LEBANON, VA – SEPTEMBER 26, 2022 — Four target industries the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) should continue to prioritize to promote job growth and investment were identified in a recent industry strategic analysis conducted by the Virginia Tech Center for Economic and Community Engagement.
The findings in that report, commissioned by VCEDA, were presented to the VCEDA board at a meeting of the board earlier this month. In several cases, what the study found was that the region is already outperforming national averages in key sector areas.
Specifically, the report identified advanced manufacturing, electronic information technology, energy-related enterprises and creative tourism as the four target sectors. In arriving at the findings, the challenges and opportunities in each industry cluster were analyzed.
“We appreciate the work done by Virginia Tech’s Center for Economic and Community Engagement on this study and we were especially pleased to see it validated our own research related to industry targets we are already actively pursuing,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “VCEDA began marketing the region as the e-Region some years ago to focus on emerging technologies (advanced manufacturing), electronic information technologies, energy and education and through additional programs VCEDA has formulated, tourism and entrepreneurship.”
Key justifications and assets identified for advanced manufacturing included high average wages for the region; diverse employment opportunities in terms of education and skill requirements; adequate transportation and utility infrastructure; a skilled available workforce; and that it connects very well with the strengths of the higher education institutions and existing and emerging research assets in the region. The report noted the VCEDA region has some existing supply of moderate to small sites and spaces suitable for advanced manufacturing with 12 available locations. The study found that in the field of advanced manufacturing, the region has seen a 23 percent increase in the past five years in machinery – 126 percent greater than the national average; eight percent growth in the same time period in fabricated metal – 99 percent greater than the national average; 207 percent in five years in wood and furniture – 108 percent greater than the national average; and 49 percent in the past five years in electrical equipment.
For electronic information technology, key justifications and assets identified included broadband access availability in many areas in the VCEDA region; Appalachian Council for Innovation networking opportunities and connections to resources related to IT across the region; spaces such as the Oxbow Center which the study noted are beneficial for entrepreneurs who can innovate with others in the same industry and gain professional support; CTE programs that increasingly introduce students to IT careers with skills development; and area colleges offering tech degree and non-degree programs and further, that many institutions have built partnerships with companies. The study found that software development had grown in the region 2 percent in the past five years; and telecommunications and data centers, seven percent job growth in the same time period.
Key justifications and assets identified for energy-related enterprises included workers in mining-related occupations are transferrable to other areas in the energy industry; that Dominion Energy is exploring projects related to wind and solar; Virginia Tech’s mechanical engineering program offers specializations in energy engineering and sciences, which can create a pipeline of trained workers; a redundant and robust electrical grid, beneficial for implementing multiple energy sources; the Energy Storage & Electrification Manufacturing Project provides technical assistance and expertise to support manufacturers researching energy-related markets; and abundant reclaimed land is available for development purpose. The study found that for battery storage and manufacturing, the region had seen growth in terms of employment of 88 percent more than the national average.
For creative tourism, key justifications and assets identified included higher education supports increased productivity and efficiency in agriculture; in the past two decades, there has been a shift in agricultural product demand that has potential implication for existing agriculture and forestry activities; in the past year, rural regions saw the largest increase in outdoor recreational resources and activities; there has been a rise in the creative industry in recent years: historic, cultural and artistic amenities; and well-developed and passionate business support organizations and industry ecosystems exist.
The full report may be viewed at https://www.vceda.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/VT-Target-Industry-Strategic-Analysis.pdf.
About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.