What is GO Virginia and What is its Impact on Our Region?
What is GO Virginia and What is its Impact on Our Region?
It’s hard to believe but the Growth and Opportunity Board and the GO Virginia (GO VA) program itself were conceived and publicly discussed almost five years ago. The creation of both the Board and the Act were both approved with overwhelming bipartisan support by the Virginia General Assembly in 2016.
Because there are varying levels of familiarity with GO VA, a brief explanation as to what this initiative is and what it does is required. To quote a February 2020 Op-Ed by former Virginia Secretary of Education and GO VA Board member, Jim Dyke, the Go Virginia program’s purpose comes from:
What many Virginians perhaps do not understand completely is that, in addition to the 24-member GO VA Board, there are nine Regional Councils. Among other duties and responsibilities, these regional councils had to conduct region-specific and extensive research, develop targeted business sectors, and create an overall Growth & Diversification Plan. After many months of such work, these regional councils could then announce and provide details for the grant application process.
Once applications were received, the councils could then begin the process of reviewing and approving grant applications, which are then submitted to the state GO VA board for review and approval or denial. Some requests are sent back to regional councils so grant applicants can improve and re-submit for future consideration. For a better understanding of the geographical composition of these nine distinct councils, here is a link to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, in whose department the GO Virginia initiative resides and is administered.
The Regional Council 2
With all the above context, what seems timely and appropriate is an update for Alliance members and residents of the Regional Council 2 footprint on:
- The state’s activity relative to GO Virginia
- What specifically the Blacksburg-Roanoke-Lynchburg region has done to generate meaningful economic activity.
To quote the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, the entity that staffs and administers Regional Council 2:
As of October 2020, Regional Council 2 had approved, and the state GO VA Board had funded 29 projects. To date, none of the grant applications approved at the local level have been rejected by the state board. To date 154 jobs have been created and almost $7M in external investment has been generated.
Also, of note, however, is GO VA’s quick but well-conceived response to the unprecedented economic conditions Virginia has faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on all regional economies. Indeed, in creating the Economic Resilience & Recovery program, the state board authorized the use of almost $15M in statewide funds to focus resources on economic recovery.
At its first meeting following the pandemic outbreak, Regional Council 2 prudently supported the VT Molecular Diagnostics Lab with a $100K ERR grant, which helped researchers launch a new COVID-19 test and facilities to help local health departments test patients suspect of having the virus.
Building upon that success, GO VA Regional Council 2 then supported, and the state board approved, a $500K grant to VA Tech to support full-time COVID-19 analysis positions and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and to establish an internship pipeline for biotech jobs.
GO VA Activity in the Lynchburg Region
While there has been significant and impressive grant activity in the Roanoke and Blacksburg locales of Region 2, the Lynchburg region also has fared well through its active participation in GO VA. On a regionwide basis, the Lynchburg sub-region has been active participants in studies that seek to address and make recommendations on issues such as:
- How to keep more of the region’s college graduates and young professionals (Stopping the Brain Drain)
- Assisting entrepreneurs, helping businesses identify capital investment
- Assisting Liberty University, Framatome, and other partners establish four industry labs at the Center for Energy Research and Education (CERE)
- Helped purchase equipment for Liberty University, Central Virginia Community College, BWXT and other partners to create the Additive Manufacturing lab in Bedford County.
GO Virginia Regional Council 2 also provided $366K in grant funding to assist in the advancement and readiness of business sites in the Lynchburg region. It also provided $100K to the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance to assist in the funding of a master redevelopment plan for the decommissioned Central Virginia Training Center.
Continuing GO VA
On a statewide basis, GO VA has awarded almost 120 grants, totaling just under $38M and leading to almost $53M in leveraged matching funds. Since April of this year, GO VA’s COVID-19 ERR program has awarded 22 grants, totaling $6M. With an eye on the future, GO VA continues to receive strong support in the General Assembly and by the Northam Administration. In fact, the current biennial budget includes almost $65M for the GO VA initiative.
Based on what I have witnessed when GO VA was still a concept, and based on what I have witnessed as a member of Regional Council 2, and on what I have learned about economic development, the GO VA initiative is laying the groundwork for future success. Reinforcing my optimism are comments former GO VA Board member and Virginia House of Delegates member Kirk Cox said at a 2019 Board meeting. In focusing on the benefits of having regions and individual localities cooperating with, instead of competing against, one another, Delegate Cox said “I’ve heard it everywhere. The projects are nice, the incentive money is nice but for the first time in forever, we see these regions working together.”
GO VA’s economic development seeds are germinating. No matter how quickly Virginians want these successes to occur swiftly; they do take time. However, based on the grant review and approval process and the type of programs and projects GO Virginia has supported, I fully expect the Commonwealth overall and the nine GO VA Regional Councils to realize a strong return on Virginia’s investment.
Much important work remains undone. Challenges certainly exist – especially given the impact the pandemic has had on the country, the Commonwealth, and our region. But to again quote former Secretary Dyke “. . . evidence points to a number of areas where these regional partnerships are creating jobs, enhancing skills, spurring innovation and bringing new sites on-line to reposition the Virginia economy.”
It is my sincere hope that the Commonwealth’s decision makers continue to support this regional, business-led initiative. While it’s hard to believe it was five years ago that GO VA was first being discussed publicly - with grants only being awarded two-plus years ago - this economic development initiative is still in its infancy and, based on preliminary assessments, surely merits more time to continue to prove its value.