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Virginia Rural Leadership Institute Convenes in Southside

The Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI) kicks off its third cohort with its session in Southside Virginia.

The 2024 Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (VRLI) began the first of four sessions in Danville and South Boston on May 22-24.  Twenty-eight high-achieving individuals from the public, private, and non-profit sectors representing 24 rural localities throughout Virginia have been chosen for the leadership program’s third year.


Day 1 – Exploring Danville River District


Cohort members convened at The Bee Hotel where Executive Director Kristie Proctor welcomed everyone to their first VRLI session.  A lively round of introductions provided insight into each cohort member and a first opportunity to make connections with each other.


Upon the conclusion of introductions, cohort members started jumping right into exploring the revival of Danville's downtown river district through a series of interactive tours that were led by Rick Barker, President of Supply Resources and Rick Barker Properties, and Jeff Gignac, business manager at Supply Resources. VRLI toured the 500 block of the district where much of the revitalization has taken place and learned the history of many of the buildings.  The tours concluded with a roundtable discussion where Rick shared before and after pictures of the buildings he has renovated and future plans.


Additionally, cohort members were offered the opportunity to choose between options of self-guided tours for the remainder of the afternoon that included The Bee Hotel, The River District Association, and the Danville Regional Foundation.  Each entity has had a positive impact on the current and continued growth of the Danville River Revitalization project.


The first day concluded with dinner catered by Mucho Taqueria on the rooftop of The Bee Hotel.  It was wonderful to hear from Judge Les Adams, a long-time friend of the Rural Center.  Judge Les Adams is a native of Pittsylvania County and shared with the VRLI cohort members many of the unique qualities and opportunities only in rural areas.  It was also great to have VRLI alumni join the reception, including William Johnson and Craig McCroskey. These gentlemen offered remarks reflecting on their time at VRLI and encouraged current cohort members to get as much as they can out of the program!  Cohort members were engaged and excited about their adventures and conversations went well into the evening. The weather was perfect, and we were presented with a beautiful full orange moon to end our first day!

Day 2 - A Day at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research



VRLI kicked off bright and early with breakfast at the local Links Coffee House Cafe before we all headed to the Institute for Advanced Learning and ResearchIALR continues to grow to meet the needs of the workforce and to fulfill their mission to serve as a regional catalyst for economic transformation. IALR works to achieve their mission through applied research, advanced learning, economic development, manufacturing advancement and conference services.

First on the agenda were the results of DISC Assessments cohorts completed prior to the first session and provided by Todd Bradberry of Parallel Management Company. Each cohort learned their personality types - Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Consciousness - and learned strategies for engaging others.  

Delegate Danny Marshall was our lunch keynote speaker. He welcomed the cohort to his district and shared how things have changed. He explained that Danville was all about textiles, tires and tobacco and now has new opportunities through diversifying their industries, partnership building between Pittsylvania County and Danville for economic development projects, and creating an attractive city for investment helping the pendulum swing towards prosperity for the area. 

IALR President Telly Tucker joined the VRLI session and highlighted how IALR is serving as a catalyst for robust partnerships across public and private sectors which are key to driving economic transformation.


Cohort members spent time exploring IALR with Vice President Dr. Julie Brown and Public Relations and Communications Director Alison Moore.  The buildings, labs, and classrooms demonstrate how the Institute is supporting the learning, manufacturing, research, and agriculture sectors in Southern Virginia and beyond.

Linda Green, Vice President of Economic Development at IALR and the Executive Director for the Southern Virginia Regional Economic Alliance (SRVA) spoke on regional economic development and the Berry Hill Megasite.  She shared lessons learned and best tactics for showcasing the assets in and around our rural areas, emphasizing collaboration as a key element. "Highlight what you DO have - not what you don't."

Bryan David, Program Director, UVA Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service/Growth & Opportunity Virginia Region 3 Council and Chair for the Council for Rural Virginia shared with the cohort members ways to approach regional collaboration to be successful in economic, workforce, and community development in rural Virginia.  He

shared one way to help make decisions is to put a map down on a table, look at the numbers and pictures, and let people tell their story.


A key component of VRLI are the community impact projects that cohort members launch during VRLI and continue working on throughout the year.  Shannon Hair, PhD, Vice President of Institutional Advancement & Development for Danville Community College Educational Foundation and 2022 VRLI alumnus, shared his community impact project. Dr. Hair’s project addresses food insecurity for community college students. 

It was a full day, hitting many topics near and dear to our community leaders who love their rural areas and want to make a difference.  We celebrated with dinner at Cotton at Riverside Mill.  Delegate Eric Phillips joined us to share and encourage the cohort with his stories of growing up in rural Virginia. With deep roots in southwest Virginia, he has seen many changes and strongly believes our best days are ahead of us, not behind. 

Day 3 – Southern Virginia Innovation Hub


VRLI traveled to South Boston to the Southern Virginia (SOVA) Innovation Hub. The SOVA Innovation Hub is a place to work, learn, and experience and includes coworking space, meeting space, and the Microsoft Experience Center. Cohort member Jennifer Stevens, a South Boston native, shared with fellow cohort members some of the highlights and features of Halifax and South Boston.  It was great to also have Council for Rural Virginia Board member Carlyle Wimbish of Hickory Hill Farm there to welcome the cohort to his community.


Jeremy Satterfield Microsoft’s TechSpark Community Engagement Manager for Southern Virginia and Lauren Mathena, Mid-Atlantic Broadband’s Director of Economic Development and Community Engagement examined ecosystems, entrepreneurship, and innovation in southern Virginia.  Cohort members had the opportunity to tour the SOVA Innovation Hub and hear of future plans for expansion.



Hamilton Lombard from the UVA Weldon Cooper Center led cohort members through a deep data dive into rural unification and demographics.  He shared data trends over the past few decades and discussed how population shifts impact rural communities.


Senator Tammy Brankley Mulchi joined us in the afternoon at the Hub.  She shared working together is key and challenged the cohorts to "surround yourself with other people you can collaborate and partner with."  Former Senator Frank Ruff joined the cohort members as well and encouraged the VRLI members to nurture why they are here - to lead the community and be the catalyst to make things happen.  Ruff received a standing ovation and concluded with "We the people of rural Virginia need to understand that the real help does not come from outside; it comes from us."


Thank you to our VRLI Sponsors and Local Sponsors!

VRLI Sponsors


 Local Sponsors








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