's collaborative work to advance education, health and economic prosperity in Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickenson, Russell, Tazewell and Buchanan counties, as well as the city of Norton.

The University's management agreement with the state includes a provision that U.Va. work to develop a region in the state outside of the one in which it is located. The University is partnering with the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and the University of Virginia's College at Wise to work in rural Southwest Virginia.

Pace Lochte, the University's director of regional business development, said U.Va. aims to create programming and opportunities that have a lasting impact and improve capacity in the region.

"Economic development is a continuous process with no definitive endpoint, but the work being done begins to create a durable foundation for long-term success," she said. "Everything we do is based on needs identified by the community. Every project features strong connections and relationships between regional partners and the University, on-site activities and opportunities for students to creatively address real-world challenges."

The $3.9 million secured during fiscal year 2011 constituted a 55 percent increase over the previous year, and included funding for a nurse-managed health clinic, an extensive professional development program for history teachers and strategic planning sessions for place-based economic development.

The University's business training initiatives include the Darden/U.Va.-Wise Partnership in Leadership Development, which sends top faculty members from the Darden School of Business to train industry leaders in the region.

"Partnering with the Darden School of Business creates an outstanding opportunity for the University and U.Va.-Wise to support and nurture economic development in Southwest Virginia," U.Va.-Wise Chancellor David J. Prior said. "The program cultivates the next generation of business leaders in our region, improves access to the highest level of executive training and allows U.Va.-Wise to continue its role as an economic development engine for Southwest Virginia."

David Newkirk, Darden's CEO of executive education, said Darden's mission is "to improve society by developing principled leaders for the world of practical affairs." 

"Working with U.Va.'s College at Wise to deliver executive education certainly lets us serve that mission, helping grow the next generation of business leaders for Southwest Virginia," Newkirk said.

So far, 22 companies in the region have sent 90 employees for the courses, which are held at the Southwest Virginia Technology Development Center in Russell County and cover topics ranging from bargaining and negotiations to strategic thinking, according to the report.

The program included three two-day courses for each of the past two years, and is committed to continue for at least another two years, said Colin Winter, director of program design at Darden. The participants have ranged from executives at large energy firms to entrepreneurs running technology start-ups.

"It covers a broad set of very practical skills, and the courses are hands-on and very interactive," Winter said.

Some of Darden's top faculty members have taught the courses, and the response from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive, Winter said.

"That's been one of the most exciting parts," he said. "Several of our faculty members have actively sought out the chance to participate, and have asked to go back down next year. The participants have also been very enthusiastic, which is nice for our faculty."
Other efforts outlined in the report include:

•    The U.Va. Cancer Center, in partnership with the U.Va. Office of Telemedicine and partners within the region, introduced an innovative model for enabling on-site cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment, using tele-health technologies to build and extend capacity in the region.

•    Almost 1,000 area teachers participated in professional development courses the University designed and implemented in the region.

•    Over the past three years, the Healthy Appalachia Institute Fellowship program mentored 11 student fellows who have a strong interest in solving health care challenges in the region. More than 50 percent of the students are now in medical school, graduate nursing education or practicing health care.

•    The Center for the Liberal Arts at U.Va. helped secure an additional $1 million from the Department of Education for the third grant in a series of Teaching American History professional development programs, now totaling $3.6 million.

•    AccessUVa, the University's financial aid program, financially supported 52 percent of U.Va. students from the region.

— By Rob Seal


Media Contact

Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications