BLACKSBURG, Va., March 22, 2005 – Virginia Tech's Center for Regional Strategies has published a benchmark study that uses 31 indicators to compare the New Century Region with six similar areas around the country.
The study looked at regions that were similar in 1990 to the New Century Region and tracked how they changed during the next 10 years based on a series of economic, social, and demographic benchmarks, ranging from income and education to air quality and the number of violent crimes.
With the support of business, academic, and civic leaders, the Center for Regional Strategies hopes to identify, research, and address issues facing Southwest Virginia, including some of those suggested by its benchmark study. The center's area of interest will vary depending on the subject under examination, but its initial work covered the cities of Roanoke, Covington, Radford, and Salem, and Alleghany, Bland, Botetourt, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Smyth, and Wythe counties.
Called a "think-and-do tank" by some of its organizers, the center will attempt to foster communication among geographic areas in Southwest Virginia by using Virginia Tech as a hub and working on problems important to communities in the wider region.
Its first published study identified regions that had been similar in 1990 but that now tend to be better organized, further along in the transition to new economies, and able to deploy strategies across wider geographic boundaries. The study used criteria such as income, employment rates, housing, education, health, environment, public safety, culture/art/recreation, infrastructure, social capital, and general similarities of population, age demographics, urban-rural ratio, and the presence of a four-year college to compare Southwest Virginia with the benchmark regions surrounding Fort Collins, Colo.; Athens, Ga.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Asheville, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn., and Lexington, Ky. The center will study the reasons Southwest Virginia lagged behind these regions in job, population, and per capita income growth during the prosperous 1990s.
"Our mission is to identify, understand, and encourage the discussion of issues important to a wider region," said Virginia Tech Presidential Fellow Walter Rugaber, former publisher of the Roanoke Times and a founding member of the Center for Regional Studies. "It expects to develop concrete plans to improve economic opportunity and everyday life in the areas surrounding Virginia Tech. The center intends to avoid the quick fix and to build strong consensus -- often, of necessity, during extended periods of time." "Virginia Tech is fortunate to be in a position to facilitate the work of such a center," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. "It is extremely important for the future of this region that the private, civic, and governmental leaders work together to bring Southwest Virginia into line with those more prosperous regions of comparable characteristics."
Paul Knox, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and a member of the Center for Regional Strategies board said, "The center will endeavor to discover the barriers to growth and provide the expertise and leadership necessary to bring the region together in dialogue to solve any problems standing in the way of the region's progress. Only through cooperation and collaboration can we create a region with not only the economic benefits, but also the quality-of-life benefits that make the region a desirable place for retirees, for young college graduates beginning their careers, and, therefore, for growth."
Wendy Zomparelli, publisher of the Roanoke Times, chairs the board of the Center for Regional Strategies, and Catherine Greenberg is its director.
"The center will tap into the knowledge base of Virginia Tech to study the issues such as the way leadership can be improved in the region, care of the large elderly population, funding for the region's arts and cultural organizations, and the role that Virginia Tech might play in the region's economic development," Zomparelli said. "Other four-year universities in the region also will have representatives at the center."
Work will include research done by graduate assistants, faculty, and non-university experts. The Center will analyze the data to determine what it means in terms of public policy and what might be done to bring about more desirable incomes. Finally, the center will endeavor to bring together public officials and civic leaders to discuss the implications of the research and analysis.
"Sometimes this discussion will result in action," said Greenberg, "but even when it does not, the participants will emerge better informed and more regionally focused."
This type of regular regional dialogue will enable participants to get to know each other better and have the opportunity to engage in projects together. Virginia Tech will provide the expertise and infrastructure for such meetings.
"In this scenario, people would gradually become accustomed to actual collaboration, and the region would increasingly present itself as one worthy of investment," Rugaber said. "Economic and political pressures in the region have reached a point where a breakthrough is possible, bringing strong regional advocacy to this part of Virginia for the first time."
Copies of the study are available online at www.regionalstrategies.vt.edu or from the center office at 319 Burruss Hall (0184), Blacksburg, Va. 24061.
The center's advisory board consists of: Wendy Zomparelli, publisher of The Roanoke Times (chair); Ken Anderson, president of Anderson & Associates, Blacksburg (vice chair); John E. Alderson of the John Alderson Agency Inc., Daleville, Va.; Richard Alvarez, vice president for finance and administration at Hollins University; Mark D. DeWeese, executive director for quality enhancement at Ferrum College; Robert W. Glenn, Jr., president of The Issues Management Group; William P. Heath Jr., president of FNB Corporation; Paul L. Knox, Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech; Anna L. Lawson of Daleville; Lydeana Martin, community and economic development director of Floyd County; Gwen Mason of Roanoke; Andy Morikawa, executive director of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley; Edward G. Murphy, president of Carilion Health System; Judith L. Nelson, vice president for resource development at Roanoke College; Minnis Ridenour, senior fellow for resource development at Virginia Tech; Walter Rugaber, presidential fellow at Virginia Tech; Rick L. Slavings, vice president for planning and research at Radford University; Edward B. Walker of Roanoke; Edwin Whitmore III, administrator of Smyth County; John Williamson, president of RGC Resources; and the Honorable Chip Woodrum of Roanoke, an attorney and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates.