Fifteen Nucleii for the Rebirth of Southwest Virginia

Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

Southwest Virginia is on track to lose 1,000 residents each year for the next decade, Stephen Moret, chief of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, told attendees of the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum in Wise, yesterday. The region needs to add 250 new jobs per year over and above the new jobs already coming just to stay stable.

Achieving a 1% annual growth rate will require adding three times the number of new jobs each year, he said, as reported by the Roanoke Times. “Yes, it’s a big challenge. Yes we’re up against a lot nationally, but this is something we can achieve if we’re focused enough, aggressive enough, committed enough.”

Moret proposed a six-point plan to jump-start the region’s economy. As summarized by the Times, he recommends:

  • Expanding computer science programs at higher education institutions.
  • Increasing workforce development training to match business needs.
  • Altering Virginia’s tax structure to reduce taxes on technologically advanced manufacturing businesses.
  • Offering higher incentives to companies willing to relocate or expand in rural Virginia.
  • Spending money to market rural Virginia — something the commonwealth doesn’t currently do.
  • Creating mixed-use developments attractive to young professionals as a way to improve quality of life factors.

You can download a copy of Moret’s presentation from Google Docs. The presentation begins his aspirational goals for Virginia and VEDP, then places Virginia’s rural development challenges in a national context, and ends with a few ideas to advance economic development in the coalfield region (i.e., far Southwest Va.)”

Bacon’s bottom line: These ideas all sound reasonable… but five of the six require more money, either directly through higher expenditures or indirectly through tax breaks. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of extra cash floating around, either at the state level or the local or regional levels. Perhaps the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, which has an annual budget of about $30 million, is in a position to fund the workforce training initiatives, incentives and marketing programs. Perhaps the higher-ed sector can reallocate funds to expand computer science programs. But it won’t be easy finding the resources for new initiatives.

The most original idea — indeed it’s such a departure from the usual thinking about rural economic development that it slaps you like a mackerel across the face — is the recommendation to create mixed-use development attractive to young professionals. This notion has much to commend it, not the least of which it doesn’t require subsidies or tax breaks, and is fully within the power of local governments to implement, subject to market constraints.

I would like to expand upon the idea. By my count there are four cities — Bristol, Radford, Galax and Norton — in Southwest Virginia and more than 40 incorporated towns. The towns range in size from Blacksburg (population 44,200) to Clinchport (population 67) in Scott County — both the largest and the smallest in the Commonwealth. Many of these cities and towns have walkable Main Streets or downtown districts capable of supporting mixed use development.

Blacksburg is a unique case. Its vibrant downtown district is an extension of Virginia Tech, an economic powerhouse unmatched elsewhere in the region, and its success cannot be replicated. But I have frequently referred to the example of Abingdon, which I believe can serve as a template for communities not endowed with a major research university. Abingdon has built an attractive, walkable downtown around the nucleus of the historical Barter Theater, the Martha Washington Inn and a stock of historic brick buildings. The town has become not only a place where people want to visit but where people want to live.

Counties, cities and towns need to fundamentally shift their thinking — as embedded in zoning codes, comprehensive plans, and capital spending plans — from subsidizing rural sprawl to creating walkable urban nucleii. Capital spending plans should invest in expanding the grid street networks from their Main Street/downtown cores. And if they have any cash to spare, municipalities should invest in sidewalks and streetscapes (and, if demand exists, cycling lanes) with the goal of making streets more hospitable to pedestrians. But they need to do it right. Place making is a complex discipline, and investments should be guided by the principles of Smart Growth or New Urbanism. Finally, cities and towns need to get comfortable with the idea that mixing offices, retail and residential is a good thing — it’s what more and more people want.

The big challenge is overcoming stagnant or shrinking populations. It’s hard to justify investing in new buildings in walkable, mixed-use districts if there is little demand. That’s where a regional marketing plan could prove invaluable. But instead of spending marketing dollars on trying to attract light industry (as I presume Moret intends), or even young people, who will be a hard sell without abundant jobs, I would suggest spending it on attracting retirees looking for inexpensive places to spend their leisure years. Such a campaign should not aim at retirees generally but (a) emigres who may have sentimental or family attachments to the region, or (b) retirees seeking to live an active, outdoors lifestyle.

By my hasty, back-of-the-envelope calculation, Southwest Virginia has at least 15 communities of sufficient scale to create small, intimate, walkable places where people with significant disposable income might be willing to live. (My list is hardly definitive, and likely would need to be revised, but the guiding idea is sound.) These are the potential nucleii for rebirth. These are where the tobacco commission should be investing in broadband, where the state and counties should be funneling infrastructure dollars, and where institutional assets such as schools, colleges, museums, libraries, community centers should cluster.

Southwest Virginia needs to reinvent itself for the 21st century economy. Light industry, data centers, solar farms, call centers and back-office operations are all part of the equation. But creating places where people actually want to live is indispensable as well. Kudos to Moret for raising the issue.

