The University of Virginia is participating in Project Rebound, a Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce-led effort to revive the local economy in a time of COVID-19 pandemic.
Officially launched this week, the effort engages the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University to address the COVID-19 crisis and devise strategies to restore the local economy.
Project Rebound plans to release its findings as a blueprint to help area businesses emerge from the current stay-at-home order. A structured, team-based exploration of area industries and economic sectors, it relies on members of the business community to help identify and craft solutions to restore business productivity in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
“Since the beginning of this crisis, businesses have been eager to collaborate and assist one another, and we would like to extend those efforts into a broader effort to restore our local economy,” said Elizabeth Cromwell, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce.
The project is broken into seven teams focused on reviving small businesses; protecting the arts and the creative economy; restarting the hospitality and tourism industry; leveraging anchor institutions; preparing vital infrastructure; and restoring non-profits and community organizations. The seventh group, examining key industries, is itself broken into two subgroups: one for information technology, defense and financial services, and a second for biotech, manufacturing and food and beverage production.
“We are trying to stay very tightly in the lane of rebuilding our economy,” Cromwell said. “We are really looking at addressing the immediate steps we can take to help open the economy in this area. And also what can we learn from this experience that will make us a more resilient economy in the future.”
Cromwell said she wants the committees’ recommendations by the start of June, noting that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order has a tentative expiration date of June 10.
Pointing out that the University has been on the front line of patient care and research during the COVID-19 crisis, Pace Lochte, assistant vice president for economic development at UVA, said the University also has a role to play on the economic front.
“President Ryan has encouraged us all to identify ways to partner with the community during this crisis,” Lochte said. “We recognize that we have a significant economic impact in the region, and we really want to work with the business community to understand what it will take to get our region up and running again. This is part of President Ryan’s mandate to be both a good and a great university. And we really look forward to working with the city, the county and the chamber on this important initiative.”
Lochte said it was important to draw ideas from many teams.
“No one group can address everything,” she said. “But I think the economic development teams are in a unique position to begin documenting key factors that are instrumental in restarting the economy here in Central Virginia. Local businesses are a big part of what makes Charlottesville a special place, and we don’t want to lose that.”
Cromwell credited University basketball coach Tony Bennett for inspiring the name of the project. After winning last year’s NCAA basketball championship, Bennett revealed a quote from a TED Talk that had helped motivate the team: “If you learn to use it right – the adversity – it will buy you a ticket to a place you could not have gone any other way.”
“I think that captures the spirit of what we want to do here as a group,” Cromwell said. “We want to take that adversity we have all suffered and turn it into something useful that we can all learn from. A rising tide lifts all boats, and that is what we are really trying to accomplish here.”