SD11 - Report of the Southwest Virginia Economic Development Commission (Joint Subcommittee Studying Measures to Improve and Enhance Economic Development in Southwest Virginia)

    Executive Summary:
    (The joint subcommittee studying measures to improve and enhance economic development in Southwest Virginia, pursuant to SJR 111)


    Senate Joint Resolution 111 established the Southwest Virginia Economic Development Commission, the joint subcommittee studying measures to improve and enhance economic development in Southwest Virginia ("Commission"), and authorized its work through November 30, 2006. The Commission was charged to review methods to attract business and industry to the Southwest region of the state through (i) actions that may be taken by the state government, (ii) joint efforts with neighboring states and local governments, and (iii) programs provided by or through institutions of higher education and the business community located in the region.

    The Commission's members include Senator Phillip P. Puckett, Chairman, Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Vice Chairman, Senator William C. Wampler, Jr., Delegate Joseph P. Johnson, Jr., Delegate Allen W. Dudley, Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Mr. Kendall Clay, Mr. Simeon Ewing, Mr. John Kilgore, Jr., Mr. Richard Settle, Mr. Harold Slemp, Mr. Rayburn A. Thompson, and Dr. F. David Wilkin.

    The Commission met three times: August 2, 2004, October 6, 2004 and November 3, 2004. Meeting summaries, presentations, and other materials are posted on the Commission's website at This executive summary of the interim activity and work of the Commission shall be posted on the General Assembly's website no later than the first day of the Regular Session of the 2005 General Assembly. A full report will be completed at the end of the 2006 Session.


    Speakers before the Commission identified several key issues associated with comprehensive economic development in the Southwest Virginia region, including the importance of:

    • Expanding affordable access to and use of broadband technology;
    • Expanding wireless infrastructure to support cell phone access;
    • Developing community-wide computer networks;
    • Ensuring that water supplies are interconnected;
    • Building independent, locally-based companies;
    • Exploring the potential for retirement communities;
    • Supporting specialized economic development products that require unique facilities for their production.
    • Recognizing that income disparity between rural and urban areas is growing exponentially and rural areas increasingly contain an aging, less educated population due to the out migration of better-educated young people.
    • Recognizing that regional approaches work;
    • Recognizing that public-private partnerships are essential;
    • Providing that government funding opportunities and tobacco awards are based on economic needs;
    • Reinventing public education;
    • Providing further support to heritage tourism; and
    • Improving vocational training to make it more responsive to the needs of private business.

    Critical to success will be the realization that Southwest Virginia contains varied and diverse communities; a "one size fits all" approach will not be successful. The Commission should examine regional cooperation on a larger scale: smaller regional organizations may lack a truly regional focus, and training for members of regional boards sometimes is not effective. Development that is not supported through large-scale regional cooperation results in only isolated benefits. As part of this, it will be critical to link those communities having certain resources and advantages with those of their neighbors in need.


    The Commission:

    1. Reviewed the role, actions and impact of the 1985 Southwest Virginia Economic Development Commission ("Lacy Commission").

    2. Was briefed on the Rural Virginia Prosperity Commission.

    3. Reviewed economic development successes in Southwest Virginia, including the Regional Cooperation Act, which has resulted in a host of economic development initiatives, including the New River Valley airport and the New River Valley Foreign Trade Zone; the Virginia Coal Economic Development Authority; the Regional Workforce Program; Heritage Tourism; and the Regional Small Business Incubator.

    4. Formed four task forces:

    • Building Regions of Prosperity,
    • Enabling Economic Growth,
    • Promotion of the Southwest Region, and
    • Traditional Industries.


    The Lacy Commission resulted in several specific successes, including improvements in transportation, public water, and public sewer. A total of 3,820 new jobs were added to the area during the period 1985 to 2003. The needs remain high, however, and include $125 million in water and $365 million in sewer. Important areas have not yet been regionalized, including treatment and disposal of solid waste.

    Members and other participants emphasized that this Commission must have quantifiable goals, and must identify specific actions that can effectively promote economic development Southwest Virginia. The Commission anticipates an effective second year building on the foundation formed in its initial meetings.

    The Honorable Phillip P. Puckett, Chairman
    The Honorable Terry G. Kilgore, Vice Chairman
    Ellen Bowyer, Staff Attorney, Division of Legislative Services
    Nathan Hatfield, Clerk, Senate Committee Operations

    [For final report, see Senate Document No. 13 (2006).]