Sustainable Economic Development for Southwest Virginia?

Several hundred government officials, business executives, crafters, musicians, and travel industry executives heard Governor Tim Kaine give his views on asset-based economic development yesterday at Creating a New Economy in Southwest Virginia, a conference held this week in Abingdon, VA.

Prior to speaking, he toured the room and spoke to many of those who have been working hard to make develop the region’s music and craft-based economy. In this photo, Governor Kaine is speaking to Joe Wilson, Chairman for the National Council for the Traditional Arts.

Governor Kaine emphasized this point near the end of his speech. "Success goes to those who tell their story to the marketplace." In a sense, that was the underlying theme of the entire conference, telling the story about the regions assets in a way that would attract tourists and investment.

The conference was hosted by Round the Mountain and the Crooked Road, two non-profit organizations seeking to create a new economy by supporting regional crafts and music.

The keynote speaker was Becky Anderson, a reformed industrial recruiter who founded HandMade in America
after realizing that companies painstakingly lured to North Carolina by
financial incentives and tax concessions were quick to leave when other
countries offered better terms and lower wages.

Handmade in America works to implement environmentally sustainable
economic solutions that emphasize the craft industry, enhance
opportunities in the marketplace, and develop entrepreneurial
strategies for the region’s crafts artisans. It has had a major effect
in creating a new business sector to support Ashville’s economy.

The major thrust of asset-based development is that a region must
focus on jobs that cannot be outsourced and must utilize its
sustainable natural resources, historical assets, and its craft-based
economy to develop a tourist economy in line with the growing interest
in educational, historical, and cultural tourism.

The critical factor is to achieve sustainable economic growth from local resources rather than by bringing in outside industry.

Floyd, VA tried to attract industry by building a modern structure
in an industrial park a few years ago. This might have been successful
fifteen years ago, but in an increasingly international marketplace,
manufacturing companies move quickly to where labor and land are cheap
in order to stay competitive.

Bringing in call centers is no panacea either. Call centers are
routinely located to wherever English-speaking workers can be found.

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0 Responses to Sustainable Economic Development for Southwest Virginia?

  1. CP says:

    Sounds like this was a good conference and of major importance to Jax. Any way we can lure Becky Anderson in for a seminar at our Center? I would love to see all the potential artisan entrepreneurs gathered together to discuss this possibility here in Floyd! Will you be at Jax on Friday? If I can make it happen ( I have out of town company arriving) I’d like to stop by and visit for a short time.

  2. Thanks for your encouragement.

    I will ask Becky how we might arrange a visit. I think it might be most effective to have her speak at a follow-up sub-conference at the Jacksonville Center to engage artisans, activists, and local government officials who missed the Abingdon conference.

    I will discuss this with the Round the Mountain and Crooked Road folks who hosted the conference in Abingdon, because I am sure there were other local governments like those in Floyd who were unable to make it.

    If the Governor felt our cultural economy was important enough to fly down from Richmond after an early morning meeting on taxes, I am sure that any non-participating local governments need a chance to join in on this movement before their absence is interpreted as indifference.

    This is a situation where everybody wins, as Becky Anderson so clearly illustrated with her stories at the conference on how devastated mining towns were successfully rescued from economic ruin by coordinated local and regional efforts.

    The economic potential of harnessing culture, history and unique regional skills to provide a sustainable and non-outsourceable base for growth has to be seen to be believed.

    You can check the HandMade in America website for a full set of reference material.

  3. David:

    Two thoughts:

    While the growing arts and crafts communities are an asset that should be encouraged and developed for Floyd County and other parts of Southwestern Virginia, the economic base for Floyd needs some diversity. Home-based businesses have grown substantially in the county in the last decade, representing everything from consulting, woodworking (like yours), personal and professional services and arts and crafts. We need to find a way to highlight this growth and opportunity. Floyd also needs to seek to broaden its entertainment base beyond music. In the 1960s, the county had a movie theater, a skating rink, a community swimming pool and two race tracks. While a return to all of these is not viable there may be a market for some.

    2–Since the county’s chances of finding a tenant for the Branwick Building on Christiansburg Pike are slim-to-none and the county will be forced to shell out $2.2 million next April to buy it perhaps the county’s growing government operations should consider making it a new, centralized home for all county offices — a consolidated county administrative center housing all county offices and services. Right now the government exists in a hodgepod of buildings scattered in and around Floyd. Sooner or later they are going to have to look to building a new county administration building (as both Carrroll and Montgomery County have done) and doesn’t it make sense to make use of what is already here? In the long run it might save money and turn what is now a debacle into a useful facility.

  4. I think you are right on both points.

    Any effort to create a sustainable economic development must embrace all businesses in the region, not just craft-based businesses.

    One of the more successful vehicles for promoting local/regional busineses in other areas is the “Guide to XXXZ County” which combines stories, images and advertising.

    In Floyd County, we have many local writers who are experienced self-publishers, so it would not be too difficult to set up a team to develop a guidebook for Floyd that could be widely sold to tourists, new settlers, and visitors of all kinds. The main thrust might be to present artisans and events and locations of cultural interest, but there has to be a place for commercial messages also.

    As far as the eventual disposition of the Branwick Building, if it can be converted to office and general meeting space, it should be a strong contender for county occupancy.

    In that case, I think that it should also include a Senior center, a day-care center, and a public cafeteria/coffee shop so that it is truly a self-contained working environment and county services building.

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