University Economic Development Association

Awards Session: Talent + Place

Georgia Southern University, Business Innovation Group – Georgia Southern Fabrication Laboratory

Speakers: James “Jim” Walker – FabLab Shop Manager, Georgia Southern Business Innovation Group (BIG)

The Georgia Southern University FabLab provides support and facilities for makers to prototype and develop innovative solutions to their community or business challenges which drives small business generation and cultivates talented individuals to produce a fertile bed for innovation. To support the technical challenges of innovation, the FabLab creates avenues for motivated – but unskilled – individuals to learn and leverage industry-changing technologies like CNC machining and 3D printing.

Through education and community outreach, the FabLab has come to serve as a community hub where individuals can come to find FabLab members to help them complete any manner of project. The unique blend of local business persons, students, community leaders, and makers has enabled the FabLab to produce and support three distinct new businesses in the past year, cumulatively creating 14 new jobs and thousands of dollars of local economic activity, as well as supporting our local and statewide medical facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic by producing face shields and masks.

Learn more about this project here.


Tennessee Tech University, Office of Research and Economic Development – Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge

Speakers: Michael Aikens – Director, Tennessee Tech University, Office of Research and Economic Development

The Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge is TN Tech’s Grand Challenge initiative to transform rural living through science, technology, innovation, and economic development. TN Tech’s service area includes numerous distressed and at-risk rural counties in the Upper Cumberland region of Middle Tennessee that face problems such as workforce instability, population loss, food insecurity, accessible medical and mental health care, drug addiction, poor infrastructure, access to STEM education, lack of diversity, and broadband access, to name just a few. Accordingly, the vision of Rural Reimagined is to examine these issues and collaboratively develop and support the success of rural areas in a way that can be replicated throughout the state, country, and the world.

Through this initiative, TN Tech faculty, students, staff, and the community are working together to leverage the university’s and community’s unique assets to achieve the vision of the grand challenge. Since March 2019, Rural Reimagined has impacted 44 Tennessee counties, interacted with over 3,000 community members, faculty, staff, and students, has created over 100 community partnerships, has accumulated 50,000 student service- learning/volunteer hours, and has activated over $4.2 million in rural-related grant funds – all with $0 formal institutional budget.

Learn more about this project here.


University of Georgia – Cherokee Workforce Collaborative

Speakers: David Tanner – Associate Director, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia

In 2016, the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development partnered with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to launch its new Cherokee Workforce Collaborative – a new public-private talent development partnership comprised of government, education, and industry. The goal was to directly address workforce and talent gaps in Cherokee County through strategic analysis of labor market and education data in the county and generate a long-term workforce development plan for its citizens. The efforts resulted in a community-wide talent development strategy and roadmap for building an ecosystem to address talent gaps. Results included developing a county-wide internship program and creating an in-demand career experience for young students.

Learn more about this project here


University of Virginia’s College at Wise – Rally SWVA: Placemaking and Building Leadership Capacity in Rural Southwest Virginia

Speakers: Shannon Blevins – Vice Chancellor, Administration, Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives, University of Virginia’s College at Wise

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) is the only public 4-year higher education institution in the coalfield region of Virginia. UVA Wise is a key economic driver in the rural region which has been diligently working to diversify its economy for nearly three decades.

Not unlike many rural regions across the country, succession planning for local leaders is nearly non-existent. Governing boards and councils are aging and as local leaders head toward full retirement, few individuals are stepping up to fill the gap and many who are stepping up are unprepared to lead. Additionally, engaging diverse voices in community and civic advisory and governing boards is not a common practice and these voices are often marginalized or discounted. The complex and challenging obstacles which face the region requires skillful leadership to navigate and position the region for growth and prosperity.

As part of its mission, UVA Wise is committed to strengthening and growing the economy of the region in which it is located and in doing so, RALLY SWVA helps to build leadership capacity among community leaders through completing a meaningful and visible community project. Rural regions struggle engaging community members to become involved in planning and revitalization efforts in their localities. Stagnate or declining population metrics often contribute to only a few people being involved in leadership positions and the same individuals are on multiple boards and councils. Few deliberate and open recruitment strategies exist for community and civic organizations which leave only a few, familiar voices at the table.

Rally SWVA assists communities with identifying potential leaders or “sparkplugs” in their localities, engaging them in the project planning and implementation and then connecting them with future service opportunities.

Rally SWVA is expanding to include a service learning component through collaboration with Wise Connects, an academic initiative which includes a portfolio of courses offered at UVA Wise requiring a community engagement project for each student. These courses are considered as A.C.E.D. courses, or Academic Community Engagement courses.

Engaging students in community projects allows for them to connect with local citizens, businesses and civic leaders and build an affinity for their community which will ultimately contribute to nurturing a culture of volunteerism.

Rally was designed as a result of a regional entrepreneurship initiative which graduated budding entrepreneurs into communities which weren’t quite ready to support them. Embedded into the Rally SWVA curricula are segments that highlight the importance of building strong entrepreneurial ecosystems and the value of supporting small businesses within the community.

Learn more about this project here

September 21 @ 12:00
12:00 — 12:45 (45′)

Pulaski