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50 responses to “Fifteen Nucleii for the Rebirth of Southwest Virginia”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    there’s a bit of a dichotomy here… are we talking about better-educating the current population or bringing in new, better educated?

    Additionally, on top of that, how do you do settlement pattern revitalization – money-wise much different than you would education and attracting businesses?

    In the end – external money , tax incentives, etc are needed… as these places are hollowed out and have little in the way of their own resources to leverage.

    When we say: ” These are where the tobacco commission should be investing in broadband, where the state and counties should be funneling infrastructure dollars, and where institutional assets such as schools, colleges, museums, libraries, community centers should cluster.”

    the state and counties should be “funneling ..dollars”.. where do these dollars come from?

    when we say “institutional assets” aren’t we saying that external institutions should be directing their investment dollars to these communities instead of somewhere else – where they already have an existing presence – and commitment? Aren’t these institutions going to go to the State and say “if you want us to go to these places, please fund us?”

    Once you get past the tobacco fund as a financial resource – you’re pretty much asking the state to re-direct existing taxpayer monies and/or increase taxes to do that.

    I actually agree with the general concept but reality says that money has to come from somewhere – it won’t come from heaven above..

    But if you make these places – ones with very low real estate taxes, amenities like internet and cultural resources – as well as top notch medical – People living in the NoVa (and other urbanized areas) rat race may be tempted.

    It’s not impossible. There are dozens of gated lake communities scattered throughout Virginia.. already… and almost all of them were created by private sector money… but they do include water and sewer –

    there are several dozen in Va right now.. and they seem to do well… where they are…

    My father in law – as he neared retirement age from his corporate vagabond life – actually engaged in a search for retirement communities – away from urban areas.. and he finally ended up near one that had a top notch medical center near by…and low taxes, but also had golf, tennis, library, and social clubs for bridge, computers, and other hobbies..

    There are a ton of folks in NoVa that reach retirement age that want to stay in Virginia but get out of the hell hole.. ..

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Repeat after me … nothing will reverse the global, 300 year long trend of urbanization. Nothing. No amount of money. No number of entitlement programs. No ubiquity of broadband. Nothing.

      1. Surely you don’t begrudge SW Virginians allocating their existing resources to greater effect than they are now.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          If it were their existing resources – I’d still advise them to think twice. But it’s not their resources. It’s property taxes from the urban crescent to subsidize their schools. It’s tobacco fund money that could have been spent anywhere wasted in stump stupid attempts to prop up the rural economy. It’s non-sensical tax breaks for coal mining in areas where the coal has run out.

          My Grandfather and all my kin before him grew up in rural Kentucky. After he came back from WWI he realized there wasn’t enough opportunity in rural Kentucky so he moved to Detroit where he and his 10th grade education did famously well.

          There’s nothing wrong with Southwest Virginia. There’s nothing wrong with the people in Southwest Virginia. However, urbanization has been happening for the last 300 years. It just doesn’t take many people to grow a lot of food. Low wages and manufacturing made up for labor losses in agriculture for a while but that’s been over for at least 25 years.

          Maybe in another 25 years when AI and robots do all the work Bernie Sanders will be proven right and socialism will be instituted whereby everybody gets $50,000 per year from the government. Jobs won’t matter and people will want to live in clean rural areas. Absent that – there’s nothing that you can do to stop continued urbanization.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      “There are a ton of folks in NoVa that reach retirement age that want to stay in Virginia but get out of the hell hole.. ..”

      Not sure why NoVa is a hell hole. Most people who retire want to cash out of the immense profit they made owning property in that “hell hole” as it grew over the years. But anyway …. they will move to Charlottesville where there is a great hospital and they can get to an international airport in 2 hours.

  2. djrippert Avatar

    Is there any place in America where rural areas are thriving? Even if funding was available (which it is not) I am skeptical of all of those ideas.

    Abingdon? It has 8,000 people! I’ll take Jim’s word that it’s a beautiful place but 8,000 people?

    Building a successful small city like Asheville, NC requires 50,000 people or so to start.

    Arguably you could create something around Blacksburg – Roanoke. Think in terms of Greenville – Spartanburg, SC (including Clemson University). Anything southwest of that is a lost cause.

    Rural America has been de-populating for over a century. In fact, it’s not just America …

    “In 1800, only 3 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 1900, almost 14 percent were urbanites, although only 12 cities had 1 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, 30 percent of the world’s population resided in urban centers. The number of cities with over 1 million people had grown to 83.”

    Time for Virginia to stop throwing away money in Southwest VA. It’s a beautiful place full of wonderful people. But the whole world is urbanizing and that’s not going to change.

    The tobacco money would have been better spent paying people to relocate than trying to build businesses in soybean fields.

    1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

      God yes. The dumbest move Virginia can do is invest a single penny into SWVA or Southside. It is literally flushing money down the toilet.

    2. “Is there any place in America where rural areas are thriving?”

