Rural and Proud
By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.
The Governor's Summit on Rural Prosperity, sponsored by the Virginia Rural Center, convened last month at Fort Barfoot with more than 200 people in attendance. I was proud to participate as part of a panel discussion on “Unlocking Innovation in Rural Virginia.” Our Southside area is indeed poised for innovation. All around us, you can feel the energy and excitement.
Kristie Helmick Proctor, Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Center, is well acquainted with the advantages of rural living. She particularly enjoys the open spaces, family ties, and hometown pride. She says, “There is no place I’d rather live, work, and play than in a rural area. As a mom of three young kids, I feel so blessed to raise my children in rural Virginia.”
Beyond the personal benefits, Helmick Proctor emphasizes the importance of rural areas for the Commonwealth’s wellbeing. “If you enjoy eating food, you have likely benefited from one of rural Virginia’s beautiful farms. Additionally, enjoyable recreational activities and some of the greatest memories made by families happen in rural Virginia.
Education plays an important role in sustaining rural communities. Helmick Proctor explains, “If we want to retain our best and brightest in rural Virginia, education will remain a critical tool. Whether it be learning a trade, acquiring a college degree, or obtaining an advanced degree, we need to have opportunities for folks to thrive in their rural communities.”
Chandler Vaughan, who serves as the Virginia Rural Center’s Leadership and Policy Adviser, also notes the benefits of growing up in a rural area. “Being from a rural region often means having a get-it-done attitude.”
According to Vaughan, the most under-utilized resources in rural communities are the people who live there. “There is so much talent and drive with professionals and young people from rural communities. We can harness that potential by creating jobs and economic development opportunities in rural Virginia.” He explains that rural leaders can develop their skills by participating in the annual Virginia Rural Leadership Institute (cfrv.org/vrli).
The conference’s keynote address was delivered by Virginia’s Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears. She called for increased broadband infrastructure to attract businesses and remote workers, an invigorated focus on energy availability to support military installations and data centers, and continued innovations in the digital resources required to sustain progress.
Many participants commented on the vital role that public/private partnerships play throughout the region. One of the best examples is SVCC’s Power Line Worker Program, which was developed in collaboration with electric cooperatives and public agencies. The program is six years old and has produced more than 500 graduates, who currently work for more than 50 companies. Other examples include our programs that train commercial truck drivers, diesel repair technicians, welders, and HVAC/Electrical Technicians. These hands-on programs are so successful that employers often visit our classrooms to hire prospective graduates. In fact, statistics show that 88% of rural community college graduates stay in that college’s service area.
Our rural, Southside region holds many advantages. The area’s cultural heritage, historic sites, unique small towns, and opportunities for outdoor recreation help draw attention, but its sense of community is what forms the most lasting impression. The people are incredible. They care about one another. Not only do they want to succeed personally, but they want to see their neighbors succeed as well.
Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.