SWVA Economic Forum


Online registration will close at noon on May 8, 2017. However, all are welcome to attend the Forum and onsite registration will take place the day of the event beginning at 8:00 a.m. at the David J. Prior Convocation Center on the campus of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.  See you there!”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017        8:30 am to 3:30 pm

David J. Prior Convocation Center,  UVa-Wise, Wise, Va

What was a regional event in 2016 has turned into a movement! Please join the effort to revitalize Southwest Virginia by attending the 2017 Economic Forum.  Learn how your business, community or organization can actively contribute to the region’s success.

Program Highlights

          Read how you can connect to the event.

  • View highlights of the day
  • Speakers and sessions to inform, connect and ignite passion for the region’s economic growth.
  • Take a look at the great line up we have this year!

What would you say if you had five minutes to move Southwest Virginia forward?

Here’s your chance.

The SWVA Economic Forum wants to hear what you have to say about a project or program that will help the region transition to a brighter economy, but here’s the catch…you only have five minutes to explain it. That’s 300 seconds to get your points across, open minds, or kindle a spark that ignites the region.  Here’s how…

Submit a one minute audition video link to oede@uvawise.edu.   The best ideas will receive an opportunity to present their idea at the Forum.  The video must contain the following elements:

  1. Is the project impactful to the region’s future success?
  2. Is it on point?
  3. Is it creative?
  4. Does it communicate key findings?
  5. Can it be presented within the five minute time limit?

Image result for forward icon free download FORWARD TO THE FORUM

Kathy Still, reflects and shares a baby boomer’s perspective on SWVA

A recent blog post here by Rachel Patton caused me to do some deep pondering. She began her post saying she is considered a millennial by a slim margin. I realized I was on the opposite side of the age-labeling spectrum. I’m a baby boomer by just a sliver.

The recognition got me wondering about the changes I’ve seen in the region during my five decades in Southwest Virginia. Rachel’s blog caused me to stretch my memories to recall the region of my childhood.

I was a toddler when Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, but I wasn’t aware I lived on the battlefield. I did, however, attend Head Start in 1966, and I remember my little “diploma” signed, by stamp of course, by Lady Byrd Johnson when the Head Start class graduated. I watched the moon landing from a fuzzy television screen. I remembered seeing military draft numbers on the local news broadcast, but I really didn’t know what that was all about, but it made the adults grow quiet.   Read more


Rachel Patton, discusses being a millenial in SWVA

I grew up in a small town in Southwest Virginia. Most of my friends, like so many young people across the region, left for college and settled in cities and towns from Seattle, Washington to Naples, Florida and everywhere in between, I stayed in Southwest Virginia. I am pursuing my career and raising my family in a town about 15 miles from my hometown.

I am considered a millennial. I’m an old millennial, just barely squeaking into that generation. However, I do feel as if I need to speak for the young people in our region.

As a workforce development professional, I know that one challenge looming for Southwest Virginia is the aging workforce.  Much of our skilled workforce is quickly reaching retirement age and there is much concern among businesses and workforce developers about replacing that talent.  I heard this wave of impending retirements referred to as the ‘grey tsunami’ recently.  Read more

Becki Joyce, Russell County Virginia Native shares Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

A popular song during my college days by Bon Jovi often plays through my mind.  Being a Bon Jovi fan living in Southwest Virginia, the song is a natural fit.   Just the other day a friend asked me if I ever thought 25 years ago I would be living in my hometown again.  My answer was no.  Just as the song says,  “ I spent twenty years trying to get out of this place”.   Sound familiar?   Do you hear the youth of today saying the same thing?  – their yearning and itching to leave for bigger and better things?

I left Southwest Virginia soon after graduating from UVa-Wise (then Clinch Valley College) to begin a family and life in Eastern Kentucky.   Life moves fast when you have three children, a career, and many community organizational roles to fill.   However, a few years ago, and several life changes coalesced at the same time, and left me as a single mother, unemployed, and longing for home.  Read more

Bernie Niemeier shares his Long Road to Wise on the way to the 2016 SWVA Economic Forum

This magazine takes me all across Virginia, figuratively as a reader and literally as its publisher.  I’m a participant in a multitude of business and economic development events.  During a two-week period last month, I found myself in Norfolk, Chantilly, Charlottesville, Richmond, Lexington, Irvington and Wise — in that order! That’s a lot of time crisscrossing the commonwealth.