      What’s your definition of “thriving”? Very few rural areas are thriving to the same degree as, say, the Washington metro. But some clearly are faring better than others. There are degrees of poverty and prosperity. The challenge is to help SW Virginia move a few notches up the ladder.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Thriving …

        1. Population increasing.
        2. Median family income >= the state average
        3. Unemployment <= the state average
        4. Poverty rate <= the state average
        5. School system in top 50% for the state

        1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

          Three in Virginia come to mind: Albemarle, Warren, and Bedford Counties…..I think Albemarle and Warren meet all 5. Bedford’s probably does or is very close to the state average

          1. Kosciuszko Avatar

            While I appreciate you stepping up and suggesting some examples, Albemarle and Bedford both boast universities, UVA and Liberty respectively. While those universities undoubtedly increase the desirability of these localities, we can’t just plop down universities throughout rural VA.

            Warren is a bit different. I think this is a better model, but it still has weaknesses. Primarily that it’s growth is, from my perspective, spillover of the crazy NOVA growth. In addition they’ve positioned themselves well for what I consider the last remnants of 20th century-era blue-collar jobs, those being warehousing and logistics. I see a similar blueprint in the City of Suffolk and Isle of Wight County in HR, both of which are growing very quickly though income is still low (though cost of living is correspondingly low) and schools are not great.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I agree with the thrust of Jim Bacon’s post.

    I say this based on my experience over decades watching Arlington County’s 1950s surge into new levels of prosperity, followed by its rapid decline in the 1960s and early 1970s, borne of outside circumstances and internal mistakes, and then its remarkable Renaissance from the mid 1970s on until today, despite the numerous setback and fierce competition particularly at the start of the resurgence.

    Arlington’s local government government, business community, and concerned citizens sparked, fed and maintained this revival. Working together, they put in place the means and actions that generated success by leveraging off of Arlington’s systemic strengths. This turned the county around, building infrastructure that attracted outside investment, businesses, and people.

    People today overstate the importance of the subway to Arlington’s rebirth. The Washington Metro branched out into many communities around Washington DC that still languish to this very day. Arlington made the subway and much else in Arlington work to its great advantage, unlike other communities who wasted the subway opportunity along with much else.

    There in SW Va., like in Arlington back in the late 1970s, the stars can be realigned. The base ingredients are in place just as they have always been. But now new forces such as technology bring prosperity into plain view. So good governance, hard work, wise planning and vigorous execution, plus solid ethical marketing and resilience can return prosperity to SW Virginia.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      it wasn’t the subway alone but I don’t see the revival without the Metro. I grew up on Huntington Ave and finally, after decades, the area around the Metro is shaping up. West Falls Church was frozen in time too but it’s lit up in the last 10 years. In fact, in Virginia – where hasn’t the Metro made a difference for the better?

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Throughout much of Washington DC. Along with large patches of Md. its way far below its potential and largely wasted, a huge money loser for the system.

        The revival of Arlington’s downtown would have happened, just would have been far different in terms of densities.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          I think you need to go drive through DC again. Chinatown is thriving. The national bird of Southwest DC is the construction crane. The area by Nationals Park is revitalized. The area around Union Station is revitalized. Even Southeast is becoming gentrified.

          In Maryland Silver Spring is a whole different place than it was 20 years ago. Bethesda is positively trendy.

          DC is on the same basic trajectory as Austin, TX.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            My report card is somewhat different.

            In real estate, whether above or below ground, time, location and coordination means big money and opportunity gained or lost. Pace and mix of synergistic development is key. Urban or suburban spaces around subways lines that fill in 30 years later than its potential, then loses vast amounts of money that takes generations to recoup if ever.

            In my view, the failure to coordinate land use and development along the Washington Metro subway route has cost the Washington region untold $billions of lost revenues that otherwise would have been earned in a myriad of ways. The loses also multiply and spread, often becoming intractable. Hence one obvious major reason the subway is chronically broke. This remarkable failure of planning and execution along Washington subways lines haunts us today.

            The only jurisdictional planning to do this totally right – that is to generate and collect the full potential the subway offered the locale that it passed through, and thus benefit the entire region was Arlington’s planning from the Arlington County Courthouse area through to Ballston. This was a remarkable and perhaps singular achievement.

            As to the rest you mention:

            Bethesda did an excellent job long term, but got off to a slow and awkward start. That overall development success was perhaps due in unusual degree to one man, a local planner. Development along the subway line north along Rockville Pike was a disaster of planning and execution. The County Seat’s redevelopment was nearly a crime, the gutting and utter destruction of Rockville, one of the best historic old towns in America.

            In contrast, south of Bethesda, the Friendships Heights Md’s development along subway line was well done, radiating profits and social benefits from the get on and for generations to come.

            But immediately across the DC line, from Friendship DC down Wisconsin Ave and over to Connecticut Ave nearly wasted the entire purpose and benefit the subway line there otherwise would bring.

