A crowd of nearly 400 gathered at UVa-Wise Thursday to discuss talent—a major part of the region’s effort to build a thriving economy in Southwest Virginia.

The 2018 Southwest Virginia Economic Forum, held in the David J. Prior Convocation Center, drew individuals from 13 counties and three cities in three planning districts, Virginia officials, and entrepreneurs who are transforming the region. A variety of speakers and panelists addressed several issues related to economic development and how the region and its people can work together to embrace the future.

Chancellor Donna P. Henry, who has made economic development a key part of her tenure at the helm of UVa-Wise, welcomed the crowd to campus. Henry said the region has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation, and exciting and adventurous outdoor recreational opportunities. However, the region also offers more, she added.

“We also have some of the most talented businesses and organizations,” Henry said. “And, I must say, we have some of the best institutions of higher education.”

Henry said it is fitting that the theme of the third SWVA Economic Forum is talent.

“There is no better area for us to explore and invest our time in today,” she said.

UVa-Wise celebrated the graduation of nearly 300 students last week, and will prepare this summer to welcome the class of 2022, Henry added. Henry asked the crowd to consider what the future has in store for the Class of 2022.

“Our work at these events is about these students and their talent,” she said. “How do we plan for the future that this generation will face? We are fortunate to have several college and high school students with us today”

Henry said those students who live to be centenarians may see the close of this century and celebrate the year 2100.”

Henry said every aspect of life will be different.

“We expect you to be on the cutting edge of those changes and we expect you to be the agents of positive change,” she said. “You will be the inventors, the thinkers, the leaders of today and tomorrow.”

Cheryl Cran, founder of Nextmapping and the chief executive officer of its parent company Synthesis at Work, Inc., gave the audience a glimpse of the future at work. According to Cran, technology and the changing attitudes of members of Generation Z and Millennials have about work have shaken things up in the work world, and will do so in the future. Younger workers work hard, but they realize that work does not have to be hard, she explained.

She said business will be bright for those who create entertainment for Generation Z and Millennials. People who create a niche business will also do well in the future, she added.

Southwest Virginia, Cran said, is attractive to younger workers, and adding entertainment services will help bring new workers to the area. Working remotely is also attractive in the future work world, she said.

“If the future is calling, then we must be answering with the most energy and excitement that we’ve ever had before,” Cran said.

Southwest Virginia has the resources it needs, Cran told the crowd.

“There’s so much potential,” she said. “You’ve got the resources. It’s simply harnessing the resources.”

Brian Ball, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, also spoke of the potential that is evident in Southwest Virginia. Ball said Southwest Virginia has wonderful natural assets and the region is doing many good things to boost the economy.