The road to Wise started on a foggy morning in Richmond.  For those who don’t know Wise County, it’s in far Southwest Virginia.     Read more

Shannon Blevins, SWVA native, shares her vision for the region

 I’m not an expert in anything. I’ve never claimed to be and don’t see myself ever making that claim. I’m a generalist! Sometimes I get an overwhelming feeling that I don’t know what I don’t know. Do you ever feel that way?

I’ll wallow in that self-doubt for a while but then I come to my senses and realize that there are many things that I do know, many things I can do. I often feel “overwhelmed with opportunity.”  Read more


Working Together to Create and Connect

The second phase of a comprehensive regional economic development forum was held at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise on Wednesday, Aug. 24 to allow members of six action teams to share ways that Southwest Virginia can grow and prosper in challenging times.

The first forum was held 104 days ago as more than 300 stakeholders from the region spent a day discussing the region’s strengths and challenges. The action teams were created and tasked with coming up with targets to spur the region forward. The teams included Youth in Action, Health and Wellness, Entrepreneurship, Business Support and Attraction, Regional Promotions, and Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“One hundred and four days is not a very long time, yet, six action teams comprised of over 100 people have been working to identify opportunities, resources and strategies for moving the region forward,” Chancellor Donna P. Henry said in her welcome to those attending. “I believe one of the most significant outcomes of the May 12 forum is that the region is buzzing with excitement of what could be.”

“It is in all of our best interests to work together to move this region forward,” Henry said. “Our collective strength will help us maximize the impact we hope to make. “On behalf of the College, I pledge that The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will remain committed to working with you and partnering with you to reinvigorate the regional economy.

Henry urged those attending to use the college as a support system and as a way to connect people and resources. She established a steering team to help the process.

The forum featured a panel discussion of the region’s loyal and adaptable workforce, educational institutions, outdoor recreational opportunities that appeal to millennials, supportive government resources, and other attributes that appeal to companies.

The action teams held breakout sessions to further discuss the region’s assets and ways to use those positives to create a dynamic environment for economic development.



Mary Trigiani, owner of Spada, Inc., wrapped up the forum with some words of encouragement. In coming weeks, the region will hear more about the distressed economy and a lack of hope for the future, but Trigiani said Southwest Virginia would be candid about its weaknesses and swift to talk about its strengths.

“We are going to focus on our strengths and opportunities,” she said. “We have to own the story. We have to write the story and we have to tell it.”

Trigiani said the region should amplify the value of education to youth, plan for growth while deciding how big the region wants to be, understand what differentiates the region from other areas and tell its own story.

At the conclusion of the session, Henry said the group must decide what it wants to do next.

“Our goal is to continue to work with the action groups and to connect the right pieces together,” Henry said.

Highlights of the Forum

2016 SWVA Economic Forum Brings Over 300 Participants Ready for Action

Over 300 participants attended the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum on May 12, 2016 at the UVA-Wise Convocation Center.  The purpose of the forum was to bring together the numerous groups from government, industry and education that are working on economic development initiatives in the region to find ways to move Southwest Virginia forward.  Participants with a passion for Southwest Virginia and its future were informed of ongoing initiatives and asked to provide input and new ideas.  Opportunities to engage in existing initiatives or newly created activities were also presented.

After a morning of inspiring speakers and panelists, participants separated into eight different breakout sessions for lively and productive conversation. Over the course of the afternoon, participants brainstormed ideas, prioritized and then added detail to key action items. After the sessions, small-group facilitators reported out on the top 3-4 ideas from each small group in a large group session.

Currently action teams are being formed and individuals will be provided an opportunity to register for those teams.   A follow up report out date of the action teams will be held in August at UVa-Wise.  Six action themes of focus will be created in the areas of Youth and Education, Health & Wellness, Entrepreneurship, Business Support and Attraction, Regional Marketing, Communication and Messaging, and Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“If we haven’t already felt a sense of urgency about moving things forward, about moving initiatives forward, working and partnering in ways we’ve never partnered before, now is the time.”

Didi Caldwell, Global Location Strategies Presentation

Dan Minahan Presents the State of the Region