The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg. Courtesy of CRC.

Here’s a roundup of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

* * *

Game Changer Week to highlight Roanoke, New River Valley innovation ecosystem

Biotechnology, AI-cyber tech, clean energy, leadership and networking will highlight the third annual Game Changer Week in Roanoke and Blacksburg.

The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council are hosting the event Sept. 5-8 at sites in both localities. 

The idea is to inspire participants while connecting “the regional innovation ecosystem,” according to the organizers’ news releases. That habitat includes higher education students who will engage in a pitch contest for $16,000 in prizes.

Speakers include Rishi Jaitly, who held executive jobs at Google and the company formerly known as Twitter. Jaitly, professor of practice for the Virginia Tech Center for the Humanities and executive director of the university’s Leadership in Technology initiative, will be part of the pitch competition’s kickoff at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5.

The pitch competition will climax Sept. 8 at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg, and organizers are inviting the public, who can be part of a people’s choice award.

Other scheduled events include a biotech-centric presentation from Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JLABS and the Virginia Biotechnology Innovation Organization. A keynote event, Capital Series for Tech Entrepreneurs, will provide access to valleys-based investors and Virginia Tech alumni with advice on fundraising.

A networking event dubbed Block Party in Blacksburg will feature companies and entrepreneurs at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. 

Erin Burcham is president of Verge, which helps develop tech and biotech projects in the region, and she executive directs the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. She said in the news release that Game Changer Week is part of the collective goal to connect innovators with collaborators and opportunities.

(Disclosure: Verge is one of our donors, but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.)

“With so many brilliant disruptors in the same place, you’ll come away from Game Changer Week having gained new insights to propel you toward your next big idea,” Burcham said in the release.

See the full schedule at The event is free and open to all, but online registration is required.

* * *

Forest Service proposes recreation fee increases in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comment on proposed fee increases at multiple recreation sites in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

The increases would bring fees into better alignment across forest locations and with prices of other nearby private and public recreation facilities, according to a news release from the Forest Service.

One proposed change would add additional locations to the forest recreation pass and would raise the annual price from $30 to $50. A full list of fee changes is available on the Forest Service website.

If the fee proposals are approved, the increase would go into effect as early as spring 2025. 

Public comments about the proposal can be submitted online through Oct. 31.

* * *

Lynchburg residents invited to participate in kickoff of city’s comprehensive plan update

Residents of Lynchburg are invited to attend a meeting to kick off the city’s update to its comprehensive plan.

The joint work session of the city’s planning commission and economic development authority will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Miller Center, 301 Grove St.

A comprehensive plan is a broad statement that looks 10 to 20 years into the future. It addresses topics such as land use, development, transportation and community services.

Lynchburg’s comprehensive plan update will build on recent and ongoing efforts such as the city’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan, Downtown 2040 Master Plan and Diamond Hill Neighborhood Plan, according to a release from the city.

A community survey will be available beginning in September, and opportunities for community engagement will continue through November, the news release said. The planning commission will oversee the drafting process, which is expected to begin in January.

* * *

Wise County receives $1.7M grant to develop industrial site on abandoned mine land 

A $1.7 million grant will help develop former mine land in Wise County into an industrial site.

The Wise County Industrial Development Authority on Wednesday received the award from the Virginia Department of Energy’s Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization grant program, according to a Wednesday news release from Virginia Energy.

“Flat developable land with infrastructure is an issue in our coalfields when finding homes for new business,” Virginia Energy Deputy Director Will Clear said in the release. “Wise County leaders recognized that need and found the opportunity a create multiple developments that will produce new job opportunities for the region.”   

The future development, known as the Elam Farm industrial site, is in the Lonesome Pine Regional Business and Technology Park. The grant will help pay for an access road and infrastructure such as public water and sewer and natural gas utilities, the release said. 

The Elam Farm site is located on a coal mine that closed in 1975. Once construction is completed, the county will be able to market multiple sites for light manufacturing facilities.  

The AMLER program originated in a federal omnibus bill in 2017, and Virginia Energy has received $10 million a year for economic development on abandoned mine lands., the release said.

Virginia Energy’s AML program was created in 1981 and is federally funded to reclaim issues left behind by coal mining that occurred before 1977. But limited funding has meant that in the past, only sites that represented safety threats to residents or had a significant environmental impact were covered, the release said.