            If Arlington’s new downtown was a poster child of how to win big with the subway, the DC subway in NW DC to Connecticut Ave was testament how to throttle the subway and neighborhoods it would otherwise benefit, as well as the an entire region.

            Silver Spring despite it final success was also a very slow awkward performer that left much on the table that the subway otherwise offered. Downtown from Treasury to Portrait Gallery worked out quite well. Most everything to the east to far too long than excellent planning might have produced. The DC Metro is a textbook case for planners to use to figure out what works and what does not for the future.

          2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Correction last two lines.

            Most everything to the east took far longer than excellent planning might otherwise have produced. The DC Metro is a textbook case for planners to figure out what works and what does not for the future.

          3. djrippert Avatar

            I agree that it took too long but it did eventually happen. I personally give a lot of credit for DC’s renaissance to Anthony Williams. He seemed to understand land use, settlement patterns, etc. Given the number of metro stations that have recently opened and the number that are being built, the question is how to accelerate the benefits. What lessons can be learned from Arlington?

          4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            “What lessons can be learned from Arlington?”

            I’ll try to get back to this, elaborating on Arlington versus DC.

            Meanwhile, much of what I learned in my Arlington versus DC experiences is set out in my comments to earlier Post found here at:


    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      I’ve been driving the back roads of W. Va, and Southwest Va, as well as the American West, living often out of the back of truck typically, for days and weeks since the 1960s, going back again and again, up 14 times to the west in one year alone, until 2005, getting as far out into then nowhere places as I could.

      Doing that you can watch places grow and stagnate, ruin themselves and succeed over time, often spectacularly so either way, depending not so much on chance or even locale, but on who was running the show and how they put together and arranged the pieces of what they found or created on the spot, building their own successes or abject failures, simultaneously or in sequence even. The Aspen part is found in my comments below Jim’s article

      I could say the same about dozens of towns from Baja Mex. to the Canadian border. Including many without big mountains or ski runs anywhere in sight. Much of the same could be said for SW. Va and parts of SW Virginia, weeks spent poking around places most visitors never go, and places they do. (For grins I got LocalGovGuy beaten hands down on Bro & Sister in laws in Roanoke, and you on Arlington, neither relevant.)

      At the end of day here on these matter you and I disagree.

      I do agree with your comments below on Maryland, including Beltway disaster on American Legion bridge side all the way around to Silver Spring that now extends to I-95 junction, and is spreading from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge back around to Rt. 50, thanks to Harbor Place, a N. Virginia style development monster that slipped across the River to infest Maryland.

      Annapolis, I am with your there too.

    3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Two big things that helped Arlington, IMO. One was the existing grid of streets that can take traffic off I-66, Wilson and Washington Blvds. It’s going to take Tysons $$$$$$$$$ and many years to replicate. Meanwhile traffic hell continues to increase.

      Two was the decision of elected officials to require all stakeholders to have a seat at the table in a manner that forced everyone to compromise. Fairfax County is largely in the same place today — more or less — but’s taken well more than 10 years to get there – time that could have been better spent reinventing itself.

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    These sorts of births or rebirth of small towns and that formerly were far away places happen with far more frequency than we commonly recognize. The 1960’s era acid heads, draft dodgers, widely eccentric, or serious dropouts generally, often headed to “ends of the earth places” like Formentera and Katmandu, or Telluride or Woody Creek Colorado, or the dozens of other totally broke mining towns that today still litter the American West but now have been thriving economically for decades.

    The key is to tailor a town’s revival to its strengths, and work relentlessly toward the goal. Draws and solutions cannot be generic. But must be targeted to work in synergistic ways locally and regionally. The small series of steps that get the place the tipping point is the hard thing. Spending huge bunches of money on boilerplate idea almost never work, just waste money.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      A town in an area of epic natural beauty can do just fine. St Michael’s in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore fits the bill. I imagine rural life in Alaska is good so long as that oil money keeps coming in.

      It’s pretty in southwest Virginia but not that pretty. There are plenty of similarly pretty places in western North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, western Maryland, central Pennsylvania, etc.

      And southwest Virginia is a large area not a small town. Counties that have been included in the definition of Southwest Virginia include: Alleghany County, Bedford County, Bland County, Botetourt County, Buchanan County, Carroll County, Craig County, Dickenson County, Floyd County, Franklin County, Giles County, Grayson County, Henry County, Lee County, Montgomery County, Patrick County, Pulaski County, Roanoke County, Rockbridge County, Russell County, Scott County, Smyth County, Tazewell County, Washington County, Wise County, and Wythe County.

      Telluride has 2,300 residents. The county it’s in has 7,800. 80 minutes away (by car) is Montrose Airport with direct commercial flights to LA, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, etc.

      All southwest Virginia needs is a few 11,000 ft tall skiing mountains and a state willing to build commercial airports to make it accessible. That will take care of 2,300 lucky southwest Virginians.

