The Southwest Virginia Economic Forum will mark its milestone fifth year of operation with a theme called “Place: Celebrating Our Region.”

The focus of the 2020 forum, set for May 20, 2020 in the David J. Prior Center at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, will focus on the importance of highlighting the talent, innovative spirit, the strength of family and community bonds, and the exceptional value of Southwest Virginia. The forum will explore the collective impact of the region, how communities are transformed through social enterprise, and how the area youth will influence the future of Southwest Virginia.

Key speakers, always an important part of the forum, were selected to deliver addresses regarding the theme as it related to sense of place. Panel discussions and breakout sessions are also planned for the popular forum that draws participants from several states and many communities in Virginia.

Melody Warnick, author of “This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are,” will address the crowd about the three simple strategies that can help a community thrive. Her engaging talk will include how the people who live in big or small towns and cities must fall in love with the community before it can thrive.

Warnick uses data and stories to show the three strategies that will make it happen. She explains that understanding authentic identity, fostering social cohesion, and empowering residents to create place-based joy are necessary for a community and its people to prosper. When the three strategies are adopted, the results in those communities include higher levels of place attachment, well-being, economic growth, and talent attraction and retention of the talent.

Brandon Dennison, an entrepreneur from West Virginia, will also speak at the forum. Dennison is chief executive officer of Coalfields Development and has been published in national magazines. The Heinz Family Foundation named Brandon Dennison, founder and CEO of Coalfield Development Corp., whose transformative model of employment-based social enterprise is helping to end generational poverty and create a new, diverse and environmentally sustainable economy for West Virginia, as the recipient of the prestigious 24th Heinz Award in the Technology, the Economy and Employment category.

Alex Knoll, a teen who is in the process of launching the Ability App, an app for people with disabilities, will also address the forum crowd. Knoll has been featured on the Today Show, Ellen, the Tatra Summit in the Slovak Republic and is recognized as one of the nation’s top teen entrepreneurs.

Panel discussions will feature local leaders actively engaged in their communities. Austin Bradley with Breaks Interstate Park, Elizabeth McClanahan with Appalachian School of Law, and Chef T of Ina & Forbes Restaurant.

Registration for the 2020 Southwest Virginia Economic Forum is now open. To register, please visit