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Entrepreneurship, Broadband, Collaboration Key to Regional Economic Growth

Karen Jackson, Virginia’s Secretary of Technology. Photo copyright Susan Larson.

The digital divide is impacting our future workforce, said Karen Jackson, Virginia’s Secretary of Technology.

Jackson spoke at the Transformation 20/20 Summit, hosted by the University of Mary Washington (UMW) on October 29. Business, government and education leaders from Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions, Region 16 — the City of Fredericksburg and the counties of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline and King George –- met at UMW’s Stafford campus in an ongoing process of promoting collaboration for regional economic growth.

“Our job in this effort is convening the parties to harness the resources of the private sector with strategies and action plans,” said UMW President Rick Hurley in his opening remarks.

During the first summit, held in October 2013, Fred Rankin, Mary Washington Healthcare president and CEO, outlined the goals and strategies:

Infrastructure Development
Business Development
Workforce Planning
Regional Collaboration

At the second summit, presentations were made highlighting the following endeavors.

Regional Broadband

“Everywhere we’re faced with the need for connectivity,” said Secretary of Technology Jackson.

The two distinct problems to connectivity are physicality –- the ability to get Internet connection into a geographical region – and affordability. “If kids can’t do their homework at home, we’re doing ourselves a disservice because our future workforce is being impacted,” Jackson said. “The problem is not going away, and it’s going to get bigger.”

“Broadband is vital to economic development, quality of life and futurability of communities,” Jackson said.

“Eighty-eight percent of business owners in Region 16 use the Internet for business,” said Tim Ware, executive director of the George Washington Regional Commission. “We are mapping our local assets – what’s already in the ground and vertical – and meeting with vendors,” he said. “We need to assist the localities in our region in building a multi-purpose network serving all public needs that can be budget neutral.”

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The region needs to move beyond seeking to attract the “big fish,” said Hap Connors, vice president of the Center for Innovative Technology. ‘We need to organically invest in creating a startup community, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.” “It’s the new Virginia economy.”

The Germanna Community College Vice President for Workforce agreed. “Our commitment to the entrepreneurial eco system means jobs,” said Jeannne Wesley. “Small business startups are the sole driver of job growth.” Wesley referred to Kauffman Foundation research, which found that small companies were responsible for creating 40 million jobs over the last 30 years.

Local entrepreneur Libby O’Malley, president of Design Ffunnel and a board member with FredXchange, spoke about the growing startup community in the area. “FredXchange values inclusion and invitation, education, innovation, collaboration and execution,” she said.

Entrepreneurs Matt Armstrong and Christine Goodwin launched FredXchange in early 2013 from a desire to create the opportunity for people to live where they work. The goal is to build an entrepreneurial community where people can share ideas, find moral support and barter resources. The nonprofit has hosted more than 100 local events, including three Startup Weekends, and is preparing to open a coworking space in 2015.

“I really think entrepreneurship is a huge answer to the prosperity of our region,” said Rick Hurley, whose son-in-law is the founder of snagajob.

Climate, Environment and Readiness: CLEAR

The Fredericksburg region continues to experience rapid growth, said Richard Finkelstein, UMW dean of Arts and Sciences. Since 1980, the population has increased 80 percent in Fredericksburg; 261 percent in Spotsylvania; and 220 percent in Stafford. “The perception of loss includes open space, unobstructed transportation and our historic fabric,” he said.

CLEAR is comprised of three interrelated and overlapping components to encourage smart growth, said Rebecca Rubin, president of Fredericksburg based

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