Work in Progress: Rural Southwestern Virginia Deserves a Boost

Rural Southwestern Virginia is home to hard working folks who just want a good steady job. Fortunately, state leaders have been working diligently the past couple of years to bring new, sustainable business and opportunity to Southwestern Virginia.

For starters, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and community colleges in the region are retooling programs in order to lure and incubate new industries, so Southwestern Virginia is not perpetually dependent on one single product or service.

“We have a unique opportunity with this expansion to work with all relevant stakeholders, leveraging both public and private investments, to transform UVA-Wise into an international destination for students and researchers,” Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said in laying out a plan for re-building the Rural Economy.

“This will have a tremendous effect on the regional economy because when you can attract students and top talent from around the world for research and development, grants will follow. And with grants and applied research, business opportunities will soon follow. And structured correctly, these businesses will not only start up in Southwest Virginia, but they will remain and grow,” Northam explained.

The key to helping Southwestern Virginia retool is total connectivity. We need to ensure a safe, viable transportation infrastructure scan get products and people in and around the region. It goes without saying that virtual connectivity via broadband needs a serious overhaul to transform all of Virginia into a 21-century communications hub.

“We’ve all heard about the digital divide — and it’s very real here in Virginia. Hundreds of thousands of Virginians, including tens of thousands of school children, don’t have good access to reliable high-speed internet services,” said Northam, a Democrat, who hopes to rebuild the Rural Economy in his native state. “Without broadband internet, it’s difficult to promote and conduct a business, students can’t do their homework, and no one can participate fully in the digital society we’ve created. This is absolutely unacceptable in 2017.”

Broken promises won’t solve problems. Unfortunately, the Trump administration about a coming coal boom and the return of manufacturing jobs, the people who live in the Southwestern corner of the state are barely feeling it.

Trump talks a good game when he boasts of coal industry jobs returning, but what he just doesn’t want to admit is that market forces have a lot more to do with coal production and job creation than any government regulation or action can accomplish. Cheaper, more efficient natural gas and the lower cost of building gas-fired systems are the real reasons Appalachian coal is not in demand.

This is not a critique of the coal industry. We’ll leave that for others to do. We want to see full employment for all Rural America. This is about shaming of the Trump administration for trying to deceive Southwestern Virginia and other coal-producing areas into believing their regions are going to see a big rebound with coal. They won’t. Any growth in coal production will be limited and will flatten out in coming months, credible business and economic outlooks have forecast.  People deserve to hear the truth, not fairy tales.


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