Broadband and Economic Development Take Center Stage at Virginia Rural Caucus Meeting
Richmond, Va. – At the Rural Caucus meeting on January 31, broadband internet access and economic development took center stage, with discussions led by representatives of GO Virginia, the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA) and others.
Sen. Frank Ruff, Chairman of the Center for Rural Virginia, kicked off the meeting noting special guests from the VCTA who came to express their support for the Center’s efforts with respect to broadband.
“These efforts are actually gaining national recognition within our industry,” said Ray LaMura, President of the VCTA. “It is setting a bar for public/private partnerships in very difficult times, breaking down barriers that often existed.”
LaMura pledged continued support from the VCTA and asked for continued collaboration between the various entities.
“What we want to encourage is really that our industry be communicated with at the front end, when those discussions begin, because so often we can bring more information around the issues, and we can help with that planning and do that ahead of time,” LaMura said.
“We are willing partners and want to make Virginia and outstanding place to do business,” concluded LaMaura.
The caucus meeting was also attended by leaders from GO (Growth and Opportunity) Virginia, an innovative program launched in 2016 to drive public private partnerships and incentivize localities to work together to create high-paying jobs.
GO Virginia Chairman John “Dubby” Wynne opened his remarks by addressing some of the challenges and objectives of rural broadband initiatives.
“It’s a very complicated subject until you get enough information to understand what you’re trying to do. You have to have clearly stated objectives,” said Wynne. “I think we need a policy for the state on broadband, and figure out what our priorities are, and then how we may want to incentivize collaboration.”
“And you have to figure out a win-strategy, between all of the localities, with all of these existing carriers, and find some common ground where people can work together and make sense of it,” Wynne said.
Erik Johnston, newly appointed Director of the VA Department of Housing and Community Development also commented on broadband, calling out the positive aspects of the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative.
“While there’s a lot of ideas about how to improve that program, I think the best part about that program, is that on the issues contentious between local governments and sometimes the private sector on siting, zoning and those kinds of things, this program requires them to partner, and in that way has gotten some local leverage in terms of expedited zoning in rural areas,” explained Johnston.
“It’s an exciting policy space to be in, and we’re trying to listen to all sides and see where it comes up in session,” Johnston said.
In addition to broadband, the caucus meeting also focused on the ongoing work of GO Virginia, with Wynne providing an update while underscoring the urgency of the program’s mission.
“The essence of it is that we’re up and running in all the regions and thousands of people have been a part of the collaboration,” said Wynne. “We started GO Virginia to get localities to start working together, because if they don’t, we’re going to get crushed.”
Dubby said that increasing GO Virginia project funding for rural areas was of particular focus.
“The rural areas did not have money to really make things happen. So what we did in our proposal is we tripled the amount of per-capita money in every one of the five rural areas,” Wynne said. “We want every region in the state to have a good economy so that you can keep the opportunities, keep the people.”
The bottom line for GO Virginia, Wynne told caucus meeting attendees, is spurring jobs growth.
“It’s about trying to get more jobs – high paying jobs – for more people,” Wynne concluded.
Virginia Rural Caucus meetings are held each Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Senate Subcommittee Room #2, located on the 5th floor of the Pocahontas Building. For more information, visit the Center for Rural Virginia Events Calendar here. For more information, visit the Center for Rural Virginia Events Calendar here or contact Executive Director Kristie Proctor at email@example.com or (804) 512-1453.