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Inaugural Cohort of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Convenes in Danville, VA

The Inaugural Cohort of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI) convened in Danville, VA May 12- 14, 2022 to participate in the First Session of 4 Sessions throughout 2022 to learn more about the successes and opportunities facing rural communities across the Commonwealth with a focus on economic and community development.

DAY 1 - Learning the Community

Thursday, May 12th, started off at the Bee Hotel, a redevelopment project with a "buzz" worthy backstory and unique boutique style. Formerly, the Danville Register & Bee is now a freshly reimagined hotel that we would encourage anyone to visit.

Cohort members met each other for the first time in person while also setting program expectations. With a multi-generational Cohort of the best and brightest in rural Virginia from the public, private, and non-profit sectors; our 29 Cohort members were eager to hit the ground running and begin to experience the VRLI program and the great assets in Southside Virginia.

Our first stop was at Ballad Brewing where we met with Garret Shifflet and Rick Barker who were both very knowledgeable and passionate about what they do and staples in the community. The tour around town showed us their various successful projects and provided perspective on "How to Bring Balanced Development to Rural Communities". VRLI Cohort members learned skills and methods used by these developers to revitalize buildings that may otherwise be overlooked or not yet discovered. Danville, along with people like Rick & Garrett, is a prime example of "big thinking producing big results".

Our day ended with a dinner at the Golden Leaf Bistro, located in the historic Tobacco Warehouse District of Danville. This successful restaurant focuses on local business development and partners with farmers for shared success and growth. Senator Frank Ruff and Delegate Danny Marshall, both of whom represent Danville in the Virginia legislature, joined us to break bread and provided timely and valuable perspective to our Cohort. After a great meal and a day full of learning about Danville, Cohort members were ready to rest before we began leadership training and building skills found rural economic & community development.

Day 2 - Learning Ourselves & Our History

We began day 2 at the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research (IALR) which serves as a regional catalyst for economic transformation. If you ever find yourself in Southside VA, it's a must-see space.

Delegate Les Adams, Vice-Chair at the Center for Rural Virginia, kicked things off with an impassioned speech where he said "faith, place, and family make us different and gives us a bright spot for Virginia's future".

VRLI Cohort members then completed a leadership assessment with Dr. Megan Seibel, Director, Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) leading us through this process. Cohort members received their KAI scores, participated in group work to help them understand these results, and gained a better understanding of how each person prefers to solve problems and manage change.

Dr. Gary Miller, Vice Mayor of Danville welcomed the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute to his city while the Cohort enjoyed lunch. Dr. Miller explained why Danville is the "Comeback City" and how the city got the motto of "Reimagine Danville". This story of Danville is not just important for understanding the history of a community but also to give a community its "identity".

Linda Green, Executive Director, Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, spoke to the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute about the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill. Berry Hill is a 3,528-acre publicly owned megasite located in Pittsylvania County and is one of the largest megasites on the East Coast. As Linda noted in her remarks, "a megasite isn't just a piece of land, it's everything around it". Additionally, Linda noted that the number of shovel-ready sites is what will get companies to your area!

Our afternoon programming began with Christy Morton, Vice President of External Affairs, Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Christy gave an impactful presentation on the "History and Overview of Economic & Community Development in Rural VA". Christy reminded us that a focus area of VEDP is "civic leadership" and the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute will greatly impact rural communities and their ability to grow civil leadership".

VEDP is focused on the entire Commonwealth. Their investments are not just made in the urban crescent communities, but also VEDP is invested and focused on rural communities.

The Cohort immediately transitioned to Sarah Marshall, Manager of State & Local Affairs for Central and Western Virginia for Dominion Energy, who spoke to the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute on "Navigating Power Structures". Sarah highlighted many of the broadband projects Dominion is involved with and reminded us that the hard work often occurs before many even know about the project. This in-depth presentation helped the Cohort understand how to navigate the various levels of government and stakeholders to complete a project and Sarah expressed the importance of building relationships in every community.

We ended our "classroom time" for the day with a great conversation from Dale Moore. In addition to serving on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, Dale is the owner of Virginia Wagyu, founded the Virginia Technical Institute, and also founded Moore's Electrical & Mechanical (which now has 700 employees and spans across three states). Dale also established the Main Street Cafe & Shops in Altavista and The General Store and Inn. Mr. Moore is quite the successful entrepreneur and thus it was fitting he presented "How to Build a Team". Dale told the Cohort today that the "3 C's to Leadership" - Character, Character, Character... If you have that, you will be successful."

The dinner programming on Friday evening occurred on the rooftop of the Bee Hotel which provides one of the best views in Danville. Senator Bill Stanley joined us and encouraged the VRLI Cohort to "Stay strong in rural Virginia" while highlighting the bipartisan efforts and partnerships built to help bring rural prosperity.

Lastly, the Cohort heard from Ed Walker, owner of The Bee Hotel in Danville. Mr. Walker came out and spent time with the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute and provided insight on his success in rural communities across the Commonwealth along with his passion for revitalization in all aspects of rural life.

Day 3 - Learning a Way Forward

Our final day kicked off at the Danville Science Center with a great breakfast from Links Coffee House. Congressman Bob Good, who represents Danville, visited with VRLI Cohort members during breakfast to discuss legislation and the political climate from a federal perspective vs his time as a county supervisor.

The first presentation of the day was from Lauren Mathena, Director of Economic Development & Community Engagement with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation and facilitator with SOVA Innovation Hub. Lauren discussed rural entrepreneurship, which has been a part of her entire life even before she joined MBC. A small business owner herself, Lauren's engaging presentation served as a good reminder that you can measure success through job creation and business creation. Both Microsoft & MBC have been great partners and sponsors of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute.

We wrapped up the weekend & our VRLI curriculum with Bryan David, Program Director at GO Virginia Region 3 & Chair of the Council for Rural Virginia. He presented on the topic of "Regional Collaboration" and reminded us that successful economic development "is not just getting people to the's about giving them a seat at the table and a voice that is heard."

VRLI Session 1 in Danville, VA was a great success because of our speakers, local Danville partners, and sponsors. We are excited for what Session 2 in Tappahannock, VA holds in July! Stay Tuned!



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