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Governor's Cabinet Members Make Multiple Stops in Region











While Governor Terry McAuliffe, First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and other members of the governor's cabinet were attending a series of meetings, events and fact-finding sessions in Danville on Tuesday, several cabinet members split up to explore other areas of southern Virginia. Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward and Secretary of Education Anne Holton traveled east to South Boston. McAuliffe and his cabinet were guests of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce's State of the Region addresses Tuesday morning. Shortly after lunch, Ward made her way to the Visitor's Center in South Boston where she met with State Parks Director Joe Elton, Staunton River State Park Manager Adam Layman and Tourism Director Linda Shepperd.

 According to Elton, in her short visit Ward was familiarized with this part of the commonwealth and the resources available in Southside. "I don't know that we appreciate our state parks and natural resources enough sometimes. I think we take it for granted. But I think it's becoming more of an awareness that you can outsource out natural resources. But if we don't take care of it, it's not going to be there. Someone will tell us what to do with out water or what to do with our land if we don't." Following a discussion on some of the history of the county, tourism, the state parks and how to promote the area, Ward was off Occoneechee State Park and Clarksville for a tour and to stay the night.

Holton also visited the area Tuesday afternoon touring the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and the Innovation Center. Executive Director Dr. Betty Adams and Director of Workforce Services Dr. Nettie Simon-Owens shared with Holton a presentation on the past, present and future of the higher education center. After learning more about the future goals of the higher education center that has been selected to become one of three centers of excellence in the state, Holton took a tour of the facility. During the tour, she learned how the center's focus is aimed at producing work-ready individuals in welding, precision machining and industrial machine maintenance. Holton was given a peek at some of the students' projects and facilities including the WoodLINKS/Product Design & Development award winning chairs, the Virginia International Raceway's Tudor Race trophy currently being produced by the center's Research and Development Center and the facility that will house welding training.

from 29, 2014

Local African-American Leaders Honored

Seven local African-Americans were honored with a reception on Friday for their achievements as the most influential and respected African-American leaders in South Boston/Halifax County. Dozens attended the Gallery of Greatness dinner held at Washington-Coleman Community Center in South Boston.

The lives of Lottie Bolden, William Bryant Claiborne, William E. Coleman, Frank Lee, Matthew McCargo, Edward Owens and Dr. Nettie Simon Owens were unveiled recognizing these men and women for being forerunners for justice, equality, economic development, infrastructure, planning, community revitalization and mentoring to upcoming generations both personally and professionally. Local photographer Dianna Allen, owner/operator of Dianna Allen Portrait Design, originated the idea to acknowledge local African-Americans in Halifax County for their achievements. In a moving video, Allen unveiled the honorees who were nominated and chosen to represent this year's theme "They Walk Among Us." She said the theme is symbolic because she is honoring local individuals while they are yet living and can revel in the appreciation of their family, friends and peers. "Those honored at the reception Friday are simply put ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to make our community a better place," Allen said. "The culmination of the combined and collective efforts of the honorees is to commemorate the history, heritage and the triumphs of these local African-American legends," Allen said.

The Gallery Reception was sponsored in part by Dianna Allen Portrait Design, Big Fade Entertainment, Keja'eh Enterprises, H&M Logging and The Swann Foundation.

 from July 28, 2014

Halifax County to Host Wild Blue River Festival September 13, 2014

Planning is in full swing for the upcoming Wild Blue River Festival to be held in the Town of Halifax on Sept. 13. The festival got its inspiration from the nickname going around for the new Southern Virginia Wild Blueway. The Banister River, or Banister Blueway, is an integral part of the "Wild Blue." To promote the kayak/canoe launch site, under construction on the Banister, the Town of Halifax will be hosting a day long celebration of the Banister as well as other forms of outdoor recreation."Currently we are in the process of seeking sponsors, vendors and volunteers for the festival," said Rebecca Ramey, events coordinator for the Town of Halifax. "Small businesses and corporate sponsors are essential to any event. They allow the town to offer unique activities as well as spread the word about the festival. In exchange, the sponsors receive advertising and marketing benefits. They also earn a reputation in the community for helping to create quality of life events for people in our county. Not only do events benefit our current residents, but festivals also help to attract and retain employees considering moving to the area because it shows that our county has things to do.

