Rural entrepreneurship was the focus of the annual “All-Hands Meeting” held Thursday by GO Virginia Region 3, a business-led economic development initiative that aims to foster regional growth through collaboration among business, education and government sectors.
The GO Virginia annual meeting, held at The Prizery, celebrated small businesses and entrepreneurs with a panel discussion, a comedic keynote speech, and a networking cocktail hour and dinner.
During his opening remarks, GO Virginia Region Council chair Tim Clark said the organization’s ability to bring people together is the foundation of its success. “We start to realize what our superpower is, what we were doing that had never been done before. The point of GO Virginia was to have regional collaboration. We found that in meetings where we brought communities and businesses together with education, with government, [collaboration] really became something that was noted.”
Region 3 is one of nine GO Virginia regions around the state. Region 3 includes Amelia, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Henry, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania and Prince Edward counties.
The panel discussion featured testimonials by three entrepreneurs in the area — Natalie Hodge of Martinsville, founder of Rudy’s Girl Media, Ilsa Loeser of Farmville, founder of Letterpress Communications, and Ernelle Bellamy of South Boston, founder of Big Fade Entertainment.
Describing herself as a “hometown girl” from Martinsville, Hodge described her experience working in the region and the attitude that people have towards small rural areas. “There are so many ambassadors for our community, and we want them to have a positive outlook about who we are and what we’re doing. Rudy’s Girl’s mission is about changing that narrative, creating space for us to be proud, for us to celebrate.”
Recently, her company released the second season of a TV series called “Hometown Hustle” which highlights small businesses that are making a difference in their local communities. The RISE Collaborative, an initiative dedicated to serving entrepreneurs in the region, contributed to this project. “I have learned so much during our process of filming this season about this amazing region about entrepreneurs who are the lifeblood of our communities,” said Hodge. “We were also able to celebrate through digital storytelling some of the amazing features in our communities too.”
Bellamy, a New York City native and longtime Halifax County resident, said his appreciation for the area grew during the pandemic, when he received unexpected support for his sound-and-light show company at a time when public events were at a nadir. “We were thriving like everybody before COVID, and if you knew it or not, in the entertainment business, we specialized in gatherings. Once we couldn’t gather, all the money just stopped, but my community [provided] opportunities where they didn’t exist, and we were able to keep our doors open. That’s why I love it here.”
“For my business, it’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere and everywhere at the same time,” Bellamy said. “Within a few hours, I can be in any major city in any direction, so for me that is key. When you could be in a place like this, a lot of things come into play. For my business, we’re small, but I [beat] a lot of bigger businesses because I can charge a reasonable rate and still be profitable,” he continued.
Loeser shared how Letterpress Communications started small and has grown rapidly, partly due to the help of GO Virginia Region 3. “When I think about our clients, it took one particular client, which is probably the best client to have in Farmville if you’re starting a marketing company: Green Front [Furniture]. Because of community, Green Front continues to be one of our largest clients and has been willing to grow with us over time. Now we have a lot of clients within the region. It’s because of the work and the foundational support throughout Region 3 that’s now allowing us to work in North Carolina, across the state of Virginia, and into the Appalachian area.”
When asked about the future in the region, Loeser pointed to the importance of younger generations. “An opportunity I see for our region is our young people. What you see with Generation Z and those in their twenties is they really want to have an impact. They want to have a positive change in their world, and I believe because our rural area is an incubator for impact. That’s what rural communities can do is have that impact, and I feel like that’s what young people want.”
After the networking cocktail hour and dinner, the event concluded with Micah White from the Metropolitan Business League (MBL) delivering the keynote speech with a comedy routine that shined a light on his business experience.
At one point, he told a story about a conversation with his young niece who told him she wanted to send a person to the sun.
“My niece is one of the most powerful little girls I know. She said, ‘I know you think we can’t, that’s why I’ll send them at night,’” White said, drawing laughter from the audience. “But I want to fulfill my niece’s emotions that even if you never go to the sun, she still believes whatever thought comes up next. The energy you give is the energy you get.”
“The impact on building up a human in a rural area like this has more of a positive impact on the entire community than it does on the original [person],” he said. “Your impact on yourself is more contagious to the people around you. Sometimes it’s hard to see the advantages that you have when you’re living in them.”
The event was sponsored by River Link, Blair Construction, Letterpress Communications, and Benchmark Community Bank. For more information on GO Virginia, visit govirginia3.org or visit their Facebook and LinkedIn pages.