The University of Virginia’s College at Wise welcomed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and a handful of officials from Amazon for a listening tour held at the College’s Oxbow Center on Monday, Oct. 21.
The listening session was designed to give Amazon leaders an introduction to Southwest Virginia. The objective was to show that the rural area of Virginia has plenty to offer the major company if it decides to include the region in its plans to expand its corporate footprint, primarily in Northern Virginia, but also in various parts of the Commonwealth.
UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry, the region’s legislative delegation, and other leaders from far Southwest Virginia offered insights about the region’s attributes of talent, technology, workforce, and a strong education system that is second to none. Henry said UVA Wise looks forward to finding ways to support Amazon’s growth across all of Virginia.
“Your decision to locate in Virginia was celebrated across the entire Commonwealth, including here in Southwest Virginia,” Henry said.
Henry said the College wants to continue its work exploring ways to create experiential learning opportunities for the region’s students, growth opportunities for small business and entrepreneurs, and to bring jobs to the region as a result.
“The building you are in this afternoon was opened just for the purpose of enabling entrepreneurs and technologists to access the region’s significant broadband power,” Henry said. “We have many IT professionals in this region working remotely for companies across the globe. We also have thousands of students within a 125-mile radius of this exact location who are studying in information technology fields. Many want to stay in the region and take advantage of the amenities Southwest Virginia has to offer.”
The Oxbow Center will serve as the anchor for what will soon be a network of co-working locations throughout the broader region, Henry explained. The space will also include the Clinch River Ecological Education Center.
“The Clinch River is one of the most bio-diverse rivers in all of North America and it is in our back yard,” she said. “Under one roof, we are bringing together technologist, entrepreneurs and environmental education and we are looking forward to the synergies that will result.”
About two dozen representatives from the region offered brief comments for Amazon officials and Gov. Northam during the listening tour. Many, including Delegate Terry Kilgore, expressed support for Amazon and its decision to expand significantly in Northern Virginia. State leaders believe the announcement will also create prosperity for the rest of Virginia, especially in rural regions.
“I believe in all of Virginia,” Gov. Northam said. “We need to lift up rural Virginia.”
Northam said Monday’s session would allow those around the table to not only listen, but to find solutions to bringing jobs to the region.
“We want to come up with solutions,” he said. “We have talent in rural Virginia.”
Amazon officials spent Sunday night in Bristol to get a better feel for the region. They will also visit Spearhead Trails after the listening tour before spending time in Abingdon Monday evening.