It is that time of year again when Government leaders from across SWVA make their annual pilgrimage across the state to our Capital for the SWVA Legislative week and reception. You may be asking yourself, what is the point of this pilgrimage? I will admit, before I embarked on this event in 2023, I was skeptical. However, my skepticism was soon dispelled, and I learned that not only is it important that we show up, it is imperative that we do if we want to make any progress on any project.
In August of 2022, as the newly appointed Director of Economic Development for Dickenson County, one of the first things that I learned was that there was no way I could ever possibly know everything needed to perform well in this position. No. Way. Possible. But, what I did learn from my social work background is that it is possible to learn who all the important players are in our local, regional, state, and federal “eco-system” " and it is possible to create opportunities to build relationships with those people. This is what I have tried my very best to do. I am now a year and a half in and to say that the learning curve is steep would be an understatement, but there certainly has been a lot of things that I have learned.
Before beginning this position, I had many misconceptions about local government and what role County government played in the day-to-day lives of the citizens. I thought that, if you have a good grant writer, you can write a grant and get a pile of money to do whatever it is that you need to do. I thought there was some magical “bank”, and if you had the right grant written, it was yours. I thought the County had all kinds of money. I thought a lot of things. I was wrong. Yes, a good grant writer is always useful. Yes, there is a lot of grant funding available. However, writing the grant is not the difficult part. The difficult part is meeting the criteria needed to qualify, and if you are fortunate enough to meet all the different criteria and are awarded the funding, the management of the funding from that point can be tedious and cumbersome.
So back to the pilgrimage. Do I particularly enjoy being away from home and on the road for hours on end? No. Do I expect to go on these trips and have a great time? Again, the answer is no. But, what I do expect is to meet with everyone that I can and talk about Dickenson County until I am blue in the face and to come home exhausted. This week, the Dickenson County Delegation, who will be joined by three leaders from Addiction Recovery Care, will participate in fifteen meetings with elected officials, funding agencies, and other state partners. Additionally, we will attend the SWVA Legislative reception along with leaders from across SWVA and representatives from nearly all agencies located in Richmond. The days are long, but the meetings are fruitful and an integral part of building relationships with the people who want to and can help us.
The big items on the agenda for discussion this year will be the Rehab project (both Wildwood Recovery Center and the yet-to-be-named women’s facility that will be developed at the former Ervinton Elementary School), and potential funding opportunities related to workforce development aspects of Addiction Recovery Care’s programming, funding opportunities for current and future projects, housing, tourism, the Coalfield Agricultural Center, and small business opportunities. Honestly, these are the topics that I discuss with folks every week of the year, but as we continue down the path of making progress, creating change, and working to further meet goals from our Strategic Plan adopted in 2022, showing up in full force is paramount.
Last year, I met a lot of people. There were so many new faces, agencies, and programs that it was quite the information overload. This year will be vastly different. I will be seeing familiar faces and partners from across the state who have taken an interest in what we are doing in Dickenson County.
We will take the opportunity to update them on our progress, share our needs, and pick their brains for information. And, although we will meet with them often locally when they are not in session, we will have the opportunity to meet with our new representatives in the General Assembly at their home away from home. We will provide them with updates so that they can be aware of our needs while they are tending to the day-to-day obligations during Session and meeting with folks from other parts of the state who may have an interest in what we are doing here in our small corner of SWVA.
I will end by saying this: I realize the work that we are doing is not generally seen by the public. I realize that folks may have become complacent over the years. But, I also know firsthand the work that is being done for our County. We are small, but we are far exceeding capacity. Progress takes time, but it also takes knowing how to get all the right people at the table. One of the things I am most proud of is that your representatives know how to do just that, and we will make the best use of our time this week in Richmond.