Forum Highlights



The SWVA Economic Forum is pleased to announce this year’s keynote speaker:  Cheryl Cran!

Make plans to join us on Thursday, May 17 to enjoy Cheryl’s keynote presentation:  The Future of Work is Now! Are You Ready?

“Cheryl Cran is on a mission—she challenges leaders to strive for higher levels of ‘leadership mastery’ and provides tools, resources and processes to help leaders evolve, lead change and be ready for the Future of Work Now.”

Cheryl is an award-winning international consultant, best-selling author and highly sought-after speaker. She has worked in multiple industries, with hundreds of clients and thousands of leaders worldwide. Her research and thought leadership on the Future of Work and Change Leadership have been featured in CNBC, Huffington Post, Metro New York, Readers Digest, Financial Post, Fox, Entrepreneur magazine and more. Cheryl is the founder of Evolutionary Leadership Network, an online leadership training portal, and co-founder of Leadership Skills for Kids, a gamified app that teaches fundamental leadership skills.

Cheryl’s philosophy and her mission is to inspire and guide evolutionary change leaders to upgrade their operating systems to create the future workplace today. The future workplace Cheryl envisions is one of shared leadership, innovative collaboration and where everyone is consistently adding value for employees and customers.

Southwest Virginia Supports Entrepreneurs


We launch at the 2018 Southwest Virginia Economic Forum on May 17 with our first cohort of fundable businesses.

We have a great story to tell in Southwest Virginia. Tell the world about your Southwest Virginia Opportunity, and grow your business.

Download our flyer for more information.

Beyond Borders – Panel Discussion

Moderated by John Smolak, Economic Development Director of American Electric Power


Brad Hall, Vice President, American Electric Power, Eastern KY Region

Jina Belcher, CBO, Coalfield Development, Wayne, WV, Southern  WV

Jack Meadows, Director of Planning and Community Development, Siler City, NC

Michael Griffith, Security Federal Savings Bank, McMinnville, TN


“Great event and very enlightening”

“Can’t wait for next year – let’s do one in six months”

“Great forum!”

“Very engaging”

“I loved VEDP’s Stephen Moret and thought his insights into how Southwest fits into the overall picture of the state’s economic growth was great.”

“Opportunities abound!”

” Enjoyed the Fireside Chat with the delegates. Glad WCYB was there to broadcast.”


“I felt like I really could be an innovator!”

“More Flash Talks, please!”

“Our natural resources are some of our best”

“What a way to look at coal differently”

“Suggested alternative economic direction for coalfield communities was encouraging.”

“I’ve never heard someone talk about this topic in this way. Refreshing and unique.”

“Marjette’s presentation on ED efforts in the City of Lynchburg were very enlightening and provided some great points to take back home.”


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.”


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.

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.