Southwest Virginia lawmakers and UVA leaders craft a strategy for regional economic vitality

WISE – State legislators, college board members and administrators gathered here Friday to discuss strategies and ideas that support the University of Virginia’s College at Wise as an economic development engine for Southwest Virginia.

Virginia Dels. Terry Kilgore, Will Morefield and Will Wampler; UVA President Jim Ryan; UVA Chancellor Whittington Clement; UVA Sage Chancellor Donna P. Henry; and members of the UVA Board of Visitors attended the UVA Wise College Board meeting at the David J. Prior Convocation Center.

Legislative and academic leaders engaged in a lively brainstorm on how to best promote UVA Wise as an industry catalyst and recruit more students with the goal of financially uplifting the region’s future.

“UVA Wise graduates incredible students,” said Ryan. “I think a lot of them would love to stay in this region, but right now there aren’t enough jobs. The region would be better off if they could stay.”

Kilgore said the region has struggled with employment and maintaining the population since the coal industry went into decline. That population decline has also cost the region a seat in the House of Delegates of the General Assembly.

“It really pains us for representation,” Kilgore said, adding that it remains important for Southwest Virginia to maintain and grow energy industries like clean coal, gas and solar.

“We still want to be the energy resource for the community,” he said.

Technology is also gaining momentum as a key regional industry. A recent success came when Earthlink, an internet service provider, moved overseas jobs to Wise County.

“Earthlink CEO went to JJ Kelly High School [a former Wise County public school]. I wanted to go home and help our region. We’re looking for more stories like that,” Kilgore said.

UVA Wise assisted in the relocation of Earthlink and has been instrumental in its strong economic success, Kilgore added.

Ryan said the expansion of broadband could provide an opportunity for more virtual internships to become available to UVA Wise students.

“More and more people are working remotely due to the pandemic,” he said. “Virtual internships can turn into virtual jobs and inspire them to start a business here.”

Ryan’s suggestion comes after UVA recruited alumni to offer virtual internships for students during the pandemic.

“We’re glad you’re here and continuing that partnership between the parent institution and its outpost in southwestern Virginia,” Del. Wampler told meeting attendees. “Without this institution, Southwest Virginia would not have the same opportunities for education and upward mobility. UVA Wise has state-of-the-art facilities and academic programs.”

UVA Wise has already made a significant investment in paid internships through its Wise Works program, which encourages the creation of paid internships for students by sharing costs with companies around the world, said Shannon Blevins, vice chancellor for administration, government relations and investment strategy. UVA Wise. initiatives.

“Leveraging the power of UVA alumni and UVA Wise is a great opportunity to grow that experiential learning opportunity and offer students a way to stay in Southwest Virginia,” added Blevins.

Del. Morefield also expressed gratitude for UVA’s support of UVA Wise and highlighted the urgency of healthcare accessibility and a strong educational network for success. “We have so many opportunities and you [UVA] they have planted those seeds for expansion,” he said.

One such UVA-UVA Wise collaboration is focused on growing the regional healthcare workforce. In the fall of 2022, UVA Wise will begin offering the University of Virginia family nursing program, which will allow nurses to earn a Master of Science in Nursing.

The group toured the existing building that will soon be renovated for nursing education.

“We have a great opportunity in health care,” Kilgore said. “If you’ve been in a hospital, you can’t find enough nurses. Intensifying nurse practitioner programs opens up opportunities to get a lot of students.”

Carlos Brown, a member of the UVA Board of Visitors, asked what other support would boost enrollment, noting that increased enrollment spurs economic growth. “You have parents who come to a hotel, go to games,” he said. “You have to have that spark.”

Kilgore credited the Appalachian Regional Commission Initiative’s tuition reduction with improving enrollment efforts. Under the initiative, students who live outside of Virginia but within the regional commission’s boundaries may be eligible for a significant reduction in out-of-state tuition.

“Our enrollment traditionally was 95% in-state and 5% out-of-state. We now have 13% out of state. We are getting name recognition in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky. Now they are looking to come to Wise, and this will continue to help,” said Chris Dearth, vice chancellor of enrollment management for UVA Wise.

Increased regional name recognition not only potentially expands student enrollment, but also further develops the university as an economic engine.

The strategy, Dearth said, is to promote UVA Wise as a destination university focused on the area’s natural resources.

“Many would say that the industry has left the region and is in dire straits. The solution is not to look at it from that point of view, but Southwest Virginia has assets,” Wampler said. “This is one of the most beautiful parts of the community. Affordable housing is cheap in Northern and Central Virginia, but in Southwest Virginia, owning a home is still affordable. It’s a fortress.”

Chancellor Henry touched on needed resources specific to the university, including nearby affordable temporary housing and childcare for faculty and staff. She hopes to create a child care center on campus.

Other attendees on Friday included Wise County Manager Mike Hatfield and Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

“From massive hiring at local schools and throughout the Appalachian Regional Commission to increasing our endowment to support students, hiring more faculty and staff, renovating slots for our growing Nursing and ROTC programs , and the pursuit of expanding our graduate program, there is significant momentum at UVA Wise right now,” said Henry. “We are grateful for the generous support of the University and regional partners as we do our part to grow our students and communities.”

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