The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Courtesy of UVA-Wise.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will host the 7th annual SWVA Economic Forum on May 25.

This year’s theme for the day-long conference is “Building for the Future.” The 2022 SWVA Economic Forum will explore new ideas and innovations in new industries and emerging markets, workforce and talent development, childcare, and housing, according to a release from the school.

The annual regional economic gathering aimed at collaboration, innovation and growth will be held both online and in person.

UVA Wise’s Chancellor Donna P. Henry will introduce the conference sharing its new hybrid vision.

Last year, more than 4,500 people attended the live, online event which eventually reached a total of 15,000 viewers. Many locals from nearby Coeburn, Big Stone Gap, Appalachia, Grundy, Haysi, Clintwood, Wise and Norton attended. Others also participated across Virginia including industry leaders from Tazewell, Lebanon, Abingdon, Bristol, Blacksburg and Chilhowie.

Out-of-state attendees came from Blountville, Bluff City and Johnson City, Tenn., and Princeton, W.Va.

The conference also attracted interest far away from Norway, Bangladesh, Greece, South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Canada.

This year, organizers chose to build on last year’s virtual offering by creating a hybrid event where those interested can attend either online and in person. 

Larry Terry II, the executive director for the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, will emcee the conference.

At the event, Virginia Economic Development Partnership Director and CEO Jason El Koubi will present the “State of the Region” where he will take an in-depth look at where things stand two years into the Covid-19 pandemic and what to expect on the area’s horizon. 

Stakeholders in the region will lead a discussion on the region’s childcare shortage and workforce availability and discuss a new project addressing the challenge, Ready SWVA child care initiative for Southwest Virginia. Panelists include United Way President and CEO Travis Staton. (See our previous story on child care challenges in Southwest and elsewhere.)

With the recent announcement of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol coming to the region, a host of experts will share how regional entrepreneurs are building on that opportunity. The “Betting on Southwest Virginia” panel will feature Karen Hester, owner of Cranberry Lane and Virginia Tourism Corporation’s President and CEO Rita McClenny.

Finding, recruiting and keeping talent is the name of the game for any business. The “Talent, Talent & More Talent,” panel will provide insight into the nationwide workforce shortage, current workforce and regional trends and solutions. One of the panelists is Julie Brown, Ph.D., director of Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers (GO TEC) program.

Chris Thompson, Director of Strategic Housing at Virginia Housing, and Zachary Mannheimer, Founder and CEO of Alquist, will lead a discussion on “Housing For The Future,” a panel looking at innovative ways to address the needs for workforce housing, affordable housing and revitazling aging housing. 

Registration is required. You can sign up at www.uvawise.edu/forum. Early bird registration, which runs through April 22, costs $10 for virtual attendance and $30 for in-person attendance. From April 23 on, virtual attendance is $20 and in-person is $40. Day of conference walk-ins are welcomed.