      The people in southwest Virginia are smart and entrepreneurial. They’ve spent the last 100 years thinking about how to revive the area. It hasn’t happened because it’s not going to happen. There are huge tracts of land throughout the United States just like southwest Virginia. They aren’t revitalizing either.

      Things change and sometimes there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: urban hellholes

    even djrippert these days RAILS about the horrendous traffic in NoVa and the increasing infestation of “it’s all about me” ..the Facebook self-love millennials..not to mention the horrendous taxes, latinos living 20 to a house.. and other outrageous atrocities…

    face it – urbanized places are not for middle income families with kids, the unskilled poor nor retirees…

    re: retire to Charlottesville.

    specifically places like this: yes

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Misunderstanding people has become something of a specialty to LarrytheG. I’ve long defended NoVa. The Metro expansion that TMT and JB so loathe is working as expected. Density is building up around the Metro stations creating walkable, mixed use communities. Some of the vast ocean of money paid by Northern Virginians in taxes has come back in transportation funding. The Wilson Bridge is no longer a disaster, the Springfield “Mixing Bowl” has been fixed, the Greenway to Leesburg works fine. Arlington’s NIMBYs won’t allow Rt66 to be expanded so there are still issues but the trend is good. If you want to see total and complete dereliction of duty by politicians – drive across the American Legion Bridge into Maryland. They still have choke points where the Beltway squeezes down to 2 lanes! They also have the almost famous “Maryland Merge” where two roads are merged into a third road (one from each side) at the same point that the main road decreases capacity by a lane. It’s like some sadistic bastard who hated drivers intentionally designed the roads that way. Meanwhile, the snowflakes in Annapolis are great at raising taxes so they can pour money into the essentially unsalvageable City of Baltimore. It’s a shame because places like Annapolis could really be something if Maryland showed a little common sense.

      “urbanized places are not for middle income families with kids, the unskilled poor nor retirees…”

      LOL. You’re like Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.”

      What part of urbanization don’t you understand? Middle income families with kids, the unskilled poor and retirees ALL live (more and more) in urbanized places. That’s why urbanized places are gaining population while rural places are losing population. This really isn’t all that hard.

      As far as Lake Monticello – uh, no. Lake Monticello has fewer than 10,000 people. It’s in Fluvanna County. Albermarle County has grown from 79,000 people to 105,000 people in the last 16 years while the City of Charlottesville has grown from 40,000 to 49,000 over the same period. Net inflow of about 1,000 people per year.

      Most of the people I know who have retired to Charlottesville live between the city and Winter Garden.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Things change and sometimes there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

    I generally agree with DJR with caveats… but much of the country falls into the “left out” and ” pretty much done” categories… whether in Minnesota, Alabama, Kentucky , Arkansas or West Va or SW Va.

    there are exceptions — places with exceptional scenery or natural resources, or rich farmland… but dying town…zombie towns can be found in abundance in North Carolina… Georgia …. Kansas… they prospered when the country went from agrarian to industrial.. many of them rail towns.. but the economy of the 21st century is very different.

    there are semi-rural technological enclaves like Bend, Ore , Boise Idaho… Butte Montana … Austin, Texas… Redmond, Ore… and Virginia does have some rural areas with the core assets… Blacksburg being an example but I clearly don’t get Abingdon… it’s a lovely “old town” place that has taken as good advantage as they can of the Barter Theatre but I truly don’t see any further potential… it takes more than a lovely small town setting to attract people or business…

    One of the things many small towns do have – is Medicaid and Medicare… govt programs – entitlements – yes… but they do provide salaried health care workers who do spend money into the local economy and it spends just as well as any other Federal or Stated funded program.. outside dollars coming into the local economy that actually can employ lesser skilled folks …

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Boise is more of an analog for Blacksburg – Roanoke. It’s been growing like a weed since the 1960s. It would definitely be worth knowing more of why it works.

      Bend is fascinating and could be a great analog for southwest Virginia. There’s something about that place (in the middle of nowhere) that people find irresistible. Still primarily outdoor tourism oriented but with a lot of new non-tourism businesses sprouting up.

      Butte has fewer people now than it did in 1970 so I am not at all sure it qualifies as a success story.

      Redmond, OR is another (much smaller) town in the same county as Bend. I’d take them as a pair.

      Austin the capital of America’s second most populous state, home to a top rated university and an honest to God big city. I’d see Austin more of a corollary to Richmond than southwest Virginia.

      So, good examples but they relate to various problem.

      1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

        Boise works for a few reasons: It’s got Idaho’s largest university and it is the state capital of Idaho. It also got into the tech game a lot sooner than other American cities. It really started to play that game in the early to mid 90s.

        I don’t really see any connection to Roanoke/Blacksburg.

        Austin’s surpassed Richmond.

        Virginia will simply waste money on a region that needs to die. VEDP can’t wait to burn your tax dollars in SWVA!

