The fifth annual Southwest Virginia Economic Forum will take place online in September after the COVIF 19 virus upended the popular event last May.
The online forum will be open to all and will highlight the resiliency of the region during the pandemic. The theme of the online forum is “Place “ and will feature speakers and discussion on new and insightful topics.
“We are excited for the opportunity to connect online without boundaries for our fifth forum,” said Shannon Blevins, vice chancellor of economic development and strategic initiatives at UVA Wise said. “While we will miss seeing everyone gather in person, we believe a virtual two-day event will open the forum to even more participants from other parts of Virginia and beyond. The pandemic has also given us a deeper appreciation for our region and all it has to offer, so celebrating Place as our theme seems appropriate.”
The forum kicks off on September 2 on the Forum Facebook page as organizers present a strong vision of regional collaboration, growth and innovation for Southwest Virginia. The first day features Melody Warnick, a place attachment expert and author of “This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are.” She will share inspiring stories and ideas for place leaders looking to nurture a sense of community, build a resilient economy, and engage residents in an optimistic vision of the future—no matter what that future holds.
GO Virginia Region One will present a two-part session, “Creating Change” which will include an overview of GENEDGE, a re-tooling initiative for Virginia’s manufacturers that was funded by the Commonwealth’s first statewide Competitive Economic Resilience & Recovery grant. Bill Donohue, presidmet and executive directir of GENEDGE, will share how advanced manufacturers across Virginia are reinventing themselves and growing the next chapter of their story. This presentation will also feature what happened when GO Virginia Region One collaborated with seven higher education institutions to mobilize the talent of Southwest Virginia in cross-disciplinary teams of students that assisted small businesses with developing and enhancing their online presence.
Beth Rhinehart, vice chair of the GO Virginia Region One Council and president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, will address how students supported businesses during the virtual shift and what the students’ vision is for the region’s future. The panel discussion will feature three students from Bluefield College, Mountain Empire Community College, and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
The Big Pivot: Creating the Future, is also part of day one as forum organizers examine new ways to navigate crises and address what’s next for region’s future. Chef T of Ina+Forbes Restaurant and Stephen Curd of LaVelle will discuss how they will manage the future.
The second day focuses on how a crisis creates strong towns, including how strong leaders emerge during a crisis. The panel will highlight the remarkable assets and resources local leaders leveraged through the COVID-19 crisis. Brad Hall, Vice President of External Affairs at American Electric Power, Becky Nave, Development Specialist in Partnership Marketing for Virginia Tourism Corporation, Joseph Puckett, General Manager, Point Broadband, Donna P. Henry, Chancellor of UVA Wise, and Melanie Protti-Lawrence, Co-Owner of Lawrence Brothers Industries are extrude on this panel.
Brandon Dennison of Coalfield Development and Steve Lawson of Big Stone Gap’s town manager, will discuss rising above the fear of change as the second day wraps after discussion of next steps.