For two years, the Vibrant Virginia initiative has brought together university faculty, researchers, and community stakeholders to further economic development in urban and rural Virginia. The program, which began in 2018, works to grow a network of Virginia researchers and practitioners, enhance university projects and initiatives related to Virginia and urban-rural regional concerns, and strengthen the long-term vibrancy of Virginia through applied research, policy analysis, and engagement projects. Partnering together on the initiative are Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs, Virginia Cooperative Extension, College Access Collaborative, School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), and the Policy Strategic Growth Area (SGA).

“Vibrant Virginia is a great example of how Virginia Tech’s Engagement and Extension teams can maximize our impacts through deep collaboration. Working together, we touched many corners of the Commonwealth, exploring issues of shared concern in the state’s urban and rural regions. I look forward to seeing what’s on the horizon for the next phase of this initiative,” said Conaway Haskins, Economic Development Extension Specialist with Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Between 2018-2020, the program funded seven community-engagements projects located across the state of Virginia, from Northern Virginia to Southwest Virginia. The projects covered a wide variety of topics such as social media marketing, opioid substance use disorder, tribal history preservation, and issues facing refugees. The seed funded projects enabled faculty, students, and community partners to collaborate and form partnerships, participate in outside research, and interact with their communities. Dr. Katrina Powell, seed grantee for the Refugee and Migrant Partnerships project, said, “With this seed funding, we have been able to propel our project forward. We have leveraged this funding with several other smaller grants to make connections with service provider and volunteer groups. The resources for travel, meeting spaces, and research assistance has made a critical difference in our work, as we continue to plan for the second annual consortium meeting next fall and to submit an external grant.” With the results of the pilot data, Dr. Powell and her colleagues are developing plans to scale up the research, collaborate with colleagues from the University of Virginia, and submit a grant to the National Science Foundation.

Vibrant Virginia also hosted 15 Community Conversations in the Hampton Roads, Southside, Southwest, and Northern Virginia regions. These conversations covered topics such as agriculture, workforce, IT, entrepreneurship, housing and community development. As a result of these conversations, many individuals were able to form connections and collaborate on projects. For example, OED and Dr. Mike Schwarz from the VT Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) successfully collaborated on a $3 million US Economic Development Administration grant for the construction of a new AREC facility in Hampton. Also, the VT Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) raised awareness about their work in Hampton Roads, finding collaborators for Virginia Research Investment Fund (VRIF) and GO Virginia proposals.

Moving forward, Vibrant Virginia will release a book titled Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality and Inclusivity. The book project will be launched using online discussion software to allow people to interact with one another, comment on and react to book chapters, and share information that relates to the urban-rural divide in Virginia. Already, the Vibrant Virginia book has authors from across Virginia Tech as well as several other Virginia universities and government entities including Virginia Economic Development Partnership and Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Vibrant Virginia program will continue to bring together individuals, government employees, businesses, nonprofits, and education stakeholders, providing them the platform to discuss key issues and link them to Virginia Tech’s resources. “As we move into the future, it is important that we continue to define the narrative of Vibrant Virginia, incorporating work from additional efforts including the Rural Virginia Initiative and GO Virginia,” said John Provo, Director of the Office of Economic Development.

Read the full Vibrant Virginia report here: Vibrant Virginia Final Report