"Vendors also are important to any festival," added Ramey. "They have an opportunity not only to generate revenue for themselves, but also to create a fun and festive atmosphere for the event." The Wild Blue River Festival is open to artists, crafters, home-based businesses, small businesses in the county, government agencies, non-profits and outfitters. The vendors will enjoy being located on the courthouse lawn, the festival coordinator said. "The Halicraft Art Festival really showed us what a wonderful venue the courthouse lawn can be. We wanted to take advantage of that space again and encourage people to walk around the entire town," Ramey said. Volunteers are also a crucial component to the event. "Companies, churches, civic groups - anyone looking to help while promoting their organization should contact us. We would love to help spread the word about your work and receive support from the community as well," she added.

The Wild Blue Festival is poised to become a tourism draw for the county. The festival is packed with outdoor recreation activities, music and so much more. 524 Fitness will host an adventure race in the morning, followed by the official preview of the kayak/canoe launch on the Banister River. The festival then really gets into gear at 11 a.m. River Traders will be on hand at the Banister Lake offering canoes and kayaks for people to paddle around. Vendors will be on the courthouse lawn. The Farmers Market will be alive with food, beer, life sized games, corn hole and a stage area. The stage will be host to two wildlife talks by the Wildlife Center of Virginia. After each talk attendants will have a chance to win gift cards from Mountain Khakis, a corporate sponsor for the event who makes outdoor clothing.

The main highlight of the market will be a 26-foot rock climbing wall that will be sure to draw a crowd. "I really wanted to create a festival where not only was there a lot to see, but which also had a lot to do," said Ramey. "Festival goers will have a chance to rock climb, paddle, race and play games, but there will be other activities as well. There will be an area dedicated to Gyotaku, which is a Japanese art form of creating prints from real fish. In our case, we will have fish molds, rice paper and ink. The activity is open to kids and adults. Kids also will have opportunities to build cork boats, race boats with water guns, practice casting and more. We have so many ideas under our belt," added Ramey, "it really is going to be a magical day."

As the festival moves into the evening hours, the Farmers Market will become the heart of the evening celebration. The stage will be taken over with live music, and attendees will still be able to enjoy the games, beer and food. A kids' area will be set up similar to the Friday Night Jams event allowing parents to have some freedom not only to attend the event, but also enjoy it as well. Anyone interested in sponsoring, being a vendor or volunteering at the event should contact Rebecca Ramey at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or at 434-476-2337.

A detailed schedule, and vendor applications can be found at The Wild Blue River Festival also has a Facebook page where people can stay abreast of festival updates at

from July 24, 2014

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton praises SVHEC job efforts

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton visited the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center on Tuesday afternoon and expressed a high level of enthusiasm for what she found there.

Leading Holton through the SVHEC’s Innovation Center Dr. Betty Adams and Dr. Nettie Simon-Owens, accompanied by Hope Harris Gayles, proudly showed off the Center’s award winning Wood Link chairs and the Martinsville Speedway clock that had been produced in the Center for Arts and Design.

Adams also introduced Holton to David Kenealy, director of the R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency, which has been making the trophies featuring a replica of the race track on them for VIR’s upcoming special event, the Tudor race, set for Aug. 21-22.

Kenealy, who currently has 20 students enrolled in his program, said the young people are very excited about their project and Holton said she was impressed with the work that is being done in the R&D Center.

Holton also toured the new welding center where 18 students are participating in the program which meets twice weekly.

Holton asked how many students the program could accommodate and was told that it is possible to have 24 participants. Turning to members of the press who were accompanying her on the tour, she instructed them to “fill this place up. Get those additional students who can train here and learn how to make a good living wage for their efforts.”