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          SW Va is not going to die.. it’s going to remain a festering economic wound on Virginia if we continue to delude ourselves that we can abandon them as a people and a region. We can no more do this with them than we can with other issues like inner city citizens and their kids or opioid drug use in rural Va or cocaine use in the urban areas.

          I know this kind of thinking is popular now days. ..but I see it as irresponsible… pretending.. to ignore realities that we have to deal with.

          we’re willing to spend tons of money to keep out “undocumented” but heaven forbid we actually do something about our own citizens needs!

          1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

            First, I don’t support the misguided immigration policies being pushed by the current regime in D.C.

            But, yes, Southwest Virginia needs to die. As Don R writes, this isn’t something “new.” It’s a centuries old process.

            And while you bring up some interesting areas in terms of natural amenities, I agree with DonR. Southwest Virginia may be “nice” in terms of natural beauty and amenities, but……”nice” isn’t spectacular. If you’re a millennial looking for that type of lifestyle, there are plenty of other places in Virginia and the nation that offer that lifestyle AND access to nice metros as well.

            In all honesty, I’ll end this argument right here. If you are a 20 something who enjoys the outdoors lifestyle and wanted to locate your start-up in Virginia….please tell me why you wouldn’t locate in Harrisonburg? Harrisonburg is a 10 minute drive from any natural amenity you could desire. Plus, it is a growing small city that offers any of the creature comforts you may desire as well as programs and athletic events at JMU. Plus, if you ever did want to visit a major metro, the D.C. area is a 2 hour drive away.

            If you want to help rural Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley is a much more realistic place to make something real happen. SWVA is simply too isolated and offers no competitive advantages.

          2. LocalGovGuy, I totally agree that the Shenandoah Valley has huge advantages over that portion of Southwest Virginia southwest of Blacksburg. It has natural beauty, bucolic rural landscapes, a number of colleges and universities, vital towns such as Harrisonburg, Staunton and Winchester, and, most important of all, proximity to two large metros — Washington and Richmond.

            But what’s SW Virginia supposed to do? Write itself off? Roll over and die? C’mon. You can advance a defensible argument that the rest of Virginia should not throw money down a rat-hole subsidizing the region. But no one should expect the region not to invest its own resources (and its share of state resources) in itself. I haven’t spent much time there in the past 30 years, I will confess. But I recall natural beauty as impressive as anything I’ve seen east of the Mississippi, and I don’t blame the people one bit for wanting to salvage their communities.

            As I wrote in an earlier blog post, “Nobody Cares about You, Southwest Virginia, and Maybe That’s a Good Thing.” SW Virginia needs to carve out a fiscally sustainable economic niche (not dependent upon subsidies) for the increasingly urbanized 21st-century knowledge economy. As Wise County Circuit Court Jack Kennedy observes, the last thing the rest of Virginia is an economic basket case it has to carry — a permanent drain on our resources. It is in our interest to encourage regional self sufficiency there.

          3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            Jim re SW Virginia: “But I recall natural beauty as impressive as anything I’ve seen east of the Mississippi …”

            And I would add that I recall there in SW Va. as fine a bunch of people as you’d meet anywhere in the world.

        2. djrippert Avatar

          VEDP’s problem is that it’s betwixt and between. What they propose to spend is irrelevantly small. Arguably, if the state built a modern airport (along the lines of Greenville / Spartanburg), started the Virginia Tech School of Medicine, provided incentives for businesses to move their headquarters to Southwest Virginia and moved several state agencies out of Richmond and into Southwest Virginia you might be able to create a hub around medicine, retirement and biotechnology. Maybe. But spreading money like peanut butter over a lot of little projects will do nothing.

  7. In email correspondence with Bacon’s Rebellion, Moret elaborated upon his thoughts about the connection between mixed-use development and economic development.

    I’m a big fan of mixed-use development. In the mid-1990s, I participated in a downtown revitalization effort in Baton Rouge led by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation through which we engaged one of the top New Urbanism proponents in the US, Andreas Duany, to develop a downtown revitalization plan for Baton Rouge. Many projects were developed in line with that vision, including a mixed-use development anchored by a big IBM technology center I helped recruit to Baton Rouge when I led Louisiana’s state economic development agency (see and

    My wife and I lived in the Clarendon Park mixed-use development in Arlington County, Va., early in our marriage – we loved it.

    Some of the biggest technology companies in the US are developing large (300-800 jobs each), lower-cost software development and integration centers in smaller metros and rural communities. I helped attract a few of these to smaller Louisiana communities, such as Monroe, Bossier, and Lafayette. I would love to see us attract a few of those types of projects to communities in Virginia’s rural horseshoe, leveraging (and expanding) existing computer science programs at institutions such as UVA-Wise to provide a talent pipeline. Best-case scenario would be for such centers to be launched as part of mixed-use developments, such that they create good jobs as well as help catalyze improvements in quality of life.

