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Chafin, Kilgore, O'Quinn and Pillion: What Amazon’s visit to Southwest Virginia means for our region

Chafin, Kilgore, O'Quinn and Pillion: What Amazon’s visit to Southwest Virginia means for our region

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By Ben Chafin, Terry Kilgore, Israel O’Quinn and Todd Pillion

The writers are all state legislators who represent district in Southwest Virginia.

Something big happened this week: Amazon visited Southwest Virginia. And it wasn’t just big for the most obvious reason – Amazon. It was big because, for the first time, Southwest Virginia is being seriously included in conversations about how to attract more high-tech investment to Virginia and make sure we have a workforce prepared to fill the jobs that follow.

Much of this conversation is due to a new regional economic development marketing campaign that launched recently called InvestSWVA. The purpose of InvestSWVA is to strategically pursue economic development opportunities for our region.

The initiative is regional – it encompasses all of Go Virginia Region One. In all, InvestSWVA is focused on 13 counties and three cities in Southwest Virginia.

InvestSWVA is making sure that our region is at the table for conversations about high-tech investment in Virginia, and seriously considered for economic development opportunities when an employer decides they want to invest in our state. Additionally, the initiative is laser-focused on identifying potential economic development for Region One, particularly taking into account the unique features and opportunities that our region has to offer: A good quality of life, low cost of living, high-performing K-12 schools, workforce development opportunities through our community colleges, UVa-Wise and private colleges, and innovative uses for our available land.

So Amazon came to town this week, and we were at the table. During their visit, Governor Ralph Northam held a business roundtable in St. Paul with leaders from across Region One. The focus was on how to attract jobs and investment to Southwest Virginia. During the roundtable, we discussed pairing energy generation with industrial projects to attract investment, offering growth opportunities in Southwest Virginia for Northern Virginia-based high-tech companies, supporting entrepreneurs and home-based businesses as we continue deploying broadband, and making Southwest Virginia a location of choice for data centers.

The topics that came up during the roundtable aren’t necessarily new, but this time they had a serious audience. And conversations will continue through the work of InvestSWVA and the efforts to bring together state, regional, and local economic development authorities to work to identify strategic investments and partnerships we can pursue.

Thanks to the new InvestSWVA initiative, there are already a number of strategic partnerships in place.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Data Center Coalition are actively working with InvestSWVA to make sure their members are aware of opportunities to expand or invest in this region.

Point Broadband is supporting InvestSWVA because they are on the frontlines of making sure high-speed fiber is available to businesses in every corner of our cities and counties. As a result of Point Broadband’s work, we now won’t miss out on opportunities because of a lack of high-speed internet connection.

Appalachian Power is part of InvestSWVA, recognizing the unique partnership opportunities in renewable energy, new industries, and available land from reclaimed coal mines. They’re also crucial to making sure potential new investment has the power needed to make their facilities work.vAlso part of the initiative are all of the economic development authorities from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, Virginia’s Industrial Advancement Alliance, the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council and all of the local economic development offices in the 13 counties and three cities in Go Virginia Region One. And, Project Oasis – a new data center marketing campaign – is leveraging the expertise of these entities as well as the major power and broadband providers throughout the region.

Finally, as the state legislators representing this region, we are co-chairing this initiative. For far too long, Southwest Virginia has missed out on opportunities because we weren’t ready for them or we weren’t aware of them. That will no longer be the case. We have the attention, team, and plans in place to market our region as ready for investment in the four strategic areas identified in the GO Virginia Region One’s “Growth and Diversification Plan,” including: Advanced manufacturing; agriculture and forestry, and food and beverage manufacturing; information and emerging technologies; and, energy and minerals.

We are very excited that Amazon visited Southwest Virginia this week. We hope that it is the first of many conversations with them and other high-tech companies investing in Virginia.

More importantly, we are confident this was the first of many visits to come from businesses large and small looking to invest in Virginia and, specifically, in Southwest Virginia thanks to the new regional, collaborative economic development initiative we have for our region.

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