Commenting on the Center’s flexibility, Holton said she was very interested in all the opportunities offered at the Center. She inquired as to how the Center had been able to buy all the high tech equipment there and was told that most of the funding had come from the Tobacco Commission.

“It’s the operational and staffing expenses that w have to struggle to pay,” Owens told the secretary. But Owens was quick to add that with the newly created Center of Excellence which offers advanced training for middle skill workers — welders, precision machinists and industrial maintenance mechanics — she expects to see a growing demand for students who are working at the Center to move out to local businesses and industries.

from July 31, 2014

Big Money Bet on Job Initiative

Students will soon be able to train for advanced manufacturing careers at the new Center of Excellence in South Boston — but first comes the task of creating the program at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. One of three Centers of Excellence (CoEs) established this year by the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the South Boston center aspires to expand the ranks of middle-skill workers — welders, precision machinists, and industrial maintenance mechanics, in particular — who are projected to be in growing demand as industries make the shift to advanced manufacturing. The Tobacco Commission in May earmarked $2 million for centers in South Boston and Martinsville; a third center will serve Southwest Virginia, at a site yet to be determined.

The South Boston CoE will build on existing programs at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), giving the area a leg up on other locations that have been tapped by the Tobacco Commission for the initiative, said John Cannon, a leaf panel director and SVHEC board member. Although the higher ed center has long provided job training programs for students and workers, the CoE initiative “takes us to another level,” he said. “When you come out of community college, you have a certain skill level. When you come out of this, you’re going to have a written certification that you can do [specialized] procedures for advanced manufacturers,” said Cannon. He predicted the CoE will boost Halifax County’s ongoing efforts to attract new manufacturers: “It’s one of the greatest things that has happened to the area …. We’re really a sweet spot that will finally bring people in here, that will bring [industry recruitment] to fruition. I feel really good about it,” said Cannon, who also serves as chairman of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority.

The idea for the Centers of Excellence was hatched in a 2012 report by the Boston Consulting Group, which predicted the need for 6,000 new manufacturing jobs by 2017 in the “tobacco footprint” of southern and southwestern Virginia. However, the consulting group also cautioned that companies may be unable to find enough workers to fill these mid-skill jobs, jeopardizing the regions’ hopes of revitalizing their manufacturing economies.Mid-skill jobs are generally considered positions that require more than a high school degree, but less than four years of college. The Centers of Excellence are envisioned as a step above community college, although local institutions such as Danville Community College and Southside Virginia Community College are key partners.

Dr. Betty Adams, SVHEC executive director and leader of the South Boston CoE initiative, notes that DCC and SVCC “are critical to expanding the middle-skill pipeline” by providing entry-level training in a variety of fields, including welding, also one of the CoE’s specialties. Trainees who acquire these basic skills — either directly as community college students, or through high school dual enrollment programs — can then advance to the mid-skill level by enrolling at the South Boston CoE, she adds. “Under the CoE model, community college programs in the three priority areas [welding, industrial maintenance and precision machining] will feed these entry-level students into CoEs where short-term specialty training and hands-on experience will elevate them to middle-skill level,” Adams wrote in a report on the centers entitled “Reinventing the Wheel?” A key, she added, is preparing students for “advanced and specialty-level credentials required of middle-skill workers in the three priority areas.” The credentials are awarded by nationally-recognized industry trade associations and standard-setters — the American Welding Society, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, and Siemens, Inc. — and provide “quantifiable results of workforce readiness. “These quantifiable state wide numbers will take Virginia from 16th in the nation to the top 5, leaping over North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee,” Dr. Adams wrote in her report. Once established, the Center of Excellence in South Boston will certify up to 70 students with industry-standard credentials each year. Initially, though, the number will be much less, said Tim Phohl, acting director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission. “They’re going to have to work up to that,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Tobacco Commission committee that is overseeing the effort met to discuss spending priorities for the $2 million that has been earmarked for each center. In South Boston, much of the initial investment is expected to go towards equipment; however, Adams said she also anticipates hiring three new instructors to spearhead welding, machining and industrial maintenance instruction. “The person who is in charge of that program will define the quality of the program,” she said. “It makes a difference when you have someone who is a champion in charge. “That’s what we’re going to do.” Officials offered somewhat different perspectives on how quickly the South Boston CoE can get up and running. “We’re trying to move quickly on it,” said Phohl, expressing the goal of enrolling students this year at the SVHEC. “The faster they [students] are in the program, the faster they can get certified and get ready for work.” However, Adams said it would take more time to develop the program. Enrolling students by fall is “unlikely,” she said. She noted that the equipment needed will be “extremely expensive” but said the investment will be well worth the money.

