Outside Gate City. Photo by Mary Trigiani.

I’ve had some inspiring conversations lately. From the new owner experiencing the first thrill of  market response to her retail business, to the established manufacturers who are writing new chapters in their corporate stories, to the public servants who want to break new ground in  partnership with the private sector, it is clear that something is afoot.  

There is a desire for fresh yet practical ideas and approaches to business and community  challenges. People are honoring legacy by looking ahead, not back. They are inspired by our  forebears yet willing to take their own risks. Hoarding power doesn’t interest them but defining it  in a new way does. They all want a robust private sector that makes jobs. 

I landed back in Virginia six years ago, after speaking to the first economic forum held by the  University of Virginia’s College at Wise, because I saw an abundance of energy and desire in  the Great Southwest. It was matched by an eagerness to initiate a new era of success and  contribution. There was a chance to make a renaissance. 

Like the rest of the nation, Virginians are pondering what’s next after everything we’ve endured.  The road forward is not cleared just yet. Rural areas are getting a lot of attention, yet across the  country, only some regions seem ready to innovate. These regions have let go of less fruitful  endeavors and made way for new business-centric approaches and contributors. In regions that  are institutionally skeptical of innovation in economic development programming, the weary  stakeholders feel there is an underlying infection that plagues everything from the private sector  to the public forum: the entrenched belief that economic growth is the province of the agency  class and that transformation not conceived by them must be resisted. Yet when we listen to the  new business founder, and the established corporate executive, and the devoted public servant,  we hear something unifying: private wealth creation is preferable to unending wealth  redistribution, and we must wrap ourselves around a new purpose for taxpayer-funded  economic programming. 

The core value is in cultivating the opportunity to work and in rejoicing in the work that we do. Under the franchise of employment, within a clear business purpose, we open the gate to  personal prosperity and collective stability, to individual wealth and community strength. To advance employment, our taxpayer investment in economic growth programs must be focused  upon the joy of a work ethic, teaching people how to work, and welcoming companies that  provide work as they plant in our communities. 

The season of awakening prompted me to look into The Virginia Way. As a student, I had  processed it as a philosophy that invites people to come as they are, say what they think, and  find a way to get work done across aisles and divisions, with civility and empathy. Then I came  across a commentary written three years ago, about George Wythe, by Suzanne Munson and  based upon her book, Jefferson’s Godfather. I learned something new. As one of the nation’s  founders – flawed human beings who came together to forge a vision that still challenges us to  deliver in ways they did not – Wythe worked very hard from his perch as a lawyer to transcend  the confrontations that distract and to promote a grand focus on delivering a new nation that  identified freedom, including personal economic achievement, as a birthright. 

I’ll never accept the logic of a George Wythe in his early resignment to slavery. He understood  the inherent contradiction between enslavement and the American philosophy. I do take comfort in the ultimate fairness of his late-in-life actions. As much as the Virginia Way was not extended  to everyone who built Virginia, in their time – and I include the coal miners of later generations,  among others, in this – it is a compelling context for moving ahead, together. We must define  what is unjust and unproductive and relegate it to the past. We must build an economy that  affords the vaunted, promised, worthy, doable goal of equality, rooted in work and workers.  Rural Virginia is our testing ground and launching pad, and privately-held business is the rocket  fuel.

Mary Trigiani, a veteran senior executive and board director, resides in Abingdon. She is a member of...