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Rural Virginia Initiative Seeks Solutions to Virginia’s Growing Urban-rural Divide

Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MARE) in Middleburg, Virginia.

Virginia Tech is banding together with the University of Virginia, Virginia State University, UVA’s College at Wise, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and other partners to address the commonwealth’s growing urban-rural divide.

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at UVA reports Buchanan and Dickenson counties are the two localities in Virginia that are losing population the fastest. With the waning of the coal sector and a lack of new economy to replace these jobs in rural areas, people leave, adding to the divide between rural and urban communities.

“As people leave rural communities looking for jobs, the region suffers a brain drain and workforce shortages,” said John Provo, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development. “Coupled with increasingly difficult challenges in developing approaches to economic and community development, the economic divide between urban and rural is confounding.”

Part of the solution is the new Rural Virginia Initiative. In an update to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors during their most recent meeting, Provo described the initiative and how it combines representatives from education, government, and the private sector, in a collaborative project designed to analyze problems and propose recommendations by the end of the year.

“Virginia Tech has a strategic advantage of being embedded in communities across the state, and that helps the university connect its resources to communities. This gives us the opportunity to take similar work at multiple universities and build teams that are more efficient, effective, and have a greater impact on community needs,” Provo said.

The project’s team of university faculty and staff from across Virginia has been meeting since last year. The work started by examining how universities can work to address challenges rural Virginians face and how the partners can work with communities to promote greater opportunities in education, health, and job creation.

First, the team will meet in small groups across the commonwealth to determine what projects are already underway. The initiative then can tap into that work to become more efficient and increase its impact.

“The initiative is an opportunity to reimagine ways to engage and break down barriers between universities and communities,” said Shannon Blevins, Associate Vice Chancellor of Economic Development and Engagement at UVA’s College at Wise.

The Rural Virginia Initiative’s goal is to propose action in five areas:

  • investment in innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation;
  • workforce, education, and talent development;
  • civic innovation, public management, and leadership development;
  • agriculture and place-based development;
  • health care and community well-being.

Provo said, “The plan is for faculty experts and rural leaders across the state to engage in each of these strategy areas and begin a deeper dive to work to build a stronger, more vibrant Virginia.”

Jennifer Morgan

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