    UVA-Wise already has designated the western edge of its campus (between campus and downtown Wise) as a potential site for a mixed-use development like this. Students could intern there as undergrads and the permanent jobs would catalyze other things, such as retail, restaurants/coffee shops, and apartments. It could be like a mixed-use technology village, and that same kind of thing would work in several other places across rural Virginia. That’s one of my dreams for rural Va. We are working on putting the pieces together.

    I also agree that attracting retirees to rural Virginia is a viable strategy, and cultivating mixed-use developments adjacent to existing colleges and universities would be a great way to further that vision. Many retirees would be attracted to such places, if they are well done.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      God bless your efforts. Your initiative is wonderful news.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    I swear I’ve heard DJR complaining about NoVa not that long ago!

    here’s the technology economy in Montana… it looks like something NoVa would be envious of… and looks to be primarily private sector not govt.

    the link is Montana’s Universities.. and young folks love of the outdoors – not unlike Colorado but more to rivers, hiking, biking, etc.

    similar to Blacksburg…

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      There you go! Real people doing real things born of grit and imagination.

  9. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I recently attended a Board of Supervisors meeting in Fauquier County. They are making a pitch for economic development through a major expansion of broadband and the ability to be close to everything in NoVA, but without the traffic hell on a day-to-day basis.

    Larry – FYI – while local government cannot spend tax dollars to expand and operate broadband services, they can (and do) form broadband authorities under state law and can sell revenue bonds and charge fees for the use of their facilities. Seems to be a fair balance from my view.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    @TMT – locally in Spotsylvania – we are told that we cannot do that if the existing cable companies oppose it.

    Fauquier is essentially an outer commuting exurb of NoVa.. to be accurate.

    their job of “economic development” is probably more akin to providing broadband to NoVa workers living in the county than say the rural counties in SW Va trying to attract employers … for county residents who do not commute to jobs elsewhere.

    Whenever I hear “economic development” discussions from the outer exurban counties that ring NoVa/DC … it’s invariably about trying to induce some of the NoVA/DC companies to migrate to their county so folks won’t have to commute – as opposed to SW Va counties task of trying to bring in employers from much further away to just provide jobs not reduce foks commutes.

    totally different economic development problem.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, I think the elected officials in Spotsylvania County are lying to the public. There is no provision in the statute that requires approval of the local cable company before a broadband authority can be created.

      This reminds me of Gerry Connolly, when he was chairman of the Fairfax County BoS, telling people that the County had no authority to turn down a request for rezoning.

  11. LocalGovGuy Avatar

    Mr. Bacon:

    I’d be less skeptical of SWVA helping itself w/ its own resources if the area could even support building a shopping center without state assistance.

    I urge you to Google and read about “The Falls” in Bristol. Here is an article to start your reading. It shows just how utterly incompetent that portion of Virginia is:

    If they can’t build a shopping center without state intervention, you know that they will have their hands out to the state for Urban Crescent tax dollars to aid their “mixed use” projects.

    1. Holy ****! This is an amazing story. Another example of how flailing, misguided efforts to jump-start economic development can turn disastrous. I’ll have to do something with this.

      1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

        Please do so! It is an absolute embarrassment. Do not send a red cent of Urban Crescent money out there!!!!!! This is what you will get.

  12. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    If anyplace in Virginia needs a Government Hand Out and a Help Up in order to accomplish its “mission” and stay afloat its UVA, Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Those are the places today in the Commonwealth that are Really Hurting.

  13. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s not clear what the 80 million dollars is for and the 47 million share but given the fact that a high school these days can cost that much – .. spending a similar amount in an effort to spur economic development is not automatically “bad” from the get go.

    A Cabelas is a pretty big snag… there are just a few of them nation-wide and they typically draw customers from a wide region and travelers off the interstate.

    Jim Bacon should know all about that with a Bass Pro Shop as well as a Cabelas in his own neck of the woods.

    and the point here is to not cherry-pick something “bad” about a region as justification for not doing economic development .

    Across Virginia – including in urban areas – there are State and Local examples of spectacular failures.. there is always risk .. and no guarantees…

    I’m not justifying irresponsible behavior…. but I also point out just how much a money hog METRO is in NoVa .. and yes it has it’s supporters and detractors…

    If you donj’t like that one – look at Petersburg Va or for that matter the shenanigans in Richmond! Or the CSO disaster in Alexandria?

    What’s irresponsible is pretending that SW Va can be abandoned and in doing so it having no deleterious effect on Va taxpayers… who will foot the bill for their needs… education, medical… roads.. even law enforcement…

    we’re all in this boat together.. and it’s just silly to speak in terms of abandonment of vast areas of the state.. beset by the monumental changes and transformations of the 21st century.

    This is a continuation of the general theme of “govt is bad and irresponsible so stop funding it”.. ongoing here.. in BR… there are sure enough failures.. but these are also successes and in the end – what are we going to do – go back to living in caves defending against roaming bands of heathens and marauders? 😉

    1. LocalGovGuy Avatar


      I don’t share the “all government is bad” theme. I also don’t hate SWVA.

