RD401 - Appalachian Prosperity Project: A Collaborative Model for Advancing Education, Health, & Economic Prosperity in Southwest Virginia - Annual Report FY2017

Executive Summary:
The Appalachian Prosperity Project (APP) is a collaborative partnership among the University of Virginia (UVA), UVA’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise), the Virginia Coalfield Coalition (comprised of Planning Districts 1 & 2), the private sector, and the Commonwealth. This partnership uses a systems approach to simultaneously advance the inextricably linked fields of education (Appalachians Building Capacity), health (Healthy Appalachia Institute), and prosperity (Appalachian Ventures).

Whether the APP is bringing world-class executive education to Coalfield business leaders, piloting an innovative early language literacy intervention, or providing a bridge for engineering education, this multi-faceted partnership produces results. The partnership is unique and powerful because it widely encompasses disparate stakeholders while remaining coordinated and focused. The APP views issues from many perspectives by convening public, private, and government agencies that are not often at the same table. It provides the infrastructure to transform those conversations into initiatives today while maintaining a long-term commitment to the overall mission.

This mutually beneficial alliance applies academic rigor to UVA’s outreach projects, expands student experiences, encourages the exchange of ideas, and creates new knowledge which will inform future community- and university-based shared research and partner activities.

The APP is an inspiring reflection of the spirit of the region’s people who value trust, self-determination, and perseverance. The vision is to ensure regional collaboration, generate new ideas, and establish a process to engage the social, economic, and scientific issues that exist at the interface of health, education, prosperity, and Appalachian culture. Our collective mission is to position the region in the global economy while honoring its traditions and culture, using local assets, engagement by all partners, and true collaboration. http://approject.org/

Leaders in the Coalfields are focused on transforming their historically extractive-based economy from one centered mainly on tobacco, coal, and timber to one built on information technology, education, health care, and energy. To attract companies, local leaders recognize that they must have an educated workforce, business acumen, and widespread access to medical care.

The Appalachian Prosperity Project builds on a formal commitment made in 2007 by UVA to the Commonwealth of Virginia to help stimulate economic development in Southwest Virginia. The initiative resides in UVA’s Office of Strategic Initiatives; however, UVA-Wise is a critical and influential local presence. It serves as a translator, bridging the geographic distance between partners and opening the door to relationships that would otherwise not exist. The Virginia Coalfield Coalition is leveraging the resources of the APP to attain their regional economic development goals.

A unique aspect of this partnership is its foundation in a systems approach. This brings a diversity of organizations to the table to collectively solve problems. Virtually every school at the University is substantively involved, including the Engineering, Architecture, Business, Education, Nursing, and Medicine schools. Scores of regional partners are engaged from the public and private sectors. Representatives from health, education, and business are involved in every initiative since all play a role in tackling the intractable issues in Southwest Virginia.

The University’s role is to listen to the needs of communities and their citizens, initiate conversations, support strategic planning, provide innovation and evidence-based research and evaluation, and collect and analyze data. The Coalfield community identifies challenges, infuses cultural understanding and history, sets the vision and strategic direction, and selects priorities. All partners are givers and receivers of knowledge; together they incubate ideas, generate resources, develop programs, lead, and execute projects. The APP has three co-directors, representing UVA, UVA-Wise, and the Virginia Coalfield Coalition. Decision-making is shared and each partner is fully consulted before any actions are taken.

Each of the interdigitated foci – education, health, and business – has a signature project that serves as a thematic guide for activities. In health, it is the APP’s Healthy Appalachia Institute (HAI), created to energize a regional public, private, and government coalition that addresses the region’s health disparities. An example of successful shared decision-making is the creation of A Blueprint for Health Improvement and Health-Enabled Prosperity ( http://www.healthyappalachia.org/our-health-blueprint) , a community-developed, detailed roadmap for a healthier population with specific goals and outcomes. Similar exercises have included the creation of the Blueprint for Entrepreneurial Growth and Economic Prosperity in Southwest Virginia, the Blueprint for Attracting and Sustaining Advanced Manufacturing in Southwest Virginia, and Prescription Drug Abuse in Southwest Virginia. http://approject.org/resources/reports/#tab-blueprints

These blueprints demonstrate to external funders and supporters that there is a vision for the region and important early groundwork has been accomplished. Since completion in 2009, the health blueprint has helped the region secure funding, develop regional health statistic data to measure progress, initiate an annual research symposium, mandate insurance coverage for telemedicine, and expand the number of telemedicine sites within the region.

The APP’s Appalachian Ventures encompasses our initiatives to foster a robust economy. The APP has offered management training through UVA's globally-ranked Darden business program, with faculty traveling to the region and working directly with managers from the private and public sector. This allowed employers to build management capacity for their workforce, which is often promoted from within, and which has limited local professional development opportunities available.

Appalachian Ventures convened over sixty community organizations, business interests, and environmental groups as part of the Clinch River Valley Initiative ( http://clinchriverva.com/) and the larger regional cultural heritage efforts, including The Crooked Road, 'Round the Mountain and Heartwood, to leverage the natural assets in the area and spur related startups. Five action groups are currently working on issues such as connecting downtown revitalization efforts with the Clinch River, developing river access points and trails, and enhancing water quality.

The APP’s Appalachians Building Capacity (ABC) is building an educated workforce through innovative pre-K-12 programs. Whether introducing students to a variety of professions via video chat technology or providing near-peer college counseling offered through the Virginia College Advising Corps, ABC fosters educational opportunities while supporting educated workforce initiatives.