I’m having the good fortune of attending the 2012 VEDA (Virginia Economic Development Association) Fall Conference in the Star City, Roanoke, Virginia. This is the first VEDA meeting that I’ve attended, and I’m learning a great deal about Virginia and the many economic development efforts across the Commonwealth.
My introduction to the meeting was from one of my colleagues from Rockingham County telling me that I would have a “good time” at this meeting – mind you, not that I would learn a great deal, but that I would have a good time. Thus far, he’s right: it is a fun group. Despite that, I’m learning a lot.
We’ve had a variety of speakers today featuring political pundits, Virginia Senate candidates (Gov. Allen and Gov. Kaine) with the afternoon sessions focusing on “the beer picture” in Virginia. As it turns out there are a number of reoccurring themes across these presentations that I’ve found pertinent to our work as professional continuing educators.
One thing that I’ve felt strongly about through the years is the tie between economic and workforce development. From my perspective it is nearly impossible to separate the two. In my experience, to attract new companies/industries you must have a highly skilled workforce. And to keep existing companies/industries in our communities, we need to position ourselves so that we can quickly develop and/or work with others in workforce development for the emerging needs of the industries. An example mentioned at this meeting is the Shenandoah Valley Miller/Coors plant; as they’ve mechanized their processes, they’ve needed to upgrade the skills of their employees. They’ve done this in a partnership with our local community college, Blue Ridge Community College.
The key takeaway on this issue is this: higher education institutions and those of us in professional continuing education are and must be in the business of economic development by working with our economic developers because we should be a key in creating a highly skilled workforce.
If you haven’t heard, Virginia is a battleground state for the presidential race. On the positive side, we’ve received a lot of attention from the candidates; on the negative side, we’ve received a great deal of attention with endless commercials, mostly negative. In addition to the presidential race, we also have a very tight senate race in Virginia between two past governors: Allen and Kaine. Both spoke to us this morning and while I won’t take a stand on whom I might vote for in November, their comments made clear for me once again the importance of having a civically engaged population.
Again, those of us in professional continuing education play a central role in developing a civically engaged population by making higher education accessible to those who are unable to come to campus through off-campus/distance degree programs. Providing access to degree completion programs is important because we know that those who complete a degree are more apt to be civically engaged, more likely to volunteer, and to vote.
In addition, both candidates mentioned a number of traits that we need in Washington, DC to move us beyond gridlock:
-taking advantage of higher education to create brainpower
-with more brain power the work force will draw companies
-we need to find willingness to compromise
-strive for excellence in our schools thus moving beyond competence
-recognize and nurture our military (active and veterans) as an important source of our talent pool
-recapture the civility of discourse
-success lies in bringing together various groups, e.g., private/public, business/education, and believe it or not reaching across party lines.
-And, dealing with sequestration, we are looking at a fiscal cliff and without bi-partisan support we will go over the cliff
One of fast growing industries in Virginia is the brewing of beer, from large breweries to craft breweries. I found it interesting that the comments from the leaders in this area also centered on their civic responsibilities. As companies they have an obligation to be a good community citizen by:
- helping to build strong communities
- supporting other businesses that support them
- developing their work force through education
- providing leadership and developing leaders not only for themselves but their communities
The quote of the day: “It’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Virginia.”
My first indicator that this was going to be a “fun meeting” happened last night with the first social event being a corn hole tournament (see the picture). Let me tell you, this is serious business, particularly at college football pre-game tailgating.
And as it turned out, it is a fun meeting and I’m learning a lot as well.