RU called upon for ideas to support new Virginia economic plan

Radford University participated Oct. 31 in a virtual roundtable discussion regarding Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's executive order which calls for the establishment of the "New Virginia Economy Strategic Plan."

From the Telepresence Room in the College of Economics Building, RU administrators, along with invited representative of the New River Valley Planning District Commission and the Montgomery Economic Development Commission joined in a statewide teleconference with representatives from higher education institutions from around the Commonwealth as Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice A. Jones hosted the event from Richmond.

Through the session, Jones presented strategic plan priorities laid out in Executive Order 26 and then asked for ideas to support the plan -- "for at least the next three years and perhaps even beyond that," Jones said – from each participating institution.

Representatives from Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute, George Mason University, James Madison University and Christopher Newport University participated in the discussion.

The governor's executive order calls for a "new Virginia economy" and establishes a steering committee to create a four-year strategic plan to address the Commonwealth's economic issues.

The plan will focus on enhancing Virginia's infrastructure, diversifying and growing strategic industry sectors, solidifying and growing the state's business climate, building a sustainable entrepreneurial environment and equipping Virginia's workforce with skills that meet current business needs.


Participants of Gov. McAuliffe's Virtual Economic roundtable

"While Virginia enjoys inherent advantages and assets, we are facing unique economics headwinds," McAuliffe wrote in Executive Order 26. "Recent federal budget cuts, reductions in defense spending and the impact of sequestration have presented challenges for Virginia's economy."

In a brief presentation to leadoff the roundtable, Jones set forth the framework of the plan, saying "we need to utilize our higher ed assets to be the best we can be." Jones said Virginia's higher education system ranked 11th in the United States for enrollments in 2013 and has more than 500,000 students enrolled in its colleges and universities.

"This is one of the most attractive components of Virginia's landscape when we are talking to business considering where they will do business in North America," Jones said of the Commonwealth's higher education institutions. "The fact that we have this incredible talent-cultivating and talent-maintaining and talent-producing infrastructure" is a positive.

Jones said Virginia has been "too dependent on the public sector" and needs more contribution from the private sector.

"If Virginia's economy is going to win, as it's currently constituted, the public sector has to be the growth end. If it's not growing then what you'll see is stagnation, and in fact, that's what we're seeing. And that's why we're here for today, to get more balance in Virginia's job generation, revenue generation, economic growth engine."

Jones highlighted strategic areas that could present Virginia with "big opportunities," many of which are supported by RU curriculums, such as information technology, cyber security, big data and data analytics and life sciences.

Following comments from other participating universities, RU Provost Sam Minner said promoting entrepreneurship could be one way Virginia can promote economic development. "Virginia should not be a place to only do business, but also take make businesses, to stand businesses up," the provost said.

Minner suggested a broader-based plan for entrepreneurial education and innovation. "What would it look like if all the institutions in the state provided (entrepreneurial) training and experiences to most, if not all, of our learners?" he asked. "Many businesses could be created."

Minner said higher education institutions across the state should encourage entrepreneurship across all disciplines, not only business-related majors.

Minner was joined at the roundtable by university vice presidents and deans.

Nov 4, 2014