      But….I believe all of us, public and private, have a fiduciary duty with the dollars we spend on behalf of others. Whether you’re a church trustee, a non-profit board member, or a state legislator, you have that ethical responsibility. And over the past 20 years, there has been nothing but continual “economic development” waste in that part of the state.

      There is a point where you simply have to call your losses in life. When I say to let those places “die”, I don’t mean it in a literal sense. What I mean is this: in the 21st century economy, with limited manufacturing and a turn to other sources of energy besides coal, those places simply aren’t economically viable for their populations. There is a point of depopulation where those places will reach economic viability. However, they are far from there at this point. Throwing up a couple of developments with 2nd and 3rd story apartments with a bad pizza place on the 1st floor is not going to revitalize unproductive coal fields.

      The economic development success stories tend to be as Mr. Fawell describes in Arlington. It’s not so much about the gov’t handing out grants (though in VERY LIMITED circumstances, that can work). It’s about working with developers to provide the type of gray and human infrastructure that creates an area attractive to residents and businesses and having private developers with vision that take advantage of the infrastructure.

      It sounds like you’ve been out to SWVA a few times. I have as well. Quite frankly, you might be able to do something with Abingdon. But south of Blacksburg, I truly have a hard time seeing anything else working for that region. That’s why I’m so dead set against the state spending money. Anyone who realistically looks at all of the factors in play understands that SWVA is not going to attract what it needs for sustainable economic development.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    @LocalGovGuy – well , we just cannot walk away.. we’ll be picking up the continuing and expanding entitlement costs if we do.

    there is no cutting your losses in the conventional sense.

    the rest of Virginia will continue to pay for expanded law enforcement and education, TANF, Medicaid, food stamps and now Opioid issues.

    what’s the alternative to that?

    yes.. as a 30 year paddler of streams in Va… and Middle Atlantic , I have SEEN a LOT of “places”.. because the streams that are still relatively undisturbed and clean are NOT generally in the urban areas… so the majority of my wanderings have been in the rural parts of Va. WVA, NC, SC, Ga… etc.. hundreds ..thousands of trips.

    and many of these places have lost their small manufacturing industries ..mining… and smaller plot farming. Some still make it with cattle, hogs and poultry… but in general… times are bad… and hope for any kind of real economic development for the future – not promising for many of the areas.

    I see the problem as difficult as what we see in inner-city low income ,low skill neighborhoods.. a chronic problem.. they sell drugs to make a living, get thrown in jail… their kids grow up like them.. That’s the SAME THING with a different color and place location.. just change inner city to rural and cocaine to opioid…

    both inner city and rural are massive money pits with few successes.. I admit.

    but we KNOW the more we are successful at education – the more of them can escape to a better life… and when there are potential economic development opportunities.. we should pursue them.

    it’s funny – gentrification is one way to get the tax base up.. and has potential if done right to help lower income parts of the city.

    for rural – retirement communities can do something similar.

    No.. neither will fix it all right away – but there is some progress possible and we must pursue it because the alternative is t descend even deeper into even worse outcomes.

  15. Acbar Avatar

    Seems you’re both right. SWVA is a sink hole for investment AND a beautiful place. SWVA needs to depopulate further AND the people that are there now have needs (health, education, food) that must be met now.

    A walkable mixed use community IS an attraction for the people any local government wants to attract. But there has to be a critical mass of people already there who are potentially interesting neighbors and “worth knowing.” And there have to be jobs nearby that pay for that lifestyle. A higher educational institution helps all around, and adds support for the arts.

    SWVA? Not gonna happen, anytime soon.

  16. LarrytheG Avatar

    I had alluded previously to lake-front communities.. The “right kind” with ful amenities including internet and a access to good Medical will attract people with decent pensions fleeing the urbanized areas and with enough funds from selling their house to buy a nicer one in the lake community – will come.

    Those lake communities become economic engines for the surrounding locality.. a need for services….. and goods…. and more immune to economic variations since their pensions are paid no matter what and it can attract people from other states – beyond our own urbanized areas. That’s pure gravy economically because the biggest expense – schools for lake community kids – is not needed.

    These retirement communities also provide a good tax base from which to provide better schools for the local residents.. If the state locates one or more Community Colleges with linkage to Va Tech and UVA.. that becomes a viable path for the kids of local citizens to bootstrap themselves to a better job in an urbanized area.

    Many, many places in SW VA have ideal terrain for lakes.. and in general not far from I-81… or I-64.

    Doing this – is actually in the interests of the taxpayers in the urbanized areas – as it will lead to less entitlement burden for SWVA.

    it’s not the whole solution and not the only one – but it’s a good start.

  17. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I can’t imagine what anchors Acbar’s implacable pessimism regarding SWVA. I’ve revisit the area at 1st opportunity and bring myself up to date, so I can better respond and hopefully cheer up my gloomy good friend.

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