Cabinet members visit UVa-Wise as part of Southwest Virginia tour

Two members of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s cabinet visited The University of Virginia’s College at Wise Wednesday as part of a two-day tour of Southwest Virginia.
Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng and Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey, along with several deputy secretaries, were briefed on the College’s efforts to boost the region’s economy.
Shannon Blevins, economic development director for UVa-Wise, outlined various outreach initiatives and programs offered at the College. The Healthy Appalachia Institute, Center for Teaching Excellence, and various professional and leadership development programs highlight how UVa-Wise has become an economic development engine for the region.
Bringing the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Education program to the region gives the area a unique asset, Blevins said. As a result of discussions with Southwest Virginia business leaders, the idea of a concentrated effort of high-level education was formed and cultivated in the Partnership for Leadership Development, Blevins explained.
The joint venture between UVa-Wise and UVA’s Darden School of Business offers an option of six key courses. Participants at companies in Southwest Virginia and the surrounding region select four courses to complete the full program and earn a certificate in leadership development.
“This sets us apart from other rural areas across the Commonwealth and across the nation,” Blevins said. “It is my goal to have these certificates hanging in offices across the region.”
Chancellor David J. Prior said it is unusual for a small, liberal arts college to have such a large presence in economic development. UVa-Wise listens to the region and finds ways to meet the area’s needs, he said.
“We are on the ground and out in the field,” Chancellor Prior said. “We get together with Darden and deliver the goods.”
The economic development efforts at UVa-Wise are a model for the Commonwealth and other rural regions, Chancellor Prior said.
“We hope to export our solutions to other rural areas,” he said.
Virginia Senator William Wampler, senior lecturer at UVa-Wise, said the College works with its partners to create an educated culture in the region.  Southwest Virginia has an impressive broadband infrastructure, and Virginia officials can help focus those efforts so the region gets the best returns on the investment.
The state officials also received a report from Richard Dell, executive director of the Appalachian American Energy Research Center. The center, which could open in a few weeks, is an incubator for clean energy technologies.
Todd Christensen, director of the Heartwood project in Abingdon, briefed the state officials on work the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission is doing to help Southwest Virginia reap economic benefits from its cultural heritage and stunning natural attractions.