University hosts economic development roundtable for state commerce secretary, local leaders
Nearly two dozen of the New River Valley’s municipal and educational figures convened at Radford University on July 21 for a discussion joined by Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade as well as the president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).
Hosted by Onward NRV and held in the Reed Hall atrium, the Community & Higher Education Roundtable considered a range of issues over the course of an hour.
Among other points, the group discussed the ongoing challenges facing local industry and education; the need to expand childcare and housing options for the workforce; how the COVID-19 pandemic affected and altered workplace dynamics; and the ways the valley has changed over the past 10 years and could continue to evolve across the next decade.
Those in attendance included state commerce Secretary Caren Merrick; the head of the VEDP, Jason El Koubi, and that group’s vice president, Christy Morton; Radford University President Bret Danilowicz; New River Community College President Pat Huber; Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet and Floyd County Administrator Linda Millsaps; Radford City Manager David Ridpath; Director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Economic Community Engagement John Provo; Rebekah Gunn, Virginia Tech’s director of local government and Roanoke community relations; Angela Joyner, Radford University’s vice president for economic development and corporate education; and numerous local economic directors, including Lydeana Martin (Floyd County), Cora Gnegy (Giles County), Brian Hamilton (Montgomery County), Michael Solomon (Pulaski County) and Kim Repass (Radford).
Danilowicz, who in interviews has expressed his desire for greater interface and interaction between the school, the city and surrounding areas, kicked off the roundtable.
“Radford University itself provides a robust pipeline for business and workforce solutions,” Danilowicz told the group. “We are committed to providing different solutions for businesses that are seeking new employees.
“Through this conversation, I look forward to learning, myself, how we can partner more with New River Community College as well as Virginia Tech in trying to provide partnerships in education development and, most importantly, to the workforce,” the president said.
Cooperation and collaboration were recurring topics as the roundtable progressed.
Michael Solomon pointed to Pulaski County’s manufacturing facilities, to the technological enterprises of Montgomery County, and to Floyd’s and Giles’ entrepreneurial economies.
“Within the New River Valley, everybody has their specialty. One of the strengths of our region is that we don’t really compete against each other because we each have our own unique things that we bring to the table,” Solomon said.
“There was a time when each community stood on its own, and I think there’s now a great awareness and a greater development of partnerships,” said Huber. “I cannot say enough about the positive relationships that we as a community college have, not only with the local school systems but also with the local governments.”
Radford University’s Joyner said another component for success is balancing local academic planning with the needs of the New River Valley’s marketplace, both today and toward the future.
“From a university perspective, we're looking at what employers in this region need today, as well as what the needs may be five to 10 years from now, and ensuring that we're building an appropriate talent pipeline,” Joyner said.
"We're having strategic conversations about workforce, lifelong career development and driving economic growth through talent.”
Toward the close of the discussion, Merrick thanked attendees for offering their perspectives.
“What I want you all to know is that we're listening, and in our administration ... workforce is a top priority,” she told the group. “When we say workforce, all of us have a different definition, but we're talking about all the facets that make for workforce training. We're talking about educational partners. We're talking about childcare. We're talking about livability. All of this matters to us a very great deal, so this is a valuable conversation.”
Questions during the event were moderated by Onward NRV’s Executive Director Katie Boswell. Boswell’s organization is a regional economic development group that seeks to draw investment, talent and high-end employment to the New River Valley.
In addition to its stop at Radford University, the Onward NRV group also toured Torc Robotics, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the Floyd Innovation Center, Crenshaw Lighting and Phoenix Packaging, Boswell said.