“As a culture, we tend to look down on what we think of as blue collar jobs, but the reality is these are jobs that are open and available and they’re good-paying jobs,” she said, adding, “Community college programs are really focused on providing entry-level skilled workers. What we will be doing at the CoE is focusing on mid-level workers. “In reality, we are going to have a lot of [current] workers” enroll to raise their level of skills. “We’re already hearing from companies that want to send us students.” Dr. Adams said this week that SVHEC officials are revising the proposed CoE budget to fit into the Tobacco Commission’s $2 million investment, although some decisions have been made quickly to purchase equipment “in order to take advantage of good pricing negotiated by Bruce Sobczak.” Sobczak is workforce development director for the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, created on the campus of Rolls Royce’s new jet engine components plant in Prince William County.

While the South Boston center is likely to purchase equipment tailored to its specific needs, the leaders of the CoE initiative are also exploring ways to share with common costs such equipment, instructor training, curriculum and marketing, said Dr. Adams. She added that she and SVHEC chief financial officer Patty Nelson will be talking further this week with Phohl, the Tobacco Commission’s director, on items that will be needed to get the program started in time for the fall semester. Phohl acknowledged the need to move quickly to get the initiative off the ground. A major challenge is identifying equipment purchases and curriculum offerings that align with the job training needs of existing employers in the region. Although some money will go towards big-ticket expenditures, a substantial portion of the budget will be spent on more prosaic needs: “Hand tools is a big issue,” said Phohl. “It’s the next level up from community college in terms of skills enhancement,” said Cannon.


from / July 24, 2014

Destination Downtown gains National Main Street Accreditation

Destination Downtown South Boston (DDSB) has been designated as an accredited National Main Street Program for meeting the commercial district revitalization performance standards set by the National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Each year, the National Main Street Center and its partners announce the list of accredited Main Street programs in recognition of their exemplary commitment to historic preservation and community revitalization through the Main Street Four Point Approach.

“We congratulate this year’s nationally accredited Main Street programs for their outstanding accomplishment in meeting the National Main Street Center’s performance standards,” said Patrice Frey, President and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “Accredited Main Street programs create vibrant communities by using a comprehensive strategy to preserve their historic character and revitalize their commercial districts, which helps make these great places to work, live, play and visit.” The organization's performance is annually evaluated by the Virginia Main Street Program, which works in partnership with the National Main Street Center to identify local programs that meet ten performance standards.private partnerships, securing an operating budget, tracking programmatic progress and actively preserving historic buildings. ”

The 2014 Accreditation is based on DDSB’s milestones and happenings in 2013. These milestones include:
receiving a $25,000 Downtown Improvement Grant for assisting in the $3 million market rate New Brick Historic Lofts housing project in downtown,
partnering with the town government and the South Boston Industrial Development Authority to receive $100,000 in Industrial Revitalization Funds for the purchase of the John Randolph Hotel, receiving a $2,500 Mini-Downtown Improvement Grant for new street banners, helping to keep a downtown building from being demolished which now houses retail on the first floor and housing on the second floor, helping downtown property owners with three façade grants.

