Governor’s Summit Attendees Explores Topics Essential to Rural Prosperity in Virginia
Smithfield, Va. – At the recent 2022 Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity, seven members of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s cabinet engaged with local, state and private sector representatives from across Virginia to discuss initiatives around education, economic development, affordable housing and more in rural communities.
The event kicked off with a keynote address from Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears who stressed the administration’s focus on ensuring all of Virginia prospers and how education plays a key role. Earle-Sears noted that the budget passed this year included the largest ever investment in K-12 education for Virginia.
Earle-Sears was followed by featured speaker D.J. Jordan, Chief of Staff for the Attorney General of Virginia, who discussed initiatives such as Operation Ceasefire, which will focus on prosecutorial resources in regions of Virginia where crime has been an issue.
Transportation and healthcare were also discussed during the first day of the Summit and the focus of a panel discussion with John Littel, Virginia Secretary of Health & Human Resources, and Shep Miller, Virginia Secretary of Transportation.
Attendees also heard from Matthew Lohr, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and Travis Voyles, Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, who sat on a panel discussing the relationship between agriculture, natural resource conservation and local economies. The panel was moderated by Del. Emily Brewer and included Judy Winslow, Director of Smithfield & Isle of Wight Tourism and Stewart Leeth, Chief Sustainability Officer of Smithfield Foods.
The first day concluded with attendees getting a unique opportunity to “Experience Smithfield by Land and Sea.” One group of participants boarded boats with Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources and Virginia Marine Resources Commission with agency officials who provided tours of the scenic Pagan River. Another group enjoyed a customized walking tour of downtown Smithfield hosted by Smithfield and Isle of Wight Tourism along with The Isle of Wight County Museum. The two groups later convened for a reception at the Smithfield Station Restaurant.
The second day of the conference kicked off with representatives of the Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI), the first ever leadership development program focused on attracting, growing and retaining leaders in rural Virginia. Members of VRLI’s inaugural 2022 cohort took the stage to comment on how program initiatives give back actively and immediately to local communities.
A panel discussion on rural housing featured Bryan Horn, Director of Virginia Housing and Community Development and Del. Danny Marshall, who also serves as the Chair of the Virginia Housing Commission. The pair was joined by Chris Thompson, Director of Strategic Housing for Virginia Housing and Josh Goldschmidt, President at Eagle Construction of Virginia.
“There’s no better quality of life than in rural Virginia areas,” said Horn, underscoring that it is also key to economic development and a priority of the Governor Youngkin’s administration.
Dr. Tamarah Holmes, Director of the Office of Broadband for Virginia, also provided an update on broadband initiatives in rural Virginia. Citing program successes, Holmes said that Virginia will continue to be a model for broadband nationally, not just for access infrastructure, but also for access affordability.
Thursday afternoon sessions included a panel discussion with Virginia Secretary of Labor G. Bryan Slater, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick and Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera. The group discussed ways the administration is addressing rural workforce development challenges, including driving statewide initiatives from a central location.
“Right now, it’s lot of people’s second priority, but not their first priority,” Slater said, referring to workforce development.
The Summit concluded with an update from Jason El Koubi, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. El Koubi reported that 52% of localities say their highest economic development barrier is availability of a project-ready site.
He also noted that speed to market is shrinking, with businesses needing to find solutions quickly. The faster that localities can respond, El Koubi said, the better chance they have of winning business.
For more information about the Summit and the Center for Rural Virginia, visit cfrv.org.