Bill Bolling kicks off regional alliance with cooperation theme

Approximately 50 government and economic development leaders from the partnering localities attended the kick-off event for the alliance whose purpose is to target concentrated job creation.

Bolling has been instrumental in the creation of the alliance from suggesting the regions form a partnership to "dangling a couple hundred thousand dollars out there."

The alliance has received a total of $600,000 in funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission that funds $200,000, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership that provides $200,000 and each of the six communities that are contributing a total of $200,000 over the next two years.

"The real credit for putting this organization together rests with the local governments because you all had the ability to either say yes you wanted to be a part of a regional alliance or either say no. Fortunately you all chose to say yes, so it is to your credit we are all here today," Bolling said expressing appreciation to the leaders in the six localities who have agreed to work together to attract economic development to the region as a whole.

"The fact that these six localities in this alliance have chosen to promote Southern Virginia as a region I think is really going to be the key to our success," Bolling added.

The lieutenant governor stressed the importance of all six localities working together to promote economic development and job creation.

"We all have a stake in this effort," he added.

Bolling thanked legislative partners in the General Assembly for appropriating incentive money naming Senator Ruff, Delegates Edmunds, Marshall and Merricks and others he described as "great advocates."

Next he expressed appreciation to the local governments — from economic development directors to the boards of supervisors — who were enthusiastic and provided $200,000 in matching funds.

Also Bolling thanked members of the tobacco commission who provided $200,000 in funding for the alliance, describing the tobacco commission as "a big arrow in our quiver."

Also working diligently with the alliance have been team members within the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Secretary's Office of Commerce and Trade.

"We're just getting started. Now that we've got this alliance up and running, we've got great leadership, the hard work starts now in putting together our strategic plans and marketing strategies," Bolling continued.

He said it is now time to aggressively market the six localities that make up the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance.

"Southern Virginia has been through a tough time," Bolling said looking back over the past decade since the passage of NAFTA and its impact on the textile manufacturing base.

Though the region continues to experience high unemployment rates, Bolling noted that rates have fallen in the last 18 months.

"It shows that folks are working hard, and we are accomplishing things," Bolling said. "But I am as confident as I am standing here today that this region of our state is as well-positioned as any and better than most to take advantage of a future economic resurgence," he said, adding, "and that's because of the work you all have done."

He referenced Riverstone as the example for potential that exists in Southern Virginia.

"When I'm up in Northern Virginia talking to companies about Southern Virginia, I always use this facility as an example. I tell them you won't find a finer facility any place you go."

Even in the tough economy, Bolling maintained that Southern Virginia is "making progress."

The state has closed about 575 economic development deals in the last 19 months, almost 30 percent of those being in rural parts of the state, with half of those being in Southern Virginia, according to Bolling.

Although the unemployment rate still remains too high, Bolling said, folks are working hard and accomplishing things.

"I want people to feel optimistic about the future of Southern Virginia," he added. "You have laid the groundwork here and really are as well-positioned in Southern Virginia as any part of our state if we can just get this engine that is the greatest economy in the world running again at the federal level."

The lieutenant governor introduced the alliance's newly appointed Executive Director Leigh Cockram of Henry County who was named director of the alliance in June.

Cockram's responsibilities include developing marketing materials, such as brochures and print mail items; establishing the office; promoting the region through traveling, hosting consultants and other efforts; and other things geared to creating jobs.

Bolling described Cockram as "smart, articulate, and passionate about promoting Southern Virginia because this is her home."

Cockram, who joined the SVRA as executive director on June 15, praised Bolling's efforts in creating the alliance.

"We would not be here without your leadership in bringing all the parties together and facilitating this partnership," Cockram said.

Cockram said the need definitely exists for a regional alliance explaining "company executive and site selection consultants don't see county, city, town or state lines. What they see and remember are regions."

She described her job as one of "building the numbers story."

The numbers story to which Cockram referred includes the overwhelming manufacturing experience of the workforce in the region, the variety of workforce training sites, and the number of shovel-ready sites and existing buildings.

"We want to get companies to see the true value of the assets that we have here," she said.

Cockram also cited the number of international companies that currently operate within the region.

"They chose southern Virginia, and we need to start telling that story. These are not Halifax County jobs, Danville jobs or Patrick County jobs. They are southern Virginia jobs. That is the world in which we live in. We need to start celebrating southern Virginia as a region."

That's what she plans to do — compiling all of the localities' data collectively to market to national and international site selection consultants and companies in an effort to get them to see "the true value and the assets we have sitting in our backdoor."

Her main job is to get people to the region.

"It's just getting people here, and it's getting our message across to our target audience that this is a place that you can come and do business and do it well," she said.

She pointed to an existing manufacturing workforce available in the region, saying that more than 40 percent of the unemployed here have a manufacturing background.

"We have the labor force and skill set needed to attract manufacturing companies, and that's who we are going to be targeting during this initiative," she said.

"We have wonderful training facilities that sit in our backyard, and when you start pooling all of this together and compiling mass numbers ... you start building capacity. That's what we need to start selling to America and international companies," she added.

Cockram concluded her remarks urging all in attendance to promote where we live.

"At the end of September, we will start hitting the road," Cockram said. "We will meet with site selection consultants and start selling the area. It will be up to local economic developers to close the deals. We are not here to take the place of any local economic development office but to complement their work.

"Our goal is to put our citizens back to work in Southern Virginia jobs. We have to start marketing ourselves as a region telling our story because regionalism is the way. That's how we're going to start getting more exposure," she concluded.

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