Other milestones include partnering with the town government to apply for a CDBG Planning Grant in a Master Planning Development Project, having promotions throughout the year including First Fridays, ArtScape on Main, a Shop Tax-Free event, Movies on Main, a coat drive with Good Samaritan, a food drive with Serving Hope Food Pantry, a Summer Concert Series, the annual Harvest Festival, the annual Christmas Open House, and the South Boston Christmas Parade. Established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1980, the National Main Street Center helps communities of all sizes revitalize their older and historic commercial districts. Working in more than 2,200 downtowns and urban neighborhoods over the last 34 years, the Main Street program has leveraged more than $59.6 billion in new public and private investment. Participating communities have created 502,728 net new jobs and 115,381 net new businesses, and rehabilitated more than 246,158 buildings, leveraging an average of $33.28 in new investment for every dollar spent on their Main Street district revitalization efforts.

from / July 21, 2014

Special Recognition Earned for Halifax County Veterans After Discovering Career in Farming

A military couple is now milking cows in Halifax County. They've traveled around the world serving the county and are now using their experiences to raise livestock and it's getting recognition. Denise and David Hudson haven't operated their as a farm for long, but they've acquired quite a variety of animals. "We have the Highland cattle, the Jersey cattle," Denise said. "We raise meat goats, milk goats." You will find some of the friendliest livestock in Halifax County on the Hudson Heritage Farm.

Besides summer trips to family farms, neither has much experience with livestock before moving to the farm, but their previous careers are all the prerequisites they need. "Think about what farmers do. It's a dedicated lifestyle of supporting the rest of the country to feed America. Veterans are pretty much the same way," David said. Both Denise and David are veterans and have served in the United State Air Force and the Army National Guard.

"You've traveled the world. Why set up camp here in Halifax County?" I asked. "We really like the area. We like the people," Denise said. The combination of military service and newly found love of farming qualified the couple to get certification from the Farmer Veteran Coalition's national Homegrown by Heroes program. Find out more information here. "People are interested in buying products from veterans as well so that's a benefit got us," Denise said.

Members get access to unique farming resources and connections to other veterans who are farming. "We've had a lot of people contact us and want to learn about farming, we've had a lot of people want to cook our products," said Denise. That appreciation the Hudson's can only find on their quiet farm.

Click the following link for article & video: from

Speaker: Despite economy, tourism growing in Virginia

"Travel is a lifestyle," and despite a flat economy, tourism is one market that continues to grow year after year.

So learned more than 50 people attending the Tourism Summit hosted by the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association at the Berry Hill Mansion and Resort Tuesday afternoon.

The summit made its way to Southside Virginia facilitating discussion among industry experts, policy makers, the General Assembly tourism caucus and members of the tourism business community about the importance of tourism in Southern Virginia.

During the two-hour long meeting, Halifax County Tourism Director Linda Shepperd welcomed everyone and introduced elected officials and community leaders in attendance including Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Matt Leonard, Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, Halifax County ED-6 Supervisor Larry Giordano among others.


Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association President Eric Terry offered a research presentation on the hotel market in Virginia, and Esra Calvert of the Virginia Tourism Corporation followed with a presentation about the economy in Virginia and its impact on travel and tourism.

"Travel is a lifestyle," Calvert told the crowd. She explained tourism continues to grow year after year despite the economy.

Thad Smith offered a presentation on the branding efforts and marketing campaign of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

According to Smith, the corporation's challenge is that their brand — "Virginia Is For Lovers" — is so well known they need to reconnect back to people and make sure they know it's about travel.

The summit also included a 45-minute panel discussion.

Those on the panel included Diana Ramsey of MacCallum More Museum and Gardens, Mecklenburg County Tourism Director Justin Kerns, Nichol Cooper of Coopers Landing Inn and Travelers Tavern, Steven Schopen of Molasses Grill, and Kristian Harvard of the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association served as moderator.

from